Still involved after 35 years: Q&A with Ruby Weathersby

Still involved after 35 years: Q&A with Ruby Weathersby

Ruby Weathersby has devoted most of her life to helping children — from guiding Girl Scouts at an Air Force base in Japan to serving as dean of Christian education at Greater New Light Missionary Baptist Church in Rantoul.

With the Girl Scouts of Central Illinois set to honor her and four other "Women of Distinction" on Wednesday, Weathersby, 77, sat down to talk about meeting her soulmate, raising children on Air Force bases and more.

Q: How did you meet your husband, Walter?

A: My dad was a Baptist minister, and he was the pastor of Walt's family's church in Silver Creek, Miss.

I met Walt's family way before I met him because he was serving in the Air Force, stationed in the French Morocco. It was 1954. Walt's sister and I were about the same age, and we were friends. I taught vacation Bible school there one summer, and I spent the night at their home. There was a picture of Walt sitting on the piano, and I said, "Wow!" I thought he was quite handsome. His mother wanted my address, and I said, no, I'm not giving out my address. We lived in a rural area of Mississippi where we raised cotton and cattle and hogs. But she obtained my address anyway. It could have been from my dad.

She sent Walt my address, and he began writing letters to me. I guess you could say Walt's mother and my dad were matchmakers. This was 1954, and I was a junior at Rose Hill High School in Magnolia, Miss. Walt and I corresponded back and forth for about a year, and I went off to school Southern University in Louisiana. I went to Louisiana in the summertime to establish residency so I wouldn't need to pay out-of-state tuition, and I got a call from my sister saying Walter was coming home from Morocco. I caught the bus from Louisiana to go home to meet him for the first time in August of 1955. He came down to my house at about 8:30 a.m. on a Monday, and that was the first time we met after corresponding for about a year. I was quite shy meeting this Air Force man that I thought knew everything.

I saw him three times, and he was off again to an Air Force base in California. I went back to Southern to start school. When I came home for Christmas, we were engaged. We were married on May 5, 1956.

Q: How'd you first get involved with the Girl Scouts?

A: Walter was stationed at Yokota Air Force Base in Japan for about four years. I didn't even know about Girl Scouting when I was a child. By that time, I had four children and a fifth one on the way — and we had three girls. Girl Scouting was one of the main things available for the children at the base at that time. My little kids were too young but I signed up with Girl Scouts and became a cadet leader, serving the bigger girls.

I thought that Girl Scouts are the most wholesome learning thing for young girls. It teaches them so many wonderful things about life, discipline and how to survive. Now, more than 35 years have gone by, and I am still involved. All my girls were Girl Scouts, and my youngest earned first class here in Rantoul.

Q: Do you remember where you were when you heard the news that Chanute Air Force Base would close?

A: We were on vacation in San Francisco. We were at the hotel that morning and watching the morning news on TV when they said that one of two bases in Illinois was closing. When I saw Mayor Katy Podagrosi speaking on the TV, I cried. It was devastating.

Q: What challenges did the closure present to the schools?

A: We lost such a huge amount of students, and there were financial ramifications. The Department of Defense paid us a lot of money for the children to go to school here. After Chanute closed, our economic status went down, down, down. When the Air Force was still here in Rantoul, we did not have the high poverty level that so many people are experiencing today. I was a Realtor for 28 years, and the real estate market changed overnight. I retired from real-estate work in December 2010. It was a real challenge.

Q: What do you miss most about Chanute?

A: All the activity. Rantoul was always aglow with activities and life. After the flags went down and Chanute closed, sometimes it felt as if a part of the community was dying out. The one exception was when they had the hot air balloon championships here. That was a good year.

Q: Any favorite strategies for selling Girl Scout cookies?

A: Back in Japan, we would go door to door to sell cookies. And after we moved to Rantoul, the girls went knocking on the doors. Girls used to come by selling to us because they knew we loved the Girl Scouts. But things have changed. They cannot go door-to-door any more. I understand they can call you on the telephone and ask you if you want to buy some. The parents bring sheets to work to sell the cookies, and they find stations for the girls to sell the cookies.

Q: Any advice for the Girl Scouts of today as to how to succeed in life?

A: Learn to be your own person. Be respectful of others. And always do unto others as you would have them do onto you.

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