Cover photo for Ruth Yates Schmitz's Obituary
Ruth Yates Schmitz Profile Photo
1921 Ruth 2015

Ruth Yates Schmitz

March 27, 1921 — May 23, 2015

Ruth Yates Schmitz of Middleton, WI, age 94, passed away peacefully, surrounded by her family, on May 23, 2015. She was born on March 27, 1921, in Parnassus, PA, the daughter of John and Florence (Copeland) Yates. She graduated from William Penn High School in Harrisburg, PA in 1939 and the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture in Ambler, PA in 1942. She started her professional career at the Clara Hires Biological Laboratories in New Jersey propagating orchid seedlings in sterile culture. A year later she began work as a horticulturist at Wheaton College in Norton, MA, supervising grounds personnel and also teaching introductory botany courses. Botanical studies begun at Ambler were continued at Wheaton, where Ruth was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa honorary society and earned her BA degree in 1946, graduating as class valedictorian, summa cum laude.

Enrolling at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1946, she pursued graduate studies in plant physiology. Aided by an Atomic Energy Commission fellowship, she completed research studies and received her Ph.D. degree in 1951. Her research included the use of radioactive isotopes in determining the mechanism of phosphorus uptake by plant cells and the effect of chemical structure on the activity of plant growth hormones. This latter work was done in association with Professor Folke Skoog of the University of Wisconsin and Professor Nelson J. Leonard of the University of Illinois. She was a member of Sigma XI, an honorary scientific society.

With her children grown, Ruth resumed research in plant physiology and plant growth substances as a Project Associate with Professor Skoog, pursuing research which resulted in a series of scientific papers with Dr. Skoog and Dr. Leonard.

Ruth was a founding member of Baraboo Range Preservation Association (BRPA) and served for many years on the board of directors and as secretary. She was a member of BRPA, the Wisconsin Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, Aldo Leopold Foundation, Friends of Pheasant Branch and other local and national conservation groups, and worked tirelessly for the preservation of woodlands, open spaces and natural habitat for wildlife.

Ruth met Norbert Schmitz at UW Madison Hoofers Sailing Club where she quickly learned to crew on his Lightning Class racing sailboat. Norb and Ruth were married in 1950 and began raising a family. In 1959 they purchased rural property in Sauk County and turned it into a cherished family retreat. Ruth made sure her children's summers were filled with free time to ramble the farm's woods, fields and streams, fortified by hearty meals prepared on her antique Monarch cook stove. On rainy days she kept them occupied with a limitless supply of books, games, puzzles and crafts.

Ruth was renowned for her artistic talents. She loved to sketch and paint, and produced amazing, hand-made Christmas cards which she created using a multi-stage, silk-screen printing process. She sewed an astonishing "zoo" of Halloween costumes for her children--most notably a bat with a six-foot wingspan--virtually guaranteeing them First Place in every costume contest. She taught herself to spin and dye raw wool using natural plant dyes, from which she knit beautiful, elaborate sweaters for all her family.

Ruth had a great sense of humor which served her well. Perhaps Ruth's most notorious exploit in family lore was when she unwittingly cooked a horse embryo for an unexpected drop-by gourmet guest. The specimen had, unbeknownst to Ruth, been left there by daughter Karen, with the intention of using it as a teaching tool in her biology lab. When Ruth discovered her mistake she managed (barely) to surmount her hysterics, quickly regroup, and cobble together a simple meal of spaghetti instead. Meanwhile Norb kept plying their guest with drinks, and he was never the wiser. Ruth was forever after teasingly referred to among family as the "Galloping Gourmet"--much to her glee.

In the late 1970s Ruth and Norb purchased the 30-foot sloop "Spray," and spent the following 18 summers cruising on lakes Michigan, Superior and Huron. They later donated "Spray" to UW Hoofers Sailing Club, where she now does duty as a teaching craft for the next generation of cruising sailors. In 2008, inspired by Ruth's Chatty Log with its tales of adventure both idyllic and near-death from their Great Lakes cruising years, Hoofers Cruising Keelboat Captain Barry Rokusek directed work on a magnificent surprise restoration of Spray in Norb and Ruth's honor.

An avid reader and life-long learner, Ruth kept up with her scholarly journals, alma mater newsletters and voracious book-reading habit, adjusting to the use of a reading device as her vision failed. She passed on her creativity, her love of learning, and her intellectual curiosity to her children and grandchildren.

Ruth's family is very grateful for the kindness and care of Agrace Hospice, and especially the compassionate, loving care provided by caregivers Elyssa, Craig and Yemi.

Ruth was preceded in death by her parents, a son, Karl, her brother John and his wife Jean Yates, and brother-in-law Edgar Reed. She is survived by her loving husband Norb and their four children, Karen (Martin) Voss, Kathleen Carlyle (Ken Smith), Lawrence (Betty) Schmitz, and Gwendolyn (Tim) Brockish; by grandchildren Jessica Voss, Kimberly Voss Schumacher, Daniel and Joel Olsen, Samuel Bibby, Erica, Jeffrey, and Aaron Schmitz; by great-grandchildren Zoe and Amelia Olsen, Owen Schumacher and Miles Olsen; and by her sister Dorothy Reed.

An informal celebration of Ruth's life will be held on Saturday, May 30, 2015 at 10:30 AM at Holy Wisdom Monastery, 4200 County Road M, Middleton, WI 53562.

In lieu of flowers, the Schmitz family suggests memorials to Agrace Hospice Care, 5395 E. Cheryl Pkwy Madison, WI 53711 or Baraboo Range Preservation Association, 142 2nd Street #33, Baraboo, WI 53913.
To order memorial trees in memory of Ruth Yates Schmitz, please visit our tree store.

Service Schedule

Past Services


Saturday, May 30, 2015

10:30 - 11:15 am (Eastern time)

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.


Saturday, May 30, 2015

11:15am - 12:00 pm (Eastern time)

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.


Visits: 2

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the
Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Service map data © OpenStreetMap contributors

Plant A Tree

Plant A Tree

Send a Card

Send a Card