KEWEENAW BAY — Ruth Kaarlela was born in Keweenaw Bay, to Robert and Mary Kaarlela on September 22, 1919. She passed peacefully on January 8, 2018, in Novi.
She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work from Wayne State University and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in gerontology. She took courses at Syracuse University and Columbia University Teachers College resulting in a certification in special education to teach blind children.
After five years with the Family Service Agency and four years at the University of Michigan hospital she moved on to the Industrial Home for the Blind at the Mineola campus, where she developed plans for integration of blind children into public schools. For two years she was an itinerant teacher of blind children on Long Island. She later worked for a Nassau County day school.
In 1963, Ruth Kaarlela joined the faculty at Western Michigan University to initiate a Rehabilitation Teaching Program. For the next 23 years, she was involved in offering graduate courses, refining program content to include low vision, multi-handicapping conditions, gerontology and technology.
In the latter years she served as chairperson of the Department of Blind Rehabilitation. She taught the first gerontology course at Western Michigan University, which later led to the establishment of a complete gerontology degree program. After her retirement from WMU in 1986, she worked for the American Foundation for the Blind educating Native Americans with respect to visual problems.
She was well traveled including a trip around the world and several trips to Finland. She was the last survivor in her immediate family having lost her parents and all eleven of her siblings. She is survived by several generations of nieces and nephews.
Services will be private. Memorials may be made to Finlandia University in Hancock or to the Finnish Center Association in Farmington Hills.