Dr. Ruth Lazelle Couch, of Beebe, passed away on July 26, 2014, leaving a legacy in education and community service that will impact many future generations.
Born and raised in Magnolia, Dr. Couch dreamed of being a teacher and achieving her doctorate. After graduating from the public school system, she attended Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, where she received a Bachelor of Science in Education in just three years.
After receiving her bachelor’s degree, Dr. Couch taught in El Dorado and Magnolia public school districts for more than nine years. She eventually earned a master’s degree from Henderson State University, while working part-time as a dorm assistant.
Dr. Couch then entered the doctoral program at Oklahoma State University, and while studying for her doctorate degree, she taught part-time and served as a graduate assistant. She also attended special study courses through Oxford University’s Trinity College and the Woman’s College of Georgia.
In 1971, Dr. Couch began her 32 year career at Arkansas State University-Beebe as an assistant professor of English. She later served as division chair, and in 1994, she was appointed Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs.
Dr. Couch became the first full professor at ASU-Beebe, and the first woman on the faculty to achieve a doctorate. Not only was she the first female to serve as vice chancellor for Academic Affairs, she was also the longest-serving in that position.
In addition to serving on the editorial board for a professional journal called The Community College Enterprise, Dr. Couch was active in several professional organizations and community groups, in which she held various local and state officer positions.
In 1976, she joined Delta Kappa Gamma, a professional honor society for women educators, and was also active in the Business and Professional Women's Association, as well as the Southwest Regional Conference on the Teaching of English.
From 1982 to 2004, Dr. Couch served on the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools as a consultant evaluator. She visited about 30 higher education institutions to assist with evaluations for accreditation.
After retirement from ASU-Beebe in 2003, Dr. Couch worked the next ten years as Director of the Beebe Chamber of Commerce, focusing on the interests and development of her community. She also returned to the classroom as an adjunct instructor at the university and taught several classes at the Shepherd’s Center in Beebe. Dr. Couch continued to be active on the ASU-Beebe Development Council, Adult Education Advisory Board, Shepherd’s Center Board, and the Beebe Economic Development Commission.
Over the years, Dr. Couch enjoyed creative writing, and had several works published. Some works available at the ASU-Beebe Abington Library include Women and Thomas Hardy (1975), This Land of Legend: Arkansas Poems (1992), and a novel No Bells Will Ring (2009), which she also recorded on audio in 2010 for Arkansas Information Reading Services for the Blind (AIRS).
Additionally, Dr. Couch collected oral histories of ASU-Beebe and wrote historical booklets about changes in some communities that she found of particular interest. Her most recent writings were The Academic Americana Heritage of the Antioch and Floyd Schools, and The Noble Heritage of Harvey C. Couch School in Calhoun, Arkansas.
Dr. Couch’s support and encouragement of her students over the years led her to endow a scholarship at ASU-Beebe in 2005. The Ruth L. Couch Endowment Scholarship has since helped students to pursue a college degree.
“I received my first scholarship to attend Southern Arkansas University from the Quota Club in Magnolia,” stated Dr. Couch. “After that, more doors were opened.”
ASU-Beebe chancellor Dr. Eugene McKay said “This endowment continues Dr. Couch’s commitment to serve ASU-Beebe. She has shown great dedication to the university and given so much of herself, and for that we are very grateful.”
At ASU-Beebe, Dr. Couch also furnished a faculty workroom in the library, and purchased chimes that are located in the Science Building, which ring every hour each day. In 2006, the Ruth L. Couch Center, which houses the Institutional Advancement offices, was named in her honor due to her generous contributions to the university.
Moreover, Dr. Couch has been a role model and inspiration to her students, family and friends, coworkers, colleagues, and those in her community.
In a 2003 article, Dr. Couch said “To know that I’ve had a part in students’ success and helping students to develop a good self-concept is the most rewarding and satisfying achievement to me as an educator.”
Dr. Couch encouraged others and often shared a favorite scripture that helped guide her life: “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.” Proverbs 31:26