Ruth Swann Askins
1923 - 2023
Ruth Swann Askins 11/23/1923 – 9/15/2023
Ada Ruth Swann was the eldest of seven children born to Thomas Eaton Swann and Ada Pearl
Weston Swann in Cool Spring, NC. Life on the family farm meant tending crops, caring for
younger siblings, and picking cotton for family and neighbors. Light came from oil lamps, and
cream and eggs were saved to sell at market. Getting to the school bus meant a one-mile walk
down Swann Road, and Sunday church involved a long wagon ride on dirt roads. Ruth was a
dedicated student, impressing her principal who advocated for her acceptance into college.
Ruth graduated from Mars Hill College and Blue Mountain College during World War II and
entered nursing school with the sponsorship of the US Nurse Cadet Corps. 75 years later, she
learned this meant she was a Service Veteran. She witnessed the miraculous recovery of the
first patient to be given an antibiotic in North Carolina. Nursing and management experience at
Baptist Hospital led to her service as a mission nurse in Lebanon and Jordan where she gained
life-long friends and an inside perspective on the strife in Palestine. Mission nursing looked to
be her dream career, but knee problems sent her back to the States where she enrolled in
seminary studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Later, she took pastoral care classes
at Baptist Hospital, and met fellow student Frank Askins, who—according to family lore—won
her hand after only 13 wedding proposals.
Ruth and Frank lived in Butner, NC for 50 years where Frank was chaplain at Umstead
Psychiatric Hospital. They crafted a house from the shell of an old Army incinerator with a 76-
foot chimney rising above the surrounding woods. In this emerging home, the clickety-clickety
of her Singer sewing machine and the squeakety-pop of the rocking chair lulled many a child to
sleep. Building the unique house was valuable skills-training for the sons and led to four
feature articles in area newspapers. In between earning more degrees, Ruth was also known for
raising peas, tomatoes, sons, collies, and student nurses.
Early in her career, she was director of student nursing at Bowman Grey Medical School/NC
Baptist Hospital, taught at Winston Salem State University, and earned a masters at UNC Chapel
Hill. Once her children were capable of finding their own food in the refrigerator, she taught
psychiatric nursing at Duke University and supervised the children’s psychiatric unit at
Umstead. She retired briefly, but was persuaded to return to Duke for two more years, then
was repeatedly called on to serve as a night supervisor at Umstead Hospital.
For decades, Ruth’s beautiful and monumental wall of home-canned fruits and vegetables fed
generations of her own family, and others who might as well have been. The aroma of her
homemade bread drew visitors like bees to the honey from Frank’s beehives. Her sons’
marriages brought her longed-for daughters. With the grandchildren, there were sleep-overs,
trips to Surfside Beach, and birthdays.
Her second retirement meant less scheduling and more gardening. Ruth, Frank, and the dogs
had more chances to get snowed in at the wood-heated and candle-lit mountain camp. For
years Ruth had already filled in as grandmother for the children of friends. During later years,
she was also something like “gramma” to neighborhood kids.
In 2003, Ruth and Frank relocated to Angier, NC to be nearer to their son Hal; they soon had
new close friends and “grandchildren.” Through Save The Children, she supplied hundreds of
hand-knitted sweaters and caps to children around the world. She stayed engaged and active
with morning walks, book groups, yoga, and Bible study. Age began to slow her once she passed
90; she had to let her neighbor start her rotor tiller for spring plowing.
Frank died in 2007; Ruth remained in her Angier home until opting for independent living at
Salemtowne in 2019. It was a sort of homecoming, as so many relatives and lifelong friends
also moved there. Decades earlier, Ruth’s own mother had lived there for 12 years. Ruth often
marveled at how the Salemtowne community was ideal for her. The family is very grateful for
the outpouring of community support before and through her brief, final illness.
Ruth Askins is remembered for her sincerity, kindness, and hospitality. She told stories,
practiced inclusion, praised the talents of others, and believed there was a force for goodness
in the world. She is survived by three sisters: Dorothy Dill of Aiken, SC, Mildred Kinser of
Modesto, CA, and Sarah Catron of Winston Salem, NC; three sons: William Askins (Nadine),
Harold Askins, and Charles Askins (Kathy); four grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Salemtowne Resident Assistant Fund or the
charity of your choice, or simply perform random acts of kindness.