140 Gather at Rites for Ruth Segerstrom
About 140 people turned out for a simple funeral at Waverley Church on Wednesday to remember Orange County arts doyenne Ruth Segerstrom and celebrate the contributions she made to the community, to friends and to family during her long life.
Segerstrom, who died Friday at age 99, was a key figure in the county’s social and business circles for more than 70 years and played a central role in the Segerstrom family’s land and financial contributions to South Coast Repertory and the Orange County Performing Arts Center.
The Rev. Don Smith, pastor of the church, read a summary of Segerstrom’s life that had been prepared by her family. He recalled how Nellie Ruth Thomas, born in Clay County, Ind., in 1898, fell in love with her brother’s friend Anton Segerstrom when the two men were soldiers and Segerstrom visited the Thomas family.
She would later recall laughingly that Anton would sit and discuss farming with her father rather than court her, Smith said.
She was proud of her Hoosier heritage--of the land granted to her family by President Andrew Jackson--and the Midwestern values that she tried to live by and instill in her children, Smith said.
After she married Segerstrom and they moved to Orange County, she dedicated herself to her husband, her two children and the community. During World War II she served as a Red Cross volunteer at the Army Air Force base in Santa Ana.
After her husband died of cancer in 1963, Ruth Segerstrom joined her son Henry and nephew Harold Segerstrom as a managing partner of C.J. Segerstrom & Sons, the retail and commercial enterprise that built the South Coast Plaza shopping complex.
She served as a managing partner of the family business for more than 25 years and was named Outstanding Businesswoman of Orange County by Golden West College.
Out of the spotlight, Segerstrom delighted in entertaining her family; her grandchildren fondly remembered the special toy closet she kept for them and the parties that she gave for them.
Those who knew her personally marveled at the grace with which she conducted her long life, Smith said. And she once said of herself: “As I’ve grown older I have been like a willow that can bend with the wind, not an oak that will break”
Musical selections for the service included organ versions of “Wind Beneath My Wings,” “As Time Goes By” and “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” and a choral solo of “My Way.”