Millie Ruen
Millie Ruen

OTTOVILLE - Ottovillian Millie Ruen has touched so many lives directly or indirectly that she genuinely embodies the term humanitarian. These days, if she isn’t busy donating time on historical preservation projects or educating youth and adults in horticulture, she’s busy working on her own environmental undertakings at home.

Ruen’s roots in the Ottoville community run deep — she grew up in a log cabin in Jackson Township and graduated from Ottoville High School — and after retiring and moving back to her hometown in the mid-1990s, she rolled up her sleeves and got involved with the Putnam County Historical Society. She worked alongside Rita Turnwald, who was the president of the society at that time.

“I followed in Rita’s footsteps and after being a trustee for 16 years, I became president in 2011,” Ruen said.

Ruen was instrumental in the production of “Putnam County, Ohio History and Families,” a book featuring hundreds of family biographies submitted by area residents, including the history of Putnam County, its businesses, schools, churches and clubs/organizations complemented by hundreds of photographs.

She has given countless hours working on projects for the society including painting, cleaning, setting up exhibits, working on re-construction projects and floats for the Ottoville and Kalida parades.

“In 2003 I built a small log cabin for a float commemorating the 200th Bicentennial,” Ruen said. “We have some great people working together; 15 trustees and many members.”

She said when the society bought the house adjacent to the historical society, she helped with the project to build a ramp connecting the two buildings. She also supervised the “Family Brick Project’ at the Putnam County Memorial.

“Families buy a brick with individual’s names etched into it and then it is placed in the walkway at the memorial,” Ruen explained. “I also suggested the landscaping that would be fitting for the memorial site.”

Ruen’s interest in historical preservation also encompasses dedicated work on Ottoville’s Immaculate Conception Church’s museum, which started as an small exhibit of artifacts and vestments in the parish hall in 1998 after Turnwald collected the items.

“We acquired the parish center and I obtained the materials and tables to set up the exhibit during the church social each year,” she said. “In 2008, we set up a committee and established a permanent home for the museum in a room in the parish center.”

She said an altar from Delphos St. John’s Church is among the many items in the museum and added that her brother, Paul, built wooden structures attached to display tables to hold vestments and thousands of photos.

“We have all the First Communion photos with names of individuals from 1940 to present day, as well as a collection of historical pictures of Ottoville and a park carnival display,” she elaborated. “I open the museum when people call and request an Ottoville history tour.”

She was also instrumental in helping decorate the church this Christmas season.

Ruen’s passion for educating kids began early in life and after receiving her B.A. in Education from Mary Manse College in Toledo, she spent two years teaching in the Toledo public school system before moving to Columbus, where she predominantly taught fifth-graders for 29 years in various elementary schools throughout the city.

“I loved working with kids and getting the positive responses,” she said with a grin. “Sometimes, I got to see the light bulb kick on.”

Ruen said she worked with her students on school plays and remembered one student who was so sophisticated, that she wrote specific pieces for him to perform.

She also volunteered her time from 1987-94 with an annual fifth-grade program called Project Adventure — a rope obstacle course strung between trees close to 18 feet above ground with a zip line at the end — where students had a choice of which parts of the course they wanted to complete.

“One boy was super athletic and carried on with the girls about his exploits and then chickened out when he was challenged with completing the rope challenge 18 feet in the air,” she chuckled. “The girls handled the course with no problems.”

While living in Columbus, Ruen was quite the athlete and played softball for the Red Birds, which culminated in her induction into the Softball Hall of Fame as a top softball player.

Later, Ruen became very interested in horticulture and volunteered to help with Ameriflora, an event commemorating the quincentenary anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas held in 1992 at Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus. The exhibits covered over 80 acres of land and included plants from all over the world.

After working with the professionals at Ameriflora - who knew much more about landscaping than she did - she opted to further her education by attending classes at Columbus State Community College. Ruen also took the required coursework to become a Master Gardener.

“I worked at Inniswood Metro Gardens and other metropolitan gardens in the Columbus area,” Ruen said.

After retiring in 1994, she bought 40 acres of land from her mother in Jennings Township and began traveling back and forth from Columbus to build her home — with her brother’s help — and moved back to her hometown in 1997.

Ruen’s passion for educating people has continued through the years and recently, she shared her horticultural knowledge with people. In November, she and a host of Master Gardeners organized a tour of her gardens for residents living in Kalida’s Meadows and second-grade elementary students. In October, she worked with visiting Girl Scouts and gave them a lesson in gardening.

“I showed them a variety of tree fruits including acorns, hickory nuts, pine cones and hedge apples,” she added. “We dug up a 12-pound oil seed radish (cover crop) to see how things grow.”

When Ruen isn’t busy “paying it forward,” she’s tending her own gardens, maintaining her frog and fish ponds and caring for her fur family. During the winter, she starts her own seeds and cuttings for crops throughout the growing season.

“I grow my own crop of popcorn, tomatoes, garlic and onions,” she smiled. “So, while I’m eating popped popcorn, I drink the tomato juice I make.”

Last year, she stocked her fish pond with Tilapia so they would eat the algae and she could catch them to eat. She said her frog pond, which she initially wanted to be filled with toads, has been taken over by bull frogs that continue to eat her tadpoles.

“Every fall, I have the leaves that Ottoville’s street crew vacuum up delivered to my house for compost,” she said. “I have a tractor I used to move and turn the leaves.”

Ruen shares her home with her pet children, including her dog, Jock (a Beagle), and three felines named Goldie, Boo Boo and Foxy Loxy.

In retrospect, Ruen’s passion for preserving history, educating youths and adults and living an environmentally friendly lifestyle has rendered her the honor of The Delphos Herald’s 2014 Woman of the Year.