Getting Personal: Prudence 'Prue' Runkle

Getting Personal: Prudence 'Prue' Runkle

Each week, we offer a Q&A with a local personality. Today, Melissa Merli chats with 71-year-old Champaign resident Prudence 'Prue' Runkle, a retired kindergarten teacher from South Side School in Champaign. She is active in the Champaign-Urbana Theatre Company — for which she is chair of the Special Events Committee and co-chair of the Volunteer Development Committee.

So ... what's new with you?

My kitchen is new, the windows in my house are new and my spirit is continually renewed. My life is pretty complete, and I guess I like things the way they are. Not much is new, but my day-to-day life is exciting, nonetheless.

What time do you typically get up? What do you do the first hour of the morning?

I'd like to sleep later, but I usually awaken around 7:30 a.m., make coffee, check email and look at my calendar to see what my day has in store. It seems there is always something happening. I often eat breakfast while looking at The News-Gazette.

What do you consider your greatest achievement or accomplishment?

Raising three wonderful sons is my greatest accomplishment and joy in my life. I became a single parent when they were 10, 11 and 13.

Fortunately, I was already teaching in Unit 4, so I had the security of a good job. But it was difficult with my closest family in the Chicago area.

I had very little freedom or money to do things I wanted to do. I wanted my kids to have advantages, and we made things work. They never had a car of their own, never had video games, but had a big yard, good friends and lots of community activities.

All three sons have advanced degrees, have good careers and are happy and productive. See? It can work out!

What do you regard as your most treasured possession?

My home if you mean "item." I've lived here for 38 years. I love the natural woodwork, the porch, the built-in bookcases, the natural light that comes in windows from every direction and the memories this house holds.

I love it that my two grandsons can play in the same yard and neighborhood, use the same stairs, look out the same windows as their dad and uncles did when they were that age.

We moved 13 times in 10 years before settling in Champaign — and I guess I don't ever want to move again.

Do you have a guilty pleasure and what is it?

I love bridge mix candy. I love fresh flowers, and I love a good cup of coffee. Put them together and it's heaven!

What book are you reading now? What is your favorite book ever?

The last book I read was "Wish You Were Here" by Stewart O'Nan. I've read several of his books and am amazed that a man would have such insight on the feelings of older women. I'm not reading a book at the moment because I just don't have time until my current project is over.

My favorite book ever? Hmmmmm. Different books at different ages. I enjoy the "Frances" books by Russell Hoban, books by Jim Aylesworth and grown-up books by Ann Patchett, especially "Truth and Beauty," a story of a friendship.

As a kindergarten teacher for 28 years, I grew to love the lessons in children's books and the straightforward manner of writing. As a retired teacher and grandmother, I enjoy the children's books but have also had time to move on to more complicated issues of relationships. I prefer fiction.

Where on Earth are you dying to go? Why?

I've been so fortunate to have been given the gift of travel by my sons. Our family has traveled to Paris, Amsterdam, Helsinki, Rome, Stockholm, Prague, Munich, San Juan and soon we're going to San Francisco.

We spend a long weekend at the end of each summer at Timber Bluff, a beautifully quiet group of cottages on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, near Douglas, Mich. I think that's my favorite place and am dying to return this summer.

It's the quiet, the tall trees, the pristine beach and the sound of the water lapping upon the shore. It's pretty close to perfection.

Tell me about your favorite pet.

Our family dog Midnight was my very favorite pet. He was a mix from our neighbor's dog. I believe he was part cocker spaniel and part terrier. He was black and just the right size. He was so loyal to our family and fun, spirited and sweet. He was a great dog. He was our pet as I was growing up.

What's your favorite sports team?

I was a big Illinois basketball fan for many years. I bought season tickets and would take a different son with me to games. I still enjoy watching them, but sports isn't a big interest at this point in my life.

What would you order for your last meal?

Coconut shrimp, coconut shrimp and coconut shrimp. I love it! And I love a good hot dog. But hot dogs with coconut shrimp? I don't think so.

