Hunter, whose apartment was adorned with Redskins and Nationals memorabilia, died of covid-19 on April 17 at 96. She came to the District in 1944 as a government girl — the young women who arrived to work for federal agencies during World War II, many of them from small towns like her birthplace, Apollo, Pa.
She arrived in the District while escorting another Apollo girl whose parents did not want her to live alone in the big city. Both women took the civil service exam. However, after two years, the friend who had begged Ruth to leave Apollo returned to Pennsylvania. Hunter continued at the Pentagon and lived the next eight decades in the District, mostly in the U Street neighborhood.
She worked as a secretary for Gen. Omar Bradley while he chaired the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations. Perhaps because of her security clearance or maybe just her small town humility, she rarely spoke about her work. However, she did keep pictures from her time as a batter on a Pentagon women’s softball team.
Hunter never married, and she outlived all four of her siblings. In many ways, the church was her extended family.
“She was a strong, wonderful, feisty woman who was like a grandmother or aunt to many people there,” said Wilbert Miller, a former pastor at Augustana from 1982 to 1995.
Hunter organized the scripture readings, compiled a lengthy prayer list and also was quick to tell the organist if she thought the music was too loud.
But she was best known for an altruism that showed in ways both large and small. When one woman went through a difficult pregnancy, Hunter presented her with a piggy bank for her baby. Miller recalled that she once took a homeless woman under her wing and helped her find work and housing. She was also active in the Lydians, a group of professional women within the church who contributed their earnings to pressing community needs.
In later years, Hunter, who did not drive and prided herself on thrift, rode with other congregants to church. The money she saved on bus fare went directly to the church.
She began attending Augustana in 1948 and joined the church membership in the late 1950s. It was a period when members proselytized door to door, inviting all without a church of their own to come worship. At the time, the congregants were primarily white while the surrounding neighborhood was predominantly African American.
“The church made the decision to integrate,” Miller said. “That was an amazing thing at the time. It was famously known [within the church] as ‘Operation One Mile’ — to do a circle of people within one mile. Here is this young woman from Apollo and she jumps in with both feet to that congregation and its ministry.”
In 1964, Hunter became active in the Girl Scouts, serving as troop leader to an all-black Brownie troop. As the girls grew into women, she stayed in touch, sharing in their experiences of family and work. One of them later became her eye doctor.
“When I was there, she was always open to others,” Miller recalled. “When AIDS raised its ugly head, the church became very open to the LGBT community, then we had a ministry for the Salvadoran community. She was very open to all of those ministries.”
In recent years, Hunter lived at the Residences at Thomas Circle — initially in independent living, then, as her Alzheimer’s disease progressed, in the facility’s memory-care unit.
On the evening of April 24, several congregants got together on Zoom to eulogize and reminisce about their longtime friend.
“When we are able to come together again as a church,” congregant Carol Capps said, “there will be a real memorial service for Ruth.”
Correction: This story has been updated to correct Hunter’s age and the name of congregant Carol Capps.