The Amazing Ruth Halterman & Her Office Machines
By Pati Egan
How did she do it? No computers, no copy machines, just an electric typewriter, a mimeograph machine, and carbon paper.
Ruth Hayden Halterman was born and grew up in East St. Louis, Ill. She was a 1944 graduate of Notre Dame Academy in Belleville. After graduation, she worked in Chicago for a time, but returned to East St. Louis. She married Thomas Halterman January 31, 1948, and became a homemaker. They had five children. Ruth became involved as a volunteer at the newly created Camp Ondessonk, but quickly became its first Office Manager in 1960 until 1986.
The Camp Office was in her home, both at Church Lane in East St. Louis and later at North Charles Street in Belleville. Ruth was an extraordinary woman who brought multi-tasking to a whole new level. In addition to serving as the Camp Office Manager, she was the Registrar, Finance Director, and what would now be called Data Coordinator. Eventually, her daughter, Linda Pensoneau, became her assistant. Ruth was in charge of summer camp registrations, Frontier registrations (the high school travel program during the summer), and Lodge memberships. Later she worked at the Golden Frontier Travel Agency until she retired in 1991. At Camp, Ruth kept a manual database of those who donated to Ondessonk. A Business Manager at Camp assisted Ruth with day-to-day summer operations.
Ruth and her husband, Tom, were members of St. Philip’s Parish in East St. Louis, and when they moved to Belleville, they became members of St. Luke’s Parish. After their final move to Highland, Ill., in 1999, they became members of St. Paul Catholic Church.
Tom was the original designer of the Dining Hall, Chapel of the North American Martyrs, and many other buildings at Camp. After serving in World War II, he was a design engineer for Westerheide Sheet Metal in East St. Louis. He also taught heating and air conditioning at what was then Belleville Area College. Having served on Camp’s Planning Committee, he was a welcomed, familiar face at Camp for many years.
Staff and Lodge members got to know Ruth by helping out with Camp mailings. We would gather at her house, fold the mailing, seal the envelopes and prepare them for the Post Office. Usually, the East St. Louis Lodge Clan (now called Metro East Lodge Council) would be called on to help. It was always fun, but hard work. Ruth always made us feel appreciated and special.
Ruth told a story that I still remember today, and always get such a kick out of it. She told us about a family from Chicago arriving at her house on North Charles Street in Belleville early one Sunday morning thinking they were at Camp and wanting to drop off their child for the week! I think they were quite surprised that they had another two-plus-hour drive in front of them!
Ruth received many awards for her work with Camp. In addition to Diocesan Camp Awards such as the Bronze, Silver, and Gold Crests, Ruth was also honored with the Merit of St. Rene Goupil Award (green sash) that is awarded by the Lodge for outstanding volunteer service from a non-Lodge member to Camp Ondessonk. This award is still given out today. She also served as a member of Camp’s Board of Directors.
Old School Mailings
Preparing mailings back in the day was not an easy task! A closer look at how this was done might help us all appreciate the hard work that went into this before computers made all of our lives easier!
Ruth created a metal plate for each person associated with Camp. These plates were kept in long, metal boxes. One box might have all of the Lodge Members by geographic area; one box might have all of the campers that attended camp during that summer, and another box might have all of those who donated money to Camp. These long file drawers were fed into a machine and out came addressed envelopes. Camp actually continued using this method until computers became advanced enough to create mailing labels.
The envelopes would come out looking like this.
The next step, after stuffing and sealing the envelopes, was to prepare them for the Post Office. Camp used third-class mail. These could not be dropped off at the closest mailbox. The Lodge kids would separate the envelopes by zip code. The mailing would have to then be taken to a regional Post Office.
Camp Applications & Getting the Campers Registered on Sunday
The applications were much smaller than they are now! Ruth would type out a single-spaced, alphabetical ordered list of all campers for each week. I don’t know how she knew when a session was full, unless she numbered the list. A few times she overbooked too many during girls’ camp, and thus the units of Teondecorum and Couture were born. Couture was a one-year necessity, and the kids lived in tents off the parking lot. Teondecorum was built in 1973 between Raganeau and Amantacha, and lasted until about 1990. The list of campers Ruth prepared would be sent to Camp each week. The Business Manager would draw a line under each camper’s name at registration. Staff at a table would collect the camper’s money and send them on to receive their unit shirt. Everything was done by hand.
Ruth contributed so much to Ondessonk – she was one of the true pioneers in Camp’s development. The main thing I remember, though, is her friendly personality and the way she treated us kids with respect. Sadly, she passed December 24, 2007. Ruth was an outstanding person who holds a significant place in Camp’s history.
On this Camp O Day – 63 years after our founding – we salute the hard work and dedication of Ruth Halterman!