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Ruth Moulton was born in l931 in Portland, Maine, and grew up on the family apple orchard in the small town of Standish, Maine. Her family wrote: “As a girl, she read Jack London’s ‘Call of the Wild’ and was so inspired that she and her dog started right off for Alaska. She got only a short way down the road when Grandpa Moulton caught up with her and brought her home.”
Moulton graduated from the University of Maine in l952 with a Bachelor of Arts in Education and in l957 from Columbia University with a Master of Arts in Public Law and Government. She taught at a Maine high school, then after visiting Alaska in l959 and “feeling at home” the minute she stepped off the plane, she moved here permanently in l960.
Moulton taught English, history and social studies for several years at East High School, later worked for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and, in between, had a number of other jobs, including researcher and taxi driver. In l973 she returned to Harvard University for a Certificate of Advanced Study in Learning Environments. For many years, she supported herself as an independent tax-preparer.
Moulton is remembered as a community activist and as an outdoorswoman. She was an active hiker and explorer all her life. She climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. She hiked the Chilkoot Pass three times and bicycled all over Alaska. At 75 and just diagnosed with cancer, Moulton hiked seven miles to a cabin on Resurrection Pass carrying a 35 pound pack. “She loved to organize her friends lives,” recalls John Blaine. “She would set up hiking trips over Resurrection Pass. She would arrange solstice parties where we would burn red underwear and everyone who came had to write a poem. She made people feel more active, more alive, more involved.”
Moulton was a member of the Anchorage Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and a longtime resident of the Fairview community where she “lived the town-meeting philosophy” engrained in her New England upbringing as a tireless neighborhood advocate. Her efforts for the protection and safety of her Fairview neighborhood and for all neighborhoods; her appreciation of community councils as grass-roots democracy in action; her advancement of parks, trails, gardens, viewed in terms of civic responsibility, were her hallmarks. Moulton was strongly supportive of the not-yet-built extension of the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail to Potter Marsh and when she learned that an inland route was under consideration, she rounded up 5,000 signatures in support of the coastal route. She is credited with successfully involving hundreds of men and women in community projects she believed were important.
“Ruth never badgered anyone to help her,” Blaine says. “She was just always so sure. She would say ‘I am going to do this. Will you join me?’ She never hesitated to lead; she never complained about how difficult things were for her. She just set out to accomplish whatever it was that needed doing. She persevered through daunting opposition. She provided a strong role model for many men and women in Anchorage who learned from her example how individuals affected by governmental actions could play an effective part in governmental processes.”
Moulton’s legacy is her persistent long-term championship for the creation and protection of Anchorage’s Town Square Park. The saga begins in l965 when Anchorage voters approved an Anchorage Garden Club-initiated petition for a city park where the Egan Convention Center now stands. The voters approved – but no action was taken. In l981 the Assembly approved building a convention center at that site. Moulton publically stated that such an action would be counter to the public vote. A lawsuit was brought to stop the convention center, but failed. Undaunted after losing the lawsuit, Moulton led a successful petition drive to reestablish the park. The Municipality responded with an alternative proposal to move the park one block south. The proposal passed, but nothing more happened.
In l984 Moulton led another petition drive to put a Charter Amendment on the ballot to set aside Block 51 (the present site of Town Square Park) for a park. The Ballot Measure passed with 75 percent of the vote. In l985 Block 51 was still being used as a parking lot. Moulton led another public crusade that resulted in legal action. This time it was successful and work began in earnest on the park.
In l987 the work on the park was halted because buildings remained on Block 51. Moulton’s group of park enthusiasts again threatened legal action and the necessary demolition was begun. She worked for two years with the Town Square Advisory Committee on the design and development of the Town Square Park that we have today; but organized another petition drive that stopped a road from going through the park.
At the time of her death, Moulton was working on an advisory committee to Mayor Mark Begich (now U.S. Senator Begich) regarding proposed changes to Town Square. Mayor Begich is reported as telling her, with a smile, that any changes would need her approval to go forward.
In an Anchorage Daily News article after her death, Mayor Begich was quoted as saying in reference to the Town Square Park: “Without Ruth Moulton, I don’t even think it would have existed.”
Moulton was named a YWCA Woman of Achievement in l994 for her lead role in the establishment of the Town Square Park and her accomplishments in civic action.
