Remembering Ruth Simos

March 1, 2018

By Michael Timm

A member of the Bay View Arts Guild, Simos took art classes at MATC. She painted and drew figures, flowers, and Milwaukee park landscapes. Simos was also on the selection committee for art to revamp Mitchell International’s baggage claim area. Her drawing of a tree can be seen on the marker in South Shore Park that is placed where the giant European Copper Beech tree stood before it was recently culled. —Photo Gibson Bathrick

Ruth Simos, March 28, 1924 – February 22, 2018

This article was originally published in the Compass February 2011 to announce that Ruth Simos had been selected as winner of the Bay View Compass Spirit of Bay View award. Simos embodied the spirit of Bay View as a volunteer and the president and founder of the Humboldt Park Watch.

Ruth Simos, Tireless Parks Advocate

There was dancing in the street. The dancers wore black leotards, headbands with silver sequins, and black felt spats that looked like horse hooves. They shook their silver pom-poms to catcalls as men emerged from a bar near KK and Lincoln, holding signs with scores of 9s and 10s. A man shouted at one of the dancers, “Hey, Granny, you can bake cookies for me any day!”

That dancer was Ruth Margaret Simos, one-time member of the Dancing Grannies, a local troupe that was dancing in the South Shore Frolics Parade. Simos joined women from the Bay View Historical Society and the South Shore Yacht Club as a Dancing Granny for a few years. “It was fun,” Simos recalled. “It was an adventure.”

Simos lives near Humboldt Park in the same Bay View bungalow her parents bought when she was nine months old. Her father was a master plumber, her mother a food demonstrator. The youngest of three sisters, Simos grew up with a Depression-era mindset. She remembers her parents’ political yard sign for Al Smith, Catholic candidate for president in 1928. She attended films at the Mirth and the    about  the bombing of Pearl Harbor on the radio while rehearsing a Bay View High School Round Table skit.

She graduated from Bay View High with a science major (with four years of art) and married George Simos, an electrical engineer for Square D Company, in 1945. They started a family on S. Ninth Street in a one-bedroom apartment, then after five years rented and later bought her parents’ house.

The parks have always been a part of Simos’ life. She recalls lacing up her skates and spending many a winter Sunday on the Humboldt Park Lagoon, forgoing meals and returning home exhausted but exhilarated. Nowadays, the cold keeps her inside, but she renders park scenes she’s photographed in watercolor or pastels—sunrises over Lake Michigan and reflections on the lagoon among them.

Simos looks fondly upon Humboldt Park and imagines what Milwaukee would be like if the street grid of houses continued unabated through the open green space. It’s not someplace she would want to live.

“The parks are for everybody,” Simos said. “If you don’t belong to a country club, if you don’t have a swimming pool in your backyard, the parks are there.”

The Humboldt Park Watch Simos launched with a dozen other neighbors is now going into its 14th year. Her proudest accomplishment through the park watch is Tree Day, which brings over 200 schoolchildren into Humboldt Park the second week of October. Kids witness the planting of replacement trees and do related activities. It’s her small way of connecting young people to a valuable public resource.

“The parks have gone downhill so far since Mr. Walker’s been in office,” Simos said, adding that she’s opposed to parks privatization. “Many of us can remember when things were a lot better.”

Simos counts six children (one in Bay View), 16 grandchildren, and multiple great-grandchildren. “All cute,” she said. She enjoys walking her neighborhood and exploring alleys.

She’s witnessed giant leaps in technology but remains convinced that participating directly in human communities is more rewarding. “I see people texting—I think, ‘Good God, get a life.’”

Simos said her community work has resulted in her meeting people that she never would have if she’d stayed in the house. In her mind, volunteering to make a change is better than griping about change that doesn’t happen. And, she quipped, “If you’re a volunteer, they can’t fire you.”

Update:

Ruth Simos Memorial March 17
The visitation and memorial for Ruth Simos will be held at Immaculate Conception Church, 1023 E. Russell Ave., Saturday, March 17, from 10am to 12pm. A celebration of her life will be held after Mass at the Humboldt Park Pavilion.

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