Sign up for News & Updates

The Passing of Ruth Fairchild

Dear friends,

It is with heavy hearts that we share the news of the passing of Ruth Fairchild after a car accident.  Ruth was a true visionary, disciple, mentor, friend, and warrior who served as a leader and partner in the Learning Center’s work over the past decade. The following is an excerpt from our nomination of Ruth for Rockford’s 2017 Excalibur Award; it captures just a taste of her indomitable spirit and her impact on individuals and the broader community.  

Ruth Fairchild first called me in 2008 to discuss the possibility of starting a garden at Blackhawk Courts Housing Complex.  There, through outreach work with Zion Church and Lutheran Social Services, Inc., she had started Blackhawk Buddy House, an apartment with diverse support services for residents, including after-school tutoring, classes for parents, and assistance navigating whatever obstacles the residents faced.   

Ruth’s vision included a garden outside the Buddy House, for its many and varied benefits for residents: beautification, positive activities for children, healthy food, a common project, and intergenerational opportunities for families to do together.   What began as a few raised beds in 2009 quickly grew to collaboration on a half-acre community-supported vegetable farm with jobs for residents, as well as skill and community-building educational programs that serve the youth and adults at Blackhawk Courts.

The success of this project is grounded in her many and diverse leadership qualities.

  • Vision and courage grounded in faith:  Ruth’s vision is large; she shares it widely.  Her faith keeps her grounded in the larger picture, and prayer helps her focus on the needs at hand and find the strength from God to be responsive.   This faith fuels incredible courage to SPEAK and DO when something needs changing.
  • Perseverance: If something doesn’t go as planned, Ruth keeps finding another route.  If her car breaks down, she walks. If someone needs help getting an appointment, she’ll make calls on their behalf.  If an opportunity exists in the community, she pursues it.   
  • Speaking up:  Ruth is a master storyteller, and will let people know in a compelling way what happened, and how they can be involved.  She gets people to show up, and to understand how their participation makes a difference. She speaks frankly on impacts of racism, violence and sexism.    
  • Connections:  Ruth has savvy in knowing who to engage and involve in a project.  Often, these connections lead to funding, but, just as importantly, they help to rally relationships or bring new programs or opportunities into the community.
  • Care for the individual: If there is an individual in need, Ruth keeps going until she knows that they are safe and provided for.  She has helped raise many children, rallied legal support, taught people how to clean house, and so much more.  Where someone needs something, she’ll roll up her sleeves and advocate for and with them.
  • Changing the system:  This impulse to help the individual is coupled with creating innovative programs that help individuals overcome barriers.
  • Generosity:  Whatever Ruth has, she shares, and trusts that she will have enough.   She gives money, shares space in her home, teaches skills, and leverages connections.  
  • Celebration!  Ruth is an amazing cook, and loves to provide food, to decorate, to weave together a experience that connects people from diverse backgrounds around a common cause.   Whether it is a formal fundraiser, a fashion show, or a meal to nourish farm workers, she makes it a party!

Several months ago, Ruth affirmed how pleased she was with all we had accomplished, but added, “I have so much more work to do.” 

That work Ruth (third from the left) was awarded the Learning Center's Good Food Advocate award in 2016. is ours, now. 

How might each of us be inspired and challenged by Ruth’s memory - her legacy for us - to step up in the coming weeks and months to continue to move the work forward?  Perhaps mentoring a youth, hosting a celebration, visiting someone in prison or jail, buying groceries, teaching a skill, listening and acting, praying, making a phon  call, asking for help, questioning an assumption, making a change. 

With Ruth and others, we’ve been working the past months to discern the path forward for Blackhawk Courts Farm beyond this year, as we’ve had a significant change in funding that calls for new resources, relationships and strategies for the Farm to remain sustainable in the long run.  

In our grief, there is an opportunity to step up in leadership for Blackhawk Courts Farm: as visionaries, mentors, funders, coaches, volunteers, friends, and activists.  If you feel so moved, please reach out to see how you might be involved!


Deb Crockett (

Program Director Tedd Snowden (;

Pastor Mike from Zion Outreach