Ruth’s Readers

Rainier book club Ruth’s Readers a hub of conversation for 15 years

Joan (pronounced Joann) Mason was enthusiastic about the October read, ‘Outliers: The Story of Success’ by Malcolm Gladwell. A retired teacher, Joan offered up several talking points that stemmed from her years spent as an instructor.
October 29, 2013 7:15 am • By Brenda Blevins McCorkle(0) Comments
“They had to appreciate that the values of the world we inhabit and the people we surround ourselves with have a profound effect on who we are.”

Malcolm Gladwell, from the book, “The Outliers”

Their personalities and opinions are as colorful and diverse as the paperback covers on a rack at Powells Books in Portland.

And yet, the members of Ruth’s Readers, a book club in Rainier, are drawn together once a month by their love of the written word. Here, they nestle like dog-eared pages into the fluffy wing chairs in a meeting room in the basement of Rainier United Methodist Church, exchanging ideas about their book of the month.

The group began 15 years ago when Ruth Kellar wanted to take part in a book club without having to travel far to do so. The retired Rainier teacher drew in friends, family and former students.

Joan (pronounced Joann) Mason, also a retired teacher, is the only remaining original member of the club.

“Except when I’ve been sick or out of town, I’ve attended every monthly meeting throughout the years,” Mason, 78, said. “I love the mental stimulation and the interaction with others in the group.”

After Ruth died in 2006, her son Marvin Kellar of Rainier took over as group leader.

“No one really wanted to take over her spot, so I said I’ll take it,” Marvin said.

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South Carolina native and now Rainier resident John Stanley said he gained an immediate sense of community when he joined the book club.

They decided to keep the name of the group as Ruth’s Readers, as a tribute to the woman who formed it.

All community members are welcome to attend meetings, which are held at 7 p.m. the second Monday of each month at the church.

During a recent meeting, the club members discussed a book called “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell. Marvin brought his laptop with him, armed with a synopsis of the tome and questions meant to spark conversation about the work — a nonfiction study of the elements of the lives of successful people.

Turns out, Marvin didn’t need the questions. The book is so intriguing to Joan, she opens with a story from her early teaching days.

When she was a new instructor, she struggled to keep her head above water. Teachers commonly grouped students according to their abilities, and Joan saw one of her students as ready to excel and put her in with other students like her.

She didn’t find out until the end of the school year, when the parents thanked her for working with the child, that such grouping had helped the girl to do better in school than she had ever done before.

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Marvin Kellar, son of the founder of Ruth’s Readers, is the official facilitator for the group. Here he is shown at the club’s October meeting with his laptop, which is armed with a synopsis of that month’s book and questions to provoke discussion.

That taught the young teacher a lesson, Joan said.

“Kids will become what you perceive them to be,” she said.

The thought is palatable to the other members, but if it hadn’t been, there would have been no hesitation to speak up.

Rainier’s Walter Winchell, 78, said he joined the club in 2009 when the group was reading “Kitchen Table Wisdom” by Rachael Naomi Remen. He noted that there are certain books that the club would have to really think about before bringing them to the table.

“The toughest book I can imagine to discuss would be a political book and the different views that would cause,” he said.

Not that it would be a bad thing, said John Stanley, a South Carolina native now living in Rainier.

“We feel comfortable with someone having a contrasting opinion, and yet we enjoy the people involved as well,” he said.

“Walter and I have this thing, where he has as much right to be wrong as I do to be right,” Marvin chimed in.

Everyone chuckled.

Joan said it takes a certain type of personality to be able to take part in such discussions.

“If you are a judgemental person, you don’t easily do this. You have all these restrictions about who you can bear to be around, but if you’re accepting of other people’s points of view, you are a lot more open to having many more relationships of the type,” she said.

In 2006, The Daily News featured the group after the members had read 100 books.

Now at its 15th anniversary, club members have digested 180 books. They do so at a rate of one per month, and members choose books by consensus. In October, the group decided they would read a classic for November, “A Farewell to Arms” by Ernest Hemingway.

Marvin points out, though, that the goal is not to read as many books as possible.

“It’s the quality of the books and the quality of the people,” he said.

John said he experienced an “instant sense of community” after joining. Although he can’t remember when they moved to Rainier, it hasn’t been for long, he said.

“He belongs to Rainier, though, if not because of this group, then reinforced by this group,” Marvin said.

Elaine Davis — another member of 10 years who was not at the meeting — said during an email interview that being in Ruth’s Readers has helped promote not only reading but has established friendships that she might not otherwise have experienced.

“Being in my 70s and retired, I find Ruth’s Readers a very good way to keep connected with people of like interests,” she said.

One member, Rob Sturdevant, even commutes from Aloha, Ore., to come to the meetings, Marvin said.

Walter likens it to a family.

“We get together, and it’s like we haven’t been apart,” he said.

The meeting, John said, is much like the first part of “Outliers.”

At the very beginning, Gladwell writes about researchers finding a conclave of Italian immigrants who lived longer, had low rates of heart disease and were overhaul healthier than those living around them.

Doctors ruled out diet, exercise and other influences and eventually concluded the secret to their longevity was their social interaction within the community.

“The other thing that goes along with that … for that exact reason,” he said. “Is this little meeting the second Monday of every month is life-giving. We enjoy the people involved.”

Brenda McCorkle is part of the Community News team and writes features for The Daily News. Reach her at 360-577-2515 or

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