SHELBY TOWNSHIP — Experiences with a longtime Shelby Township nature enthusiast will always be in the hearts of those who were fortunate enough to know her during her lifetime.
Ruth Glass, 63, died Nov. 12 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.
Over the years, she worked with the Clinton River Watershed Council, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Macomb Audubon Society, the Shelby Township Nature Center, Lake Saint Clair Metropark, Wildlife Habitat Council, Seven Ponds Nature Center, and Stony Creek Metropark.
Born and raised in Detroit, Glass graduated from Denby High School and taught Sunday school at Bethany Lutheran Church in Detroit. She graduated magna cum laude from Lawrence Tech University and was a member of the Lambda Iota Tau Honor Society.
She spent a lot of time monitoring and working with others who were bird watching at the Shelby Township Nature Center. Glass was a member of the Audubon society for more than 30 years and led field trips at Stony Creek Metropark for many years.
On Nov. 20, a memorial gathering and memorial service were held at Wm. Sullivan & Son Funeral Home in Utica.
Joan Bonin, a Shelby Township Nature Center volunteer, said that if you ever had a chance to go on one of Glass’s bird walks, you were blessed.
“If you had the honor of being her friend, your life was forever changed. … I could easily write a book on my experience being a friend and student of Ruth Glass,” she said in an email.
Bonin said that she and her husband went on many bird walks that Glass led.
“Always a wealth of knowledge, each adventure was enriching and educational. She freely shared her vast knowledge with everyone and always took the time to explain in detail about the species of bird we saw,” she said.
She said her most important experiences with Glass were completely life-changing.
“In early 2013, I saw my first eagle on the melting ice of Stony Lake, flying and diving into the cold waters, hunting ducks. It was akin to seeing an angel on that cold early April day. I soon found that they were nesting in Stony Creek Metropark. Shortly after, I met Ruth Glass. She was ever so willing to share her knowledge. She mentored me about all things bald eagle. Eventually, I became bald eagle observer for the Huron-Clinton Metroparks. Forever concerned about the wellbeing of the eagles, she helped to orchestrate the Stony Creek Lake cleanup after the female bald eagle was caught in fishing line in 2013,” Bonin said.
Glass saw that bales of hay and straw were taken to the nest area when the bitter cold and snow of 2014 prevented the eagles from getting bedding grasses for their nest.
“Ruth coordinated the banding of the Stony Creek eaglets for the five years they were banded. Four of those years, I went along. To have touched an eaglet is an experience I will never forget. She taught me about eagles until I could stand on my own two feet; then she taught me more. I followed her, walking in her footsteps. Now, those steps are hard to find, but maybe not. What she accomplished is that every one of us associated with her will be able to pass her teachings on to others. I can’t think of a better way to be immortal,” she said.
Mary Creager, of Shelby Township, said she first met Glass around 1990, when they were both working for EDS in Troy.
“It was spring, and the parking lot drainage ponds in our complex had recently been discovered by Canada geese looking for nesting sites. Employees were complaining about goose poop on the sidewalks, and assertive ganders denying passage between buildings. Ruth and a couple friends did some thorough research into goose biology, behavior and control methods, and did their best to educate all involved on a reasonable, humane approach to the problem, so I found her desk, introduced myself as someone also interested in birds — and appreciative of her efforts — and thus began a long friendship,” Creager said in an email.
She said any topic that Glass was interested in, any natural history question that arose, Glass did her homework and shared the information with others. For any birding walk that Glass led for Stony Creek Metropark and other organizations, Creager said, Glass walked the location in advance — sometimes with loppers for any pruning necessary to make sure the trail would accommodate the group.
“She was a wonderful, intentional teacher in the field and often brought props to her guided public walks, such as mounted specimens of birds we were likely to see. She began each walk with a discussion of the natural and human history of the place, and raised awareness of any environmental concerns. She always took time to coach the newbies on how to use their binoculars. And if we were looking afar at ducks or eagles, and using her tripod-mounted spotting scope, she always brought a little step stool for junior birders to stand on,” she said.
Jen Andersen, of Shelby Township, said Glass revealed an entire plane that she’d been living on but was unaware of how birds made it more colorful, fun and rich.
“Through our friendship, my spouse and I have since found ourselves connected to an entire community of fantastic people, and we’re even more connected to nature than we already were,” she said in an email.
She said they met Glass like so many of Glass’s friends met her.
“We went to a bird walk to learn about the Stony Creek eagles. For those of you who don’t know, birders will often refer to their ‘spark bird’ when sharing why they started birding. For us, it wasn’t the eagles. Ruth was our spark bird,” Andersen said.
We met her at a time when I really needed something, but I didn’t know what. And as ever, (my husband) Jeff is always fulfilled by whatever comes his way outdoors. This time, it was Ruth. And it was all of the treasured friends and birds and experiences that followed because of her. She loved, LOVED, birds. And nature. Her depth of knowledge and clear joy in sharing it are the reason so many of us got hooked,” she said.
She said she’d even miss Glass’s gentle admonishments, hushing participants for chatting too loudly on her bird walks.
“As she always advised us, ‘Keep your eyes to the sky.’ Ruth had her wings long before she was an angel,” said Andersen.
Deb Geno, of Shelby Township, said Glass had a knack of making each person feel special and validated in unexpected ways.
“I recall her offering to take me to a new area to hike that had just opened up. We traversed trails and finally reached the wooded ravines with a river running at the base with the unexpected wood duck swimming in an eddy. We sat and just soaked up the experience with the sound of rippling water,” Geno said via email.
She said the visual experience and sensations of being in this otherworldly place was a strong memory that Glass placed in a metaphoric basket that she would replenish with more experiences and memories.
“On the way back, she spoke of some of her health challenges and the pull to retire. I remember my concern for her, not realizing fully the enormity of what she soon would be facing. But in that basket of memories that Ruth tended was her cheery laugh of finding amusing circumstances in life, no matter the hardship. I never heard her say a negative thing about anyone she knew,” she said.
She said they all are savoring and revisiting those memories, recalling her “kindness, sweet laugh and tremendous wisdom and humility.”