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When Opportunity Knocks

Alumna and Grace Dodge Society member Ruth Dresser has never said no to new horizons.

At 80, Ruth Dresser (M.A., 1952) still follows her mother's advice: If a door opens, go through it. In 1960, an open door changed Dresser's life. That year, she bought the near-bankrupt Santa Monica Montessori School, turned it around and added a Teacher Training Institute. Soon Charlton Heston and Cary Grant were sending their kids there.

Dresser went on to create the first Montessori Junior High, lecture on the Montessori method and appear on TV to demonstrate how it works.

The approach is based on the theories of Maria Montessori, a pioneering female doctor in Italy in the early 1900s who argued that children learn best at their own pace, in a hands-on environment. Famous Montessori graduates include Anne Frank and Julia Childs.

The Montessori Method also accords the arts equal weight with math and reading. "There are two parts to the brain-the artistic right side and the academic left side-and they both must be developed," says Dresser, who paid for her education at UCLA by playing the piano at bars, churches, ballet classes and service clubs. From midnight to 7 a.m. she also riveted airplanes before heading to class. She graduated from UCLA in 1946 and from TC in 1952. That year, she married Jay Dresser, who worked for the State Department, and moved to India. When they returned, she earned a Ph.D. in philosophy from Walden College.

Recently Dresser sold her school and training institute so she could retire. But new doors continue to open. She helps the Fox Theatre in her home town of Visalia, California, find organists; suggests musical selections; and writes ads. She's also taken up the harp.

Mom would be proud.

The Grace Dodge Society was created to honor alumni, faculty and friends of Teachers College who have included TC in their long-term gift plans. The society is named for Grace Hoadley Dodge, a cofounder and early benefactor of the College. Her dedication to TC is perpetuated through the generosity of our current Grace Dodge Society members.

Published Wednesday, Apr. 13, 2005