From left: Dr. Fayez K. Ghishan, Ruth Mondschein and Paula Mondschein. (Photo: Darci Slaten)
From left: Dr. Fayez K. Ghishan, Ruth Mondschein and Paula Mondschein. (Photo: Darci Slaten)

Helping Kids is a Family Tradition for 'Dr. Ruth' and Her Daughters

Ruth Mondschein's passion for helping children, especially children with disabilities, was passed down to her daughters, Paula and Joan.
March 1, 2016

Ruth Mondschein and her daughters, Paula and Joan, spent much of their professional lives helping children – especially children with disabilities.

Ruth, now 92, worked for the U.S. Secretary of Education as director of special projects. During that time, she traveled throughout Latin America, helping raise awareness about children with disabilities and establishing programs to provide assistance. Paula, an opera singer and a survivor of 9/11, established a successful opera education program for disabled youth and adults. Joan, who died in 2014, directed special projects for two federal agencies, including an initiative in Guatemala to train and employ disabled youth.

The Mondscheins' commitment to the well-being of children led them to the University of Arizona Steele Children's Research Center, where researchers and physician-scientists are dedicated to advancing medical knowledge through basic and translational research to improve children's health. The UA Steele Center is one of the Centers of Excellence within the University of Arizona Health Sciences.

"Their commitment to improving children's lives is extraordinary," said Dr. Fayez K. Ghishan, professor and head of the UA Department of Pediatrics, director of the Steele Center and physician-in-chief of Banner Children's at Diamond Children's Medical Center.

Ruth met Ghishan in 1996 and joined the Steele Center's advisory board in 1997. She served on the board for several years and remains an active supporter. She is passionate about the research being done at the Steele Center to prevent children's diseases.

"I have such admiration for Dr. Ghishan," Ruth said. "He is brilliant and progressive, and he knows which areas of research to focus on."

Ruth – who has a doctorate in humanities, letters and education and is affectionately known as "Dr. Ruth" – exudes a joy and zest for life that is inspiring. She swims every day. She is quick-witted and happy to describe in vivid detail a fascinating experience from her illustrious past – as an actor, singer, dancer, professor, professional speaker and an international advocate for people with disabilities, particularly children.

"I've worked most of my professional life helping children, so it felt natural that I become involved with the Steele Center," Ruth said.

"There is a joy that holds the world together: the joy of children," Ruth said, quoting the writer Pearl S. Buck. "This really sums up why we chose to support the UA Steele Center. It's so important to help children as much as we possibly can."

In 1997, Ruth worked with her friend Jim Click to create the nonprofit organization Linkages, which "links" employers to qualified candidates with disabilities.

Paula also devoted part of her career to enriching the lives of disabled children. She spent many years as a professional opera singer, performing and teaching opera in Rome. After she completed a master's degree in music education, she combined her love of music and children to establish the opera education program for disabled youth and adults in New York, eventually expanding it throughout the United States.

"I believe the greatest compliment I received were letters from teachers, telling me they had changed their way of teaching based on my program," Paula said.

When 9/11 happened, Paula was working as a therapist and had to be pulled from the rubble of 2 World Trade Center. She spent the next five years counseling 9/11 survivors, including children who had lost one or both parents.

Joan, too, worked to improve the lives of children with disabilities. Her work took her throughout Europe, Latin America and the Middle East, organizing and directing special projects for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Very Special Arts (now known as VSA) and the President's Committee on Employment of People With Disabilities.

"Joanie loved and admired Dr. Ghishan," Ruth said.

In honor of Joan, Ruth and Paula plan to create an endowment for children's research at the Steele Center with a focus on pediatric autoimmune disorders as they relate to cancer, kidney diseases, Type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis), and other conditions. They also hope to provide support for the UA School of Dance – under the direction of Jory Hancock, dean of the College of Fine Arts and director of the school – to encourage the talent of young artists.