Mary Ruth Fernstrom

Published 4:16 pm Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Mary Ruth Fernstrom (née Wolverton), beloved wife, mother and friend, passed away peacefully on July 16, at the age of 85.

Her life was filled with love, kindness and compassion and she will be deeply missed by all who knew her.

Ruth was born in Sebastopol, Mississippi and later moved to Vicksburg, Mississippi where she attended Jett High School and excelled in basketball and tennis.

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Ruth’s parents were employed by the R.G. LeTourneau Company and the family lived near the LeTourneau plant, where she enjoyed the swimming pool and tennis and basketball courts.

She once said, “Living at LeTourneau was like living at your own resort with the plant’s full complement of facilities available for the families working there.”

In the summertime, Ruth worked as a lifeguard at the swimming pool and later served as a tennis instructor at a summer camp for girls in the state of Maine.

She graduated from high school as the salutatorian of her class and went on to attend Texas Women’s University in Denton, Texas, where she earned a degree in physical therapy.

After college, Ruth was employed as an assistant Service Club Director at Walker Air Force Base in Roswell, New Mexico, where she met Lieutenant John Fernstrom.

They dated for a year before marrying in Ruth’s hometown of Vicksburg, Mississippi. After John was discharged from the Air Force, they settled in John’s hometown of Topeka, Kansas.

Ruth worked as a social worker for the state of Kansas before becoming the director of activities for Brewster Place Retirement Facility.

She also worked as a travel consultant for King Travel in Topeka and later as a fundraiser for Catholic Charities, Saint Francis Hospital in Topeka.

She is remembered by her co-workers as a dedicated colleague and friend who brought a sense of commitment and fun to every job she held.

In 1990, Ruth ran for a position in the Kansas State Legislature and won against three contestants in the primary.

She was appointed by the governor to the State Legislature to complete the term of a retiring member.

In the fall, Ruth conducted an aggressive campaign and lost by only several hundred votes.

Ruth loved to travel and shared her enthusiasm for exploring the world with groups she led on international journeys.

Her kind nature and commitment to service made her a beloved tour leader who ensured all her guests had a memorable and special trip.

Ruth was a wonderful mother to her son Eric, participating as a room mother and den mother in his Cub Scout troop.

She passed along her love of exploration and culture to Eric who would eventually also work in the fields of travel and arts education.

Ruth loved to walk briskly for her daily exercise and started a neighborhood walking group named “Knollwood Walkers” in Topeka.

They walked several miles every morning and she continued this routine while living in Miami and Sarasota, Florida.

Ruth created a culture of friends in her activities at her church, her Bible class, investment club and P.E.O. chapter.

She listened intently to those she met and conveyed her love of people through conversations with them.

She would step aside for customers that had fewer items at the grocery store and say, “Here, go ahead of me” and said hello to people she passed on her daily walks.

She cared deeply about others and those who knew her felt her interest and commitment to them.

When asked what she was most proud of in life, Ruth humbly replied, “I am most proud that God allowed me a healthy life.”

Her gratitude for good health was a testament to her deep faith and appreciation for the blessings she received.

Ruth was preceded in death by her parents, Elma Hebler and William Hebler.

She is survived by John Fernstrom, her loving husband of 60 years, her son Eric, daughter-in-law Elizabeth and a host of friends and relatives in Mississippi, Kansas and Florida.

Ruth Fernstrom was a kind and loving woman whose impact on the world will be felt for years to come.

Her friends and family will always remember her as a gentle, warm and understanding person who cared deeply about those around her.

She will be deeply missed by all who knew her.

A celebration of life will be held on Saturday, July 22 at 10 a.m. at the First United Methodist Church, 104 South Pineapple Avenue, Sarasota, Florida 34236.

A livestream of the service can be viewed at

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control; against such things there is no law. – Galatians 5:22-23