Ruth Emma Alderfer
Oenslager’s contributions to the Akron area can be seen on many
different levels. She helped found and became the first president of
Junior League in the city; she’s been generally credited with
saving Akron’s Loew’s Theater (now the Civic) from destruction;
and she donated her 102-acre family farm to the Medina County Park District
(now the Alderfer-Oenslager Park). Notwithstanding all those contributions,
she preferred her occupational affiliation best – painter.
Born in Katytown,
Medina County, on Nov. 12, 1892, she was the daughter of John Melvin
and Estella Santee Alderfer. Her father ran a mill in Medina County.
Well educated for the day, she attended Oberlin College. She then went
on to study still life at the Cleveland School of Fine Arts. She continued
to paint throughout her life.
Alderfer never fit
neatly into social expectations for women of the day. She went to Columbia
to be trained in occupational therapy. When World War I broke out, she
went to France as an occupational therapist.
After the war, she
returned to Akron. In 1923, she along with Mrs. George
Crouse Jr. and Mrs. R.G. Shirk started the Junior League of Akron.
The early Junior League appeared to have some sort of association with
Blanche Seiberling’s Babies Aid
Society which assisted the Mary Day Nursery/Children’s Hospital
Women’s Board. Many of the women of the Babies Aid Society along
with Alderfer, Crouse and Shirk became the core of the Junior League.
The influence of
the Babies Aid Society can be seen in the initial work of the Junior
League. The organization was committed to three types of work -- with
the sick and unfortunate in the hospitals, with the working and foreign
girls in the city and with children. By 1930, the Junior League had
taken over responsibility of running the Mary Day Nursery, which was
a part of the Children’s Hospital organization. All members had
to volunteer 75 hours of work each year. Alderfer became the first president.
During the 1920s
and 1930s, when Alderfer was especially involved, the Junior League
was involved in many activities. In the 1920s, members worked in City
Hospital, establishing a patient’s library and making surgical
dressings. In the 1930s, the group provided occupational therapy at
Alderfer also served
as one of the founders and an early president of the Women’s Overseas
Service League in Akron (Mary Gladwin Unit) and a board member of Goodwill
In 1939, Alderfer,
47, married 66-year-old George Oenslager, a prominent chemist with Goodrich
Tire and Rubber.
Throughout her life,
Alderfer Oenslager traveled the world and painted. After her husband
died in 1956, she split her time between Akron and the family farm in
In 1965, she was
generally credited with saving the beautiful Loew’s
Theater in Akron from the wrecking ball. When campaigners couldn’t
raise the money needed to save the theater, she stepped in to make up
the difference. Bill Vielhaver, an accountant who participated in the
fund drive, remembered that the group needed $22,000 to buy the building
and set up the foundation. Oenslager stepped in, held the mortgage and
eventually forgave the debt.
In 1975, she donated
her 102-acre family farm in Sharon Township to the Medina County Park
District. Alderfer-Oenslager Park remains a testament to her generosity.
When Oenslager died
in 1992, the Beacon Journal remembered her many contribution
to the Akron area.