Diné College salutes renown educator Ruth Roessel

TSAILE, Ariz., May 19, 2012

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(Courtesy photo - Ed McCombs/Diné College)

Ruth Roessel give the keynote address at Diné College's 2009 commencement.

D iné College released the following statement April 13 following the death of co-founder Ruth Roessel: "The college community expresses great sadness at the loss of our dear friend Ruth Roessel.

"The students, staff, faculty, administration and board of regents want to convey their sincere gratitude for her tremendous contributions. She individually was responsible in great measure for the creation of Diné College."

Maggie George, president of Diné College, said, "We extend our condolences to Ruth's family. Thank you for sharing her with us. Ruth will be remembered for her outstanding contributions to our college, to Navajo education, and to the Navajo people."

In June 1971, in the seminal work "Navajo Studies at Navajo Community College," Roessel wrote, "If the Navajo loses or ignores his own culture he stands weaker and more vulnerable. If he understands and respects his culture, he stands strong and tall."

Her message, about the value and importance of educating students with the Navajo worldview at the heart of student learning, remains central to Navajo education even today.

In a 2004 interview, Ruth's husband, the late Robert Roessel, related some of the highlights of how the college came to be.

"My wife Ruth and I were over at Rough Rock Demonstration School. The BIA said there was no money for higher education so what did we do? We went back to Washington, D.C.

"What we needed was an act of Congress to establish Navajo Community College. We went back four times. We begged him (Rep. Wayne Aspenall, then head of the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee) to have hearings to tell people the needs of the Navajo," Roessel recalled.

"After our fourth visit, my wife Ruth stayed behind in his office. Behind the closed door I could hear them laughing. After a while they came out and he had his arm around her. She had invited him to attend a dedication ceremony and he had accepted!" Robert Roessel said.

The meeting led to the establishment of the college. She continued to be involved with the college for many years as an instructor and author.

She wrote several books published by the college press including "Navajo Livestock Reduction: a National Disgrace," "Navajo Stories of the Long Walk" and "Navajo Studies at Navajo Community College."

Most recently, Ruth Roessel was the commencement speaker at the 2009 college graduation.

"As the 'Founding Mother' of the college, Ruth Roessel will always have a special place in the hearts our college family," the Diné College news release states. "We salute her and her life's work."