Dr. Ruth Kaarlela, professor emerita and chair of blindness and low vision studies at Western Michigan University, died Jan. 8. She was 98.
Kaarlela joined what is now the Department of Blindness and Low Vision Studies in 1963 and retired with emerita status in 1986 after nearly 23 years of service to the University. She was appointed department chair in 1980 and served in that role until her retirement.
Dr. Ruth Kaarlela
A veteran teacher and social worker, Kaarlela came to WMU to help establish a College of Education and Human Development program in home training for the blind. In addition to helping to establish this rehabilitation teaching program, she is credited during her tenure with developing and maintaining the overall rehabilitation teaching curriculum.
Kaarlela was involved in offering graduate courses as well as refining program content to include low-vision, multi-handicapping conditions, gerontology and technology. She also taught WMU's first gerontology course, which later led to the creation of a complete gerontology degree program.
She wrote numerous articles for professional journals, consulted for organizations around the country and was active in many national organizations. Her organizational ties included serving as chair of the Association of University Educators in Rehabilitation Teaching and Orientation and Mobility as well as serving as a board member of the Michigan Society of Gerontology, Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, and National Accreditation Council for the Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped.
After retiring from WMU, Kaarlela worked for the American Foundation for the Blind, educating Native Americans with respect to visual problems. Prior to coming to the University, her employment included being a teacher of the blind, supervisor of a New York school for emotionally disturbed children, and supervisor of social workers and students at the University of Michigan hospital.
Kaarlela earned a bachelor's and master's degree in social work from Wayne State University and a doctoral degree in gerontology from the University of Michigan. She also completed coursework at Syracuse and Columbia universities, earning certification in special education to teach blind children.
Private services have been held.
Memorial gifts may be made to Finlandia University or the Finnish Center Association.
601 Quincy St.
Hancock MI 49930
Finnish Center Association
35200 W. Eight Mile Road
Farmington Hill MI 48335
View the family obituary and a message book.