Published Date Written by David Amerman
She spent 26 years molding the minds of youths as a coach, educator and extracurricular advisor at Middletown Area High School. She co-founded the Hummelstown Swim Club, spending 55 years as its president and cultivating it into the community staple it is today.
To all who came in contact with her, Ruth Goepfert of Hummelstown – better known as ‘’Mrs. G’’ – was nothing if not a truly inspiring figure, fostering leadership skills, respect and integrity among other qualities in her students. On Saturday, March 15, she died after 88 years of richly-lived existence.
“Mrs. Goepfert was an amazing role model,” said Christine Shaffer, who had Mrs. G as a health and physical education teacher and a cheerleading coach. “She expected so much out of everyone. Her high expectations were reasonable and fair.”
Earl Bright IV, principal of Reid Elementary School, fondly remembers his high school career at Middletown being filled with Mrs. G’s presence. Whether she was his health and gym teacher or his advisor at Student Council, there was Mrs. G working as diligently as ever.
“She was a phenomenal educator,” recalled Bright. “She was very, very personable and professional with incredibly high standards and expectations of all of her students. She made those expectations very, very clear and she reminded you of them often.
“If you did not meet those expectations, she also reminded you of that, but she did it in a very personable way,’’ he said. “It wasn’t demeaning or degrading. It wasn’t that you made a bad decision or you’re not living up to her expectations, it was just she knows you can do a better job.”
“Every year when we found out who made the cheerleading team we had a team meeting,” recalled Shaffer. “At this meeting she told us, ‘My cheerleaders will not engage in premarital sex, drink alcohol, do drugs, smoke, swear, or party! If you are found doing any of these behaviors you will be kicked off the squad! If you get into any trouble, please tell me first because I like to say that I already know. And remember, a cheerleader represents the school whether you are in your uniform or not.”
“You could not have asked for better morals to be in place for high school girls,’’ said Shaffer. “Mrs. G meant every word of what she said because there were girls kicked off the squad for engaging in these behaviors. In fact, some of the cheerleaders were more afraid of Mrs. Goepfert than they were of their own parents.”
JoAnn Shipkowski had Mrs. G as a teacher and cheerleading coach from 1967 to 1968. “She impacted a lot of people,’’ said Shipkowski. “She was a real presence at the high school. Everybody knew her. I think people felt comfortable going to her if they had problems. She was just that type of person and very motherly.”
A common pleasant memory shared among alumni of Mrs. G’s classes was her inclusion of square dancing in her physical education curriculum. According to Shaffer, Mrs. G was “the best [square dance] caller around.”
For Bright, one of his fondest memories of Mrs. G was receiving a special grade called “deportment,” which Bright said was basically a grade for behavior.
“If you did not have a 4.0 in deportment, you were treated to a lecture from her when report cards came out. I got quite a few lectures from her,” said Bright, with a warm chuckle of reminiscence. “My deportment grade was very rarely, if ever, a 4.0. It got to a point in time where I kind of expected that lecture. I probably would have been upset if I didn’t get it.”
“Mrs. Goepfert will be truly missed for many reasons,” said Shaffer, now a teacher at Reid Elementary School. “Her organizational skills, morals, laughter, and how much she truly cared about everyone. She was the kind of person that is needed in our schools: strict but fair.”
“I think she helped me to become the person I am today, the educator I am today, and hopefully the role model I am today,” said Bright.
While summer customarily spells the end of a school year, it never once spelled the end of Mrs. G’s contributions to her community. Specifically, it meant the opening of the Hummelstown Swim Club, which she co-founded in 1959 with her late husband, Jack.
And while she kept busy maintaining the Swim Club and coordinating the Hummelstown Swim Team, Mrs. G still found the time for helping others. One such individual who benefited from Mrs. G’s caring nature is Paul Hetrick, founder of The Hetrick Center, a chain of outpatient rehabilitation centers interspersed throughout central Pennsylvania.
Around Memorial Day of 1966, the then 12-year-old Hetrick suffered a severe head injury that left him with neurological deficits and rendered him unable to walk.
Shortly thereafter, Hetrick’s parents got a call from Mrs. G offering to take him to the Hummelstown Swim Club before it opened to help him out.
“It was Ruth’s thought that if the problem is that I can’t walk, I can at least use my arms, stay strong, and stay active, and that would be good for me,” said Hetrick. “Little did I know the seed that she was planting in my own mind at that point in time of the healing properties of water.”
Over the course of that summer, one of the Goepferts would pick Hetrick up at his home and take him to the pool before opening hours so Hetrick didn’t have to be around his friends and suffer any embarrassment due to his injury. Mrs. G worked extensively with him with great determination toward the goal of mobility.
“Two words I learned you could never use in front of Ruth were ‘I can’t’ and ‘I won’t’ because she didn’t accept those two words,” said Hetrick. “She would sternly, but very quietly, direct you towards your path of success.”
Before long, Hetrick was able to get his legs underneath him and was able to walk once again.
“It was Ruth’s passion for helping others and her passion for the fact that she believed in the properties of water,’’ said Hetrick. “She just felt that this would be the best thing they could do for me and, of course, nowadays we have other fancier types of protocols, but God bless Ruth and the fact that she had true determination and an unbelievable amount of passion.
“In my mind, she’s a visionary type of person and a loving, caring person,’’ Hetrick said. “She just wanted to do what she thought was the right thing for a kid in need.”
But Mrs. G’s influence didn’t stop there. In fact, her legacy still continues today through Hetrick, who had a key hand in inventing the HydroWorx therapy pool. Hetrick drew from his experience with Mrs. G in designing the pool, adding features such as an elevating pool floor, an underwater treadmill, and cameras for patients to see their legs as they move.
“Everything I ended up inventing was because of what Ruth had done for me. I have to credit her for planting the seed, allowing me to then invent the pool,” said Hetrick. “It’s kind of my tribute back to Ruth. Here was a woman who helped a small-town kid in need. She helped me out, never asked for a dime, never asked for recognition, didn’t ask for anything.’’
Ruth Goepfert and her swimming club “truly changed my life,’’ Hetrick said.
“All she wanted to do was bring a place for kids to be able to play, a place for kids to be able to grow, a place for families to be able to gather and share fellowship,’’ he said, “and through all that, she ended up changing one kid’s life and now allows us to take care of other people. She’s just a true hero.”