Ruth V. Bennett, 98, formerly of Elkins Park, a former Philadelphia school board member and civic volunteer, died Friday, March 20, of complications from dementia at her apartment in Voorhees.
Mrs. Bennett was born Ruth Levin in Philadelphia and grew up over her parents’ dress shop in the 1920s. She graduated from the city’s public schools, but did not attend college. That fact fueled her passion for public education and her focus on higher education as the key to advancement, said her son, Jonathan D. Bennett.
She told her two granddaughters, “You can do anything the boys can do. Girls’ education is where it is,” her son said. “She believed in excellence and competence, and that’s what she tried to instill. I really think that helped them.”
In the late 1960s, she was appointed by Mayor Richardson Dilworth to the Philadelphia Board of Education, where she advocated for students. She served through the early 1970s.
“She felt the path forward was quality education,” her son said. “She always felt that it would solve the problem of employment and upward mobility.”
Mrs. Bennett chaired a study by the Citizens Committee on Public Education, which chronicled the governance history of the Philadelphia public schools from 1802 through 1974. She also served on the Pennsylvania Citizens Commission on Basic Education.
Her high profile resulted in her appointment by President Richard M. Nixon to the White House Conference on Education in 1970.
“She felt honored by the whole thing, she was thrilled,” her son said. “She was in the White House and got to talk to Pat Nixon.”
She received many awards for her contributions to education, including the 1970 Samuel S. Fels Award.
Mrs. Bennett served the Jewish community of Philadelphia in many capacities. She was a member of the board of directors of the Jewish Community Relations Council, and served on both the national executive council and the Philadelphia chapter of the American Jewish Committee, and on the executive committee of the Federation of Jewish Agencies’ Women’s Council.
She was one of the early organizers of the Klein Branch of Jewish Y’s and Centers in Northeast Philadelphia and served as its vice president. “When she got involved, there wasn’t a building there,” her son said. “She was on the community relations side, getting approvals and speaking to elected officials.”
Mrs. Bennett was appointed to the Pennsylvania Trial Court Nominating Commission, which recommended judicial candidates.
She was a community relations consultant for Comcast Corp. during its early days in Philadelphia, and a member of the board of directors of the League of Women Voters, her son said.
From 1942 to 1948, she worked as a supervisor in a naval messaging center in Philadelphia, coding and decoding messages both during and after World War II. She held a high-level security clearance.
Mrs. Bennett married Benjamin S. Bennett, an accountant, in 1948. They raised two children in Northeast Philadelphia. He died in 2003. A daughter, Sarah Bennett Thompson, died in 2004.
In retirement, starting in 1987, Mrs. Bennett moved to Naples, Fla. She enjoyed collecting shells, exercising, reading, playing Scrabble, and bridge, and entertaining friends and family.
In addition to her son, she is survived by three grandchildren.
Services are private.