Ruth Schwarzkopf Barenbaum, 91, of East Middlebury


EAST MIDDLEBURY — Teacher, artist, activist Ruth Schwarzkopf Barenbaum died on Feb. 18, 2022. Born in Trenton, N.J., on Oct. 13, 1930, she grew up in Lawrenceville, N.J., and attended Miss Fine’s School in Princeton, N.J., until the family moved to Iran in 1947, where her father, Lt. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, was head of a military mission. She completed high school at the International School in Geneva, Switzerland, and attended Barnard College and the University of Wisconsin, where she received a B.A. in American history in 1953.

In Providence, R.I., where she worked as Teen Director at the YWCA, she married Simon Barenbaum, professor of French at Brown University. When the family moved to Oberlin, Ohio, she earned an M.A.T. and worked as a lecturer at Oberlin College, training teachers in local schools. During the ‘60s, Ruth was active in the Quaker Meeting, civil rights, and the anti-war movement. She became a serious photographer, and costumed the plays her husband directed.

Though Ruth considered teaching an expression of her commitment as a progressive, she resisted the confines of a conventional career. She preferred to maintain flexibility for a wider field of interests.

Upon moving to Vermont in 1970, she taught for two years at the elementary level in Weybridge School, then worked at the Parent Child Center in Middlebury. In 1972, she was accepted as part-time production assistant at the Bread and Puppet Theatre in Glover, and continued to work with them for 15 years, making masks and eventually directing her own small plays.

In 1979, Ruth began Buddhist studies at Burlington Dharmadhatu, and in 1983, finished training as a meditation instructor at Karma Choling in Barnet. Though a practicing Buddhist, she continued to be active in Middlebury Friends Meeting.

In 1983, Ruth took a position as literacy professional with Adult Basic Education, where she tutored adult students both in basic reading skills and in preparation for GED and high school diplomas. She was instrumental in the publication of sixteen books of student writing (Opening Doors and Homegrown Books), which received national attention through their trailblazing creation of student-written, original texts for adult literacy work. After resigning from ABE, she worked for eight years as a volunteer in the Alternatives to Violence Project, an international Quaker-based program, at the Washington Correctional Facility, Comstock, N.Y.

As she grew older, Ruth devoted more time to her creative interests. At 68, she had her first show of collage constructions at Bulwagga Books and Gallery, Whiting, Vt.

In 2004, she began volunteer training at HomeShare VT in Burlington, and was instrumental in establishing a branch of HomeShare in Addison County in 2006.

In 2010, Ruth trained as a Tai Chi teacher with Paul Lam’s Sun Style program. She began teaching classes at Middlebury Fitness, and, according to her students, “taught countless classes in every corner of Addison County.” As one student and friend said, “Ruth never proselytized. She wanted us to feel the energy for ourselves and to come to our own conclusions.” She continued to teach into the pandemic in 2019-2020, and was looking forward to classes gathering again.

She is survived by her husband,   Simon Barenbaum, Middlebury College Emeritus Professor of French; daughter Myriam Barenbaum, of Sleepy Hollow, N.Y.; and grandson Jake Miller of New York, N.Y.; daughter Nicole Barenbaum, of Mendon, Mass.; grandson Joshua Scheufler of Nashville, Tenn.; son Kadia Barenbaum; god-daughters Maya and Kestral Ruth Grevatt of Charlotte, Vt.; as well as her “heart children,” Beth Hartmann and Martha Hill.◊

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