I also love strawberry shortcake with real shortcake and fresh strawberries from the garden. I also like the Asian Chop Chop Chicken Salad on the menu at Houlihan's.

If you could be reincarnated after you die, what would you like to come back as?

Maybe I'd return as a lark. Happy as a lark, sings like a lark. Sounds good to me. I think it would be fabulous to be able to fly and watch things happen from a vantage point above everyone/everything. And, my older grandson is named Lark, so it's a special creature. My younger grandson is named Flax, and coming back as a pale blue flower of the flax plant would be just as good.

Who are your favorite musicians and why?

I love musical theater and tend to listen to music from Broadway shows. "The Secret Garden," "Man of La Mancha" and "The Scarlet Pimpernel" are favorites. I like to sing along.

I also enjoy listening to Jerry Hadley, Thomas Hampson, Rene Fleming and Nathan Gunn. During a dinner party, I like to put on a CD or two of Diana Krall; relaxing and easy-to-talk-while-playing music.

What's the happiest memory of your life?

I have had more than my share of happiest memories in my life. Probably the most recent and therefore, the most memorable, is the completely surprising birthday party my sons and daughter-in-law threw for me on my 70th birthday.

Classic Events catered it at their current space at Stone Creek, and it was absolutely the most wonderful surprise of my life! My brothers and sisters were there, so many friends from near and far and the slide show of photos and captions of my life were unbelievable ... both embarrassing and wonderful. It was definitely a night I'll always remember. Thanks, guys! Great birthday gift!

If you could host a dinner party with any three living people in the world, whom would you invite? What would you serve?

Of course, my first impulse is to say my three sons. But I can probably think a bit more creatively and suggest Steve Carell, Craig T. Nelson and Richard Gere. What can I say? I really like men!

I'd serve a fresh garden salad, filet mignon, coconut shrimp, grilled vegetables and a chocolate torte for dessert — with plenty of wine and spirits to keep things light.

Which historical figure do you admire the most and why?

FDR. I appreciate the manner in which he conducted himself as a person, his energy and optimism, his ideas about putting people back to work, his ability to overcome adversity and his creative ideals for our nation and the world.

What personality trait do you most hate in other people? Most hate in yourself?

I don't like people who complain all the time, for whom nothing is right, who want sympathy and don't seem to have creative ways to overcome their unhappiness. Oh my goodness! Where did that come from? I wrote that very quickly!

In myself, I don't like to make mistakes. I am a perfectionist and spend far too much time on details and things that don't really matter in the scheme of things.

What's your best piece of advice?

"Keep on a keepin' on." "Do the best you can and then, let it go." So much advice from me is for me. Those are things I tell myself all the time.

What was your first job and how much did you make an hour?

Baby-sitting for 25 cents per hour. I took care of children, ironed clothes, picked up, bathed children, fixed supper, washed the dishes and read stories before bed. I just thought that's what a baby-sitter did. It was part of the 25 cents per hour I was earning.

What was a pivotal decision in your career and how did you arrive at that decision?

I have always loved children. I love the freshness, innocence, sincerity and curiosity of young children.

I thought I wanted to be an actress. I took advantage of all the opportunities of being involved in theater in high school and college while majoring in early childhood education. I took acting classes and had lead roles.

But the part of me that wanted to be an actress would be in New York City or Los Angeles, not at home with young children, enjoying everything about them, teaching them, creating projects, working with them, talking with them, listening to them.

I think it wasn't an "aha" moment, but a realization that I would be much happier working with children than emoting on a stage somewhere. And, I was right. I've never regretted my choice to be a kindergarten teacher. I'd do it all over again.

Do you have any regrets in your life? What are they?

I have a few, too few to mention. "I did it my way!"

How do you handle a stressful situation?

I try to avoid them. But when they come, and they do, I take a deep breath, try to relax and do the best I can do. My motto for my life.


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