It took her countless times trying, but Ruth Alice Campbell finally made her first impact as a member of the Monroe County School Board in the early 1960s: putting milk for the schools out to bid.
It resulted in saving 2 cents a pint for the School District.
It was one of many battles Campbell fought during her 36 years on the School Board. Those who knew her said she despised cronyism and sought what was best for students.
Serving from 1958 to 1994, Campbell is among the longest continuously elected School Board member in Florida. The Marathon resident died last Friday at age 93.
"Nobody expected her to get elected when she first ran," said Marathon resident Frank Greenman, who taught in Monroe County during the late 1970s before becoming a lawyer. "She had the courage to take a look at issues and change her mind when she needed to. She was unfailingly polite and spoke with a great deal of precision."
Campbell was born in Walla Walla, Washington., on Oct. 17, 1921, and studied music at Juilliard in New York City in 1939, said current School Board member Andy Griffiths. She performed on Broadway and sang at the Hour Glass nightclub before moving to the Florida Keys in 1947 with her husband, Tex.
The two owned and operated the Grassy Key Lodge until 1960, when Hurricane Donna ripped through the property. The land became the site of the Dolphin Research Center and the two moved down the road to Marathon.
Daughter Bonnie Cucchi said the death of Campbell's 5-year-old daughter, Janine, inspired her mother to run for the School Board in 1958.
Armando “Bookie” Henriquez, superintendent of Monroe County schools from 1969 to 1993, said Campbell was viewed as an outsider when she got on the board and had to fight to get things passed. She quickly proved herself as someone who would not be ignored, making noticeable contributions to the schools.
"During budget cuts, she made sure music and the arts were retained in the schools," Henriquez said. "She was more tenacious than other board members. She looked into everything. She did her homework and did it well."
Shirley Freeman, principal of Frederick Douglass High School in Key West from 1971 to 1976, said Campbell wasn't influenced by outside pressure.
"There were a lot of questionable hiring and purchasing procedures before her time," Freeman said. "She was a trailblazer for other women. I admired the way she chaired the board, her efficiency. She didn't waste words but was also very pleasant."
Outside of the School Board, Campbell operated the vending machine company Total Service Corp. with her husband.
She sang and played piano in numerous churches, including Kirk of the Keys and Martin Luther Lutheran Chapel. She also gave piano lessons and sang with the Florida Keys Sweet Adeline group in the late 1970s to the early 1980s.
Andy Griffiths said he and Chairman John Dick split duties escorting Campbell to graduations and other school events after she retired from the board. Griffiths served two years with her.
Services will be at St. Columba Episcopal Church on 52nd Street bayside in Marathon at 4 p.m. July 11.