Ruth Trask, Longtime Alumni Editor and Writer at WPI
Ruth Ann (Shonyo) Trask, who chronicled the achievements and diverse career paths of WPI’s graduates for more than two decades as alumni editor for the WPI Journal and the The Wire, passed away in Northborough, Mass, on Tuesday, July 26, 2016. She was 86.
Born in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, Ruth won recognition for her writing abilities early on. As a student at Lyndon Institute, an independent high school in Lyndon Center, Vermont, she entered a patriotic essay writing contest that earned her honorary membership in Quiz Kids, a national radio and TV series of the 1940s and 1950s that featured a panel of teenagers who competed to answer challenging trivia questions.
She graduated from Colby Junior College, where she won a campus correspondent award from the former Mademoiselle magazine and was a charter member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. She went on to graduate from Middlebury College, where she was a member of Alpha Xi Delta Sorority, and then attended Katharine Gibbs School in Boston.
She honed her reporting skills as a member of the news staffs of the Caledonian-Record in St. Johnsbury and the Addison County Independent in Middlebury, and also won an honorary short story writing award from Writer’s Digest and poetry awards from Ideals. She would go on to publish many short stories in women’s magazines and win numerous writing awards over the years.
In 1971 she joined the staff of WPI’s University Relations Department as alumni editor for the Journal, WPI’s alumni magazine. In that capacity, she compiled the class notes (consistently the most-read section of the publication), wrote short alumni profiles, and frequently covered general WPI developments in news briefs and feature stories. In 1986, when the tabloid publication The Wire was spun off from the Journal, she continued those duties for that periodical, while taking on expanded responsibilities for the Journal.
One of those added assignments was contributing regular essays to a department called Final Word, which often focused on alumni who were using their WPI degrees in unexpected professions. Over the years she uncovered the tales of a local alumnus who produced a radio program for fellow Lithuanian-Americans, an alumna who left Wall Street to become a baker, a Peace Corps volunteer who stayed on to run a business in Micronesia, a music teacher, a judge, a town manager, a furniture maker, a tavern owner, and many others.
Research Communications Director Michael Dorsey, who was editor of the Journal during part of Ruth’s tenure, says she was especially talented at uncovering stories like these and always seemed to have large store of fascinating alumni stories at her fingertips. “I once decided to do an entire issue focused on alumni working in various corners of the food industry,” he says. “We ran 16 profiles, in all, from farmers, to restaurant owners, to pioneers in food processing, to a CEO of a major food company. Ruth was able to draw on her knowledge of WPI’s graduates to identify most of those subjects, and she also wrote many of those profiles. This turned out to be a very popular issue, and I honestly could not have attempted it without Ruth’s help.
“What I remember most about Ruth is that she was a really good reporter and writer who could make even a not-so-exciting alumni story come alive,” Dorsey said. “She had a knack for drawing people out and getting them to share interesting details of their lives that she would turn into really lovely profiles. I think her success as an interviewer stemmed from her genuine interest in other people, her friendly nature, and her self-deprecating style, which put people at ease. I recall that she built a lot of friendships with alums through her work as editor, which is a reflection of the rapport she would build with her subjects.”
Outside of work, Ruth, who retired from WPI in 1993, enjoyed singing with the Old South Church Choir in Boston, the Master Singers in Worcester, and the First Congregational Church Choir in West Boylston. She also liked to travel, though on occasion her vacations turned into interesting tales worthy of her narrative talents, including the time in 1968 when she and her family were rescued by the Canadian Mounties when the train they were traveling on crashed in the Rockies.
She is survived by her ex-husband, William F. “Tuna” Trask, longtime director of WPI’s Office of Graduate and Career Plans, sons Jeff and Terry, daughters Carrie and Laurie, and three grandchildren.
A funeral service was held on Saturday, July 30, in the First Congregational Church in West Boylston. Memorial donations may be made to the First Congregational Church Organ Fund, 26 Central Street, West Boylston, MA 01583, or the JHC Hospice, 629 Salisbury Street, Worcester, MA 01609.