Carnett: Pastor to the dying passes on

A bright light in our midst has been extinguished.

Ruth Dutro, 84, was laid to rest Saturday at Harbor Lawn-Mt. Olive Memorial Park & Mortuary in Costa Mesa.

A local resident for more than 70 years, Ruth suffered from a rare blood disorder. She lived in College Park for 53 years.

Ken, Ruth's husband, survives her. He's 86.

Ruth was born in Oklahoma City. Her family moved to Long Beach when she was 12. The family relocated to the Balboa Peninsula, then moved to Costa Mesa in 1942, when Ruth was a freshman at Newport Harbor High School. She graduated in 1946.

"We moved to Costa Mesa during World War II," she told me in a 2009 interview. "A two-lane road, Newport Boulevard, ran through the heart of town. The downtown area was a cluster of buildings two blocks long.

"Costa Mesa was a sleepy place. You could fire off a cannon downtown and never hit a soul."

Ruth's parents owned a mom-and-pop grocery store in Costa Mesa, at 15th Street and Orange Avenue. Her father was a butcher.

Safeway was then the only major grocery store in town.

"It was a different world then," she said. "We never locked our front doors or our cars. I'd walk with my friends to the Lido Theater in Newport to see a movie. We'd walk back after dark and never worry about a thing. I was a high-school girl, but I wasn't a bit afraid.

"It was a beautiful time, really."

She married shortly after high school and had a son, Larry Sanford. The marriage didn't last.

She served as a den mother when Larry was in the Boy Scouts. That was when she met Ken, who was a troop leader. Ken lived in Costa Mesa and taught construction classes at El Camino College in Torrance.

Ken and Ruth were married at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Huntington Beach in 1966. Married for 46 years, they were devoted to one another.

She went on to earn undergraduate degrees from Orange Coast College and Cal State Fullerton, and then a graduate degree from Vanguard University.

"She was really something," Ken said last week.

They dedicated themselves to their joint ministry. They served as pastors for three decades, ministering to senior adults and the dying.

"When we first became pastors," Ruth said in 2009, "we weren't into preaching, we were into people. That's never changed."

For the last decade-and-a-half they served as hospice chaplains, praying with and counseling more than 2,000 dying patients of all ages. They were at the bedsides of hundreds of patients as they died, and also conducted hundreds of funerals.

They conducted three memorial services for members of my family.

"Very few of the 2,000 hospice patients we've worked with considered themselves 'ready to go' as death approached," Ruth said. "Most people, including believing Christians, are terrified as death draws near."

The Dutros began counseling older adults almost by accident.

"The church where we were serving as visitation pastors had a young staff," Ken said. "Seniors began requesting an 'older pastor' for visits, so we took those assignments."

Ken and Ruth served for many years at Newport-Mesa Christian Center and later at Presbyterian Church of the Covenant in Costa Mesa. They were last affiliated with Shoreline Baptist Church in Fountain Valley.

"We're on hand to reassure, encourage and comfort," Ken said in 2009.

Ruth and Ken usually visited hospice patients multiple times before they died.

"We pray with them and talk about God's promises, and about heaven, and Ruthie will sing a hymn," Ken said. "Some people are unconscious — but we know they hear every word until their last breath."

The Dutros' ministry irrevocably changed their lives.

"We're comfortable with death, and we have no fear," Ken said then. "We've planned our own funerals and will go according to his timing."

"His timing" for Ruth came last week. Ken still has work on Earth to finish.

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Wednesdays.

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