Holly Ruth Gale’s office is a picture of organized chaos. Papers, folders, binders and books adorn the surface of her desk and the piano. The walls are papered with drawings, letters and playbills. The sound of her piano and a student singing scales can be heard through the closed door.
The office’s appearance is reflective of Gale’s energy. Her age is of no consequence in her life and work. Rather, she allows it to inspire her.
While her children moving out of the house could have been a chance for her to settle back and enjoy the empty nest, she decided to reject what was expected and continue forging her own path. Her work at Arkansas Tech University as a professor of music takes the highest priority, but to stay sharp in summer, she regularly performs.
Lately, her summer months have been spent cultivating a new project: a one-woman play, entitled “Femme Vítal.” The theme of the play is something near and dear to Gale’s heart – the idea that a woman’s age does not define her, and that someone must forge their own path to happiness.
While the show is a huge point of pride for Gale, she still takes a huge amount of pride in her work as a professor.
Her career as a professor started almost by accident. “I had been performing for a while, and then I was here in Russellville and Arkansas Tech needed an adjunct voice professor,” she explained. “They knew of me and I had been singing professionally, and I was teaching private lessons in a private studio, and I’ve been doing that for years.”
“It kind of fell in my lap,” she later said.
The decision to accept the adjunct position was in part influenced by the fact that she’d been married for several years and had recently had her oldest daughter. Her husband, who she refers to as “Dreamy John Gale,” was supportive of her choice to remain in the workforce.
“I was never an athome mom; I was so fortunate because both sets of parents were close by, so between John and myself and the grandparents, we were able to stay busy, and I needed to work,” she said.
Her time as an adjunct professor allowed her to realize her passion for teaching at a college level.
“Most of the students I had been teaching up to that point were more junior high and high school age,” she explained. “I liked the college literature; I really enjoy the college age group a lot because you guys are just kind of on the precipice of adulthood.”
“It’s really exciting to watch you guys grow up,” she said.
Despite having a new child, giving lessons, and having the adjunct position, Holly Ruth pursued a Master’s degree at the urging of Bob Casey, the music department head at the time. She attended the University of Central Arkansas and maintained a full-time visiting professor position at Tech, while also caring for her baby. In four years, she received her Master’s of Music and Vocal Performance.
“Those were four crazy years while I was in school,” she laughed. “After that I applied for a tenured position that came up and happily got it.”
The position at Tech has helped her maintain her skill as a performer as well.
“When you’re teaching voice, you’re having to think about that craft all the time,” she explained. “It’s interesting because no two voice lessons are the same; as a teacher, you’re having to stay on your toes and help problem-solve issues that are unique to a single voice.”
Along with helping her stay on top of her game, Holly Ruth said that one of her favorite things about the private lesson aspect of teaching is when certain concepts just “click” with students. It’s one of many small things that give her a greater appreciation for the work that she does here at Tech. While she did enjoy teaching younger students as well, certain aspects of teaching at a college level appeal to her a bit more.
“I enjoy what’s happening with [college student’s] voices as they come into young adulthood,” she commented. “They’re capable of understanding the literature and the poetry that you use.”
No matter who she teaches, Holly Ruth has a passion for education. The reverence she has for educators of all kinds is evident any time she speaks of them. And to anyone who wants to be a teacher and has been told they were “settling” or perhaps had been told they were not good enough for a “real” profession, she has one reassuring thing to say:
“Students who have been told that teaching is to settle, so to speak, that is flat out a bogus thought process,” she said, quite firmly. “It is a rare and special person who can do that, and I would even say if you don’t really want to teach, please don’t. Because our children need people who want to be there with them.”
Holly Ruth could be considered a rare and special person. There are many aspects of the growing diversity of the student body at Tech that could pose a challenge to a conservatively raised, religious woman of her age, but Holly Ruth’s outlook on it is simple: be kind to everyone.
“This is going to sound cliché, but the more I learn, the more I don’t know, and the more I am at peace with not knowing the mysteries of the world,” she said. “I’ve become more laid back with age… I hope I’ve become less judgmental, and I’m really at peace with people being who they need to be, and the one thing I think we all need to do is to be in service to each other, and giving and helping and kind, and if we’re there, everything else falls in line.”
“I think being polite to each other should be an assumed,” she said. “I think being kind should be an assumed.”
Holly Ruth’s inherent kindness and passion for her work creates an environment unique only to her. Her eyes, with 54 years of wisdom, are just as youthful as her smile, her laughter and her voice, all of which overflow with mirth. Her life and heart are full, and it shows in everything she does.