Resolute Ruth Bascom bikes on.
Ten years and one month since the end of her pioneering turn as Eugene's first female mayor, she has survived a bout with breast cancer, seen a few more grandchildren come into the world and ridden her bicycle a few more miles along the paths of the city she adores.
They are paths that have come full circle, literally, in large part because of the determination of a woman as resolute and steadfast as the Kansas prairie she was born on 81 years ago this month.
Ruth Fenton Bascom has never stopped riding. Not even for cancer.
"I was determined to ride my bicycle to my appointments," she says, sitting in the living room of the 83-year-old home she shares with her husband, retired Eugene surgeon Dr. John Bascom, just south of the University of Oregon. Only a mishap, when her bike tipped over on the way to Willamette Valley Cancer Center on Country Club Road, kept her from attaining that goal, Bascom says.
"Instead of getting to ride my bicycle to my final six appointments, I was in a wheelchair," she remembers. "It was so humiliating."
Such are the thoughts of a proud Midwestern native.
Bascom was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2000. She was 74 then, the same age as her mother, Doris Hays Fenton, when she was diagnosed with the same disease. Her mother lived to be 95.
"That's why I've been so nonchalant about it," Bascom says, referring to her confidence to beat the cancer that is now in remission.
"She was political and feisty all her life," she says of her mother, an English and history professor at Kansas State University, "and she was that way with her breast cancer, too."
"I notice a small diminution of energy. I can't mount those big political battles as well anymore," she says with a wry grin.
She experienced what she calls "not a smooth post-op" course after the mastectomy that was followed by radiation and tamoxifen treatments. But when those finally ended, her son, Dr. Thomas Bascom, a Eugene surgeon like his father, "picked me up on a tandem bike," she says, and presented her with these words: "Just so you know you still can, Mom."
Born on Feb. 4, 1926, Ruth Bascom grew up in Manhattan, Kan., as the daughter of two university professors. Her father, Fred Fenton, was a professor of agricultural engineering at Kansas State.
John and Ruth Bascom have known each other since sixth grade and graduated from Manhattan High School in 1943.
John Bascom joined the Merchant Marines upon graduation and served until the end of World War II, and Ruth entered KSU. She would go on to get a master's degree in social psychology from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and he returned to attend graduate school at KSU. In June of 1950, they were married in Manhattan.
"It was a long courtship," Ruth jokes about those 13 years between the sixth grade and their eventual marriage.
They lived in Chicago in the early 1950s, John Bascom attending the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University and Ruth teaching preschool at a settlement house in the city.
"I proved to be rather disastrous as a teacher because my theory was that you had to be loving and nurturing and these children didn't respond to that," she says. One 4-year-old threw a chair out a third-floor window, and another dumped a fish bowl on the piano. "That's when I learned to be really tough," she says, adding later that maybe it was this experience that prepared her to deal with contentious Eugene city councilors.
After her husband graduated from medical school, the young family moved to Minneapolis for John's surgical residency. They lived in "iron-cold, snowbound Minnesota" for six years, moving to Eugene on April 1, 1960. "And we fell in love with Oregon," she says.
The Bascoms and their five children - Cindy, Rebecca, Ellen, Tom and Paul - rented a house near Washington Park and then bought their current home for $35,000 in 1961, the year their youngest, Mary, was born.
All six children attended Edison Elementary, Roosevelt Middle and South Eugene High School. Their high school graduation portraits - with smaller photographs of all as 3-year-olds contained within - adorn the wall of the Bascoms' staircase in a diagonal pattern.
If one was to have a heart attack, or some other serious medical emergency, a Bascom family reunion might not be a bad place for it to happen. Of their six children, four - Rebecca, Tom, Paul and Mary - became doctors like their father; Cindy is a nurse in Illinois who is married to a doctor; and Ellen is a cancer pharmacist in Seattle who is married to a dentist.
Their six children have given them 14 grandchildren. John and Ruth seriously thought about selling their vintage home and moving into a retirement home during her bout with cancer, but changed their minds one day when there was a knock at the door and three of those grandchildren, ages 6, 4 and 2, came bounding in. Tom Bascom and his wife, Sarah, live on nearby Fairmount Boul- evard.
Ruth Bascom's political legacy in Eugene undoubtedly revolves around her spearheading the building of the bicycle/pedestrian bridges and paths she and her husband - and the entire community - still enjoy into the ninth decades of their lives. In fact, the city honored her in 2003 when the final leg of the three-mile east bank path north of Valley River Center was completed.
The entire 12-mile loop of paths from the Willie Knickerbocker Bike Bridge just west of Interstate 5, to the Owosso Bike Bridge just south of Belt Line Road, is known as the Ruth Bascom Riverbank Trail System.
The former chairwoman of both the Eugene Bicycle Committee and Oregon Bicycle Advisory Committee, who went on to serve two terms as a city councilor before becoming mayor, commuted on her bike to City Hall. She explained her love of cycling in a 2003 Register-Guard article:
"It's the feeling of freedom, and the wind in your face," she said. "And ... I don't mind at all that it's good for the environment and the city."
How you know her: She was Eugene's first female mayor, serving from 1993 to 1997. She's a breast cancer survivor.
Claim to fame: Took the first shot in 1996 at the concrete fountain at Broadway and Willamette Street that she promised to "jackhammer" when she became mayor. It ultimately led to the reopening of both streets and the death of Eugene's downtown mall.
She wrote the first chapter in the new Eugene Public Library. Voters first defeated a $56 million bond measure in 1994 under Bascom to build it, but later approved the project on Jim Torrey's watch.
A memorial: She made one of the largest donations ever to the city in 1997 in honor of her mother, Doris Hays Fenton of Kansas, who died in 1992. The $100,000 donation created the Hays Memorial Tree Garden in Alton Baker Park.
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|Title Annotation:||Lifestyle; The former mayor of Eugene describes the sometimes-rough road she faced as she battled cancer|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Feb 12, 2007|
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