Ruth Roessel, who will forever be remembered for her work founding two schools on the Navajo Nation reservation with her husband, Robert Roessel Sr., walked on Friday, April 13 in Cortez, Colorado. She was 77.
Born in Round Rock, Arizona in 1934, she attended Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding schools. That experience is what led the Roessels to formulate groundbreaking concepts in Navajo education and self-determination emphasizing western curriculum blended with Navajo history, culture and language.
Those concepts led to the Rough Rock Demonstration School in 1966 and Navajo Community College, now Diné College, in 1968.
“In the early ‘50s, she and Bob promoted a different kind of education, where they put the dual system of Diné education with western education,” said Democratic Sen. Jack Jackson Jr., a Navajo from Arizona. “It was strong with Navajo language, culture and history. They believed in that and that’s what they practiced.”
Ruth Roessel embraced what she taught as an educator and lived as a Navajo. At the age of 5 she learned to weave. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Arizona State University and taught her kids and students the value of education.
During her teaching career, Roessler taught at schools in Tolani Lake, Rough Rock, Chinle, Rinon and at Diné College. She was director of Native American Studies at Rough Rock Community School and a principal at Round Rock Elementary School. She was active in the American Federation of Teachers, Navajo Women’s Association, North American Indian Women’s Association, and the Arizona Women in Higher Education.
“Ruth was just an extraordinary individual who cared so much, not only for her own family but for her extended family and all the students she ever knew,” Peterson Zah, one of Roessels students, said. “She is a fine example of what being a Navajo woman is all about, and what Navajo women should be. And she exhibited those kinds of skills of what a mother and grandmother should be.”
Besides being an educator, Roessel was an author, penning five books on Navajo history, culture and education.
She is survived by her five children, 12 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. She was preceded in death by her husband of 50 years, Dr. Robert Roessel Sr.