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Remembering Ruth Altshuler, Prominent Philanthropist, And Her Deep Love For Dallas

Volunteer Now/YouTube
Ruth Altshuler, at right, with Barbara Bush, in an undated photo. Altshuler, a prominent Dallas philanthropist, helped raise money for several North Texas organizations.

A memorial service for Ruth Altshuler will be held Thursday at Highland Park United Methodist Church. Altshuler died last week after complications from breaking her hip. She was 93. 

The Dallas philanthropist was known for raising millions of dollars for charities, like the Salvation Army and United Way. 

Altshuler devoted her life to helping others. Her children got to see first-hand the impact she had.

“As a young mother with a young child – a baby – the tendency’s to say, ‘Well, I need to get a babysitter to take care of my baby while I go and visit these people in a nursing home,’ and she didn’t do that. She would pack me off with her.”

That’s Sally Harris, Altshuler’s daughter. She remembers visiting a state-run nursing home in Hutchins. When those residents moved to another facility, Altshuler and her family continued to meet with them.

“I could tell you who we visited, what their names were, what their interests were,” Harris said. “They were our friends.”

This experience influenced Harris, compelling her to think about how she could make life better for others.

Altshuler had that effect on lots of people. She had charm, she was funny, and she loved telling stories.

She had a strategy for raising money. Before every fundraising effort, she wrote a letter.

“She was someone that was very difficult to say no to, because she was a friend,” said Jennifer Sampson, president and CEO of United Way of Metropolitan Dallas. “She was a friend to everyone and she made everyone in her orbit feel like they were the most important star in her galaxy. She made the organizations that she was involved in feel like they were the most significant constellations in that same galaxy.”

Altshuler was born into wealth. But Sampson says her friend spent her life supporting groups that supported the basic needs of the community.

“She cared about people who had nowhere to turn,” Sampson said. “And she worried about people who couldn’t put food on the table. She sat by many a hospital bed with the sick and the elderly.”

In 1974, Altshuler joined the board of the Salvation Army and served for more than 40 years.

In 1983, she led a successful capital campaign, raising more than $15 million. Altshuler and her family also gave a significant contribution. The funds raised were used to build the Salvation Army’s largest social service center in the country. The 600-bed facility was named after her father.

“The Carr P. Collins Center has become synonymous with just excellent care for those who are homeless, in poverty, those who are addicted,” said Major Jonathan Rich, DFW commander for the Salvation Army. “We see lives being changed there every day and it’s in large part because of Ruth and her efforts to raise the money to build it.”

Rich says Altshuler talked a lot about the legacy her parents left her and the example they set. She saw her parents give generously to charities.

Rich was struck by how much Altshuler loved Dallas and wanted to improve it.

That love for the city was one of the reasons why Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings asked her to oversee the commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination. Altshuler was 88 at the time.

Observers said the event at Dealey Plaza was successful. Just like the many charitable causes Ruth Altshuler worked hard to support.

Our earlier story

Altshuler helped raise millions of dollars for organizations such as the Salvation Army and the Communities Foundation of Texas, among others. She was also honorary chair of KERA's 50th anniversary.

She also helped lead the 50th anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination in Dallas.

Altshuler talked with The Washington Post in 2013 about the day of the assassination, when she was waiting at the Trade Mart for the president when she heard the news.

“Erik Jonsson, the founder of Texas Instruments, said 'I have terrible news to report, the president has been shot,’” she said. “He didn't say he's dead. I don't know whether he knew it then or not, but he said: ‘The president's been shot and I will ask Luther Holcomb, who was going to give the benediction, to come up and pray and then we'll be dismissed.’ And he did, and everybody was just stunned. That was the only way to describe it.”

Altshuler was on the grand jury that indicted Jack Ruby, the nightclub owner who shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald. She was the first woman to serve on a grand jury in Dallas.

The Dallas Morning News has more details on her life:


Raised in a stately Swiss Avenue mansion, Altshuler was the youngest child of Fidelity Union Life Insurance founder Carr Collins and his wife, Ruth. A graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School, she and her two brothers were shielded from the Great Depression's effects by her family's relative abundance. 

The Morning News reports on a turning point in her life:

In 1949, she joined the Junior League, a women's civic organization, and was exposed to a different Dallas than she'd ever witnessed at places like Parkland Memorial Hospital, Goodwill Industries and Lighthouse for the Blind.  "I saw people I'd never seen before, and I saw sadness, misery and desperation," she told The News about her time volunteering at Parkland. "Once you see this, you can't go back."

Tributes pour in for Altshuler


In 2016, VolunteerNow honors Ruth Altshuler

2017: A Tribute to Ruth Altshuler from United Way of Metropolitan Dallas

Learn more

SMU remembers Ruth Altshuler: Guiding Hand, Giving Heart: The Legacy of Ruth Collins Sharp Altshuler

D Magazine: "One of the most consequential, community-minded figures in Dallas history learned the importance of serving others when she was in her mid-20s."

The Dallas Morning News: "A philanthropic dynamo and trusted overseer of many a civic project."

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.
Former KERA staffer Krystina Martinez was an assistant producer. She produced local content for Morning Edition and She also produced The Friday Conversation, a weekly series of conversations with North Texas newsmakers. Krystina was also the backup newscaster for the Texas Standard.