In a 2005 article on “My Favorite Parks,” Moulton wrote:
“Every town needs a central place, some sort of ‘town square.’ Such a place serves to create and solidify a community identity; it helps create a ‘there’ there, if you will. And while adding valuable open space and softness in the midst of hard surfaces and structures, it serves many other purposes, some of which are important, even basic, to a good community.
“Its openness makes it a place of refreshment in all seasons as it brings in light to the center of the city; there are gorgeous flowers in the summer and ice skating in the winter; there are autumn colors in our brief fall, and that optimistic, almost joyous, bright green in spring. It provides a bit of respite during a brief walk from corner to corner, and a calm retreat during a lunch-hour spent reading, half-dozing in the sun.
“As important, it serves as a place for people to gather – to watch fireworks in celebration or to light candles in mourning; to listen to a military band or to petition their government; to celebrate a holiday season or a culture community; to meet in silent commemoration or listen to oratory.
“For these and many other reasons, Town Square is my favorite park.”
The next year, in 2006, Ruth Moulton died. Over the next three years there were public and private resolutions recommending a public acknowledgement of Moulton’s role as a community activist and, more specifically, her leadership role in establishing the Town Square Park. In 2010 the Ruth Moulton Plaza was dedicated at Town Square Park.
Every April 1, on her birthday, her friends John Blaine and Dianne Holmes visit the Ruth Moulton Plaza in the Town Square Park. They bring a box with a sign that reads: “SOAP BOX,” a portable mike, homemade cookies and coffee. Anyone passing by is invited to share the cookies and coffee, get up on the Soap Box and give civil discourse on any subject they choose. “It’s very funky,” John says. “I think Ruth would enjoy it.”
Induction ceremony acceptance speech https://youtu.be/kM0FUEFa9TQ
A Resolution of the Anchorage Municipal Assembly Remembering the Life and Contributions of Ruth Moulton to the City of Anchorage and Requesting That Her Name Be Submitted to the Public Facilities Advisory Commission With a Recommendation To Designate Anchorage’s Town Square or a Significant Integral Feature Thereof in Her Memory (Approved 12/19/06)
Municipality of Anchorage Parks & Recreation Commission Resolution 2007-12 Naming Town Square Park to Commemorate Ruth Moulton. (Approved March 8, 2007)
Public Facilities Advisory Commission: Resolution 2007-03: A Resolution of the Public Facilities Advisory Commission Recommending Assembly Action to Name Town Square Park in honor of Ruth Moulton (March 28, 2007)
Anchorage Daily News: November 18, 2006: Ruth Moulton was a rock until the end. COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: Cancer silences active Anchorage woman. By Rosemary Shinohara
Anchorage Daily News: November 22, 2006 Obituaries: Ruth Moulton
Ruth Moulton was a community activist, educator, outdoors woman – and the person considered most responsible for the establishment of Anchorage’s Town Square Park. Moulton grew up in the small town of Standish, Maine. When she made Alaska her home in l960, she brought with her the town-meeting philosophy engrained in her New England upbringing. Getting the Town Square Park established on a city block in the heart of downtown Anchorage engaged Ruth off and on for nearly 25 years filled with initiatives, petitions, legal battles and personal perseverance. While many Alaskans were involved in the Town Square project over the years, it was Ruth Moulton who is credited with spearheading the battles to achieve success.
A 2006 Anchorage Assembly resolution honoring Moulton’s accomplishment reads in part: “…Ruth left her mark on everything she was determined to accomplish with her vocal and steady civic presence, an unwavering, principled community activist who worked twenty-five years through elections and lawsuits to help bring the Town Square project to fruition… .”
A founding member of Friends of Neighborhoods, Moulton was a champion of community councils and was significantly involved in the Fairview and South Addition community councils for two decades. Up to the time of her death, she fought for the survival of Fairview as a safe neighborhood.
A 2007 resolution of the Anchorage Public Facilities Advisory Commission reads in part: “…all of Anchorage has benefited from Ruth Moulton’s tireless advocacy for parks, trails, gardens, and her Fairview neighborhood…” The resolution refers to Moulton as the “linchpin” in the creation of Town Square Park, and concludes… “ the Park has become the symbolic heart of the city of Anchorage …”
After her death, the Anchorage Assembly, 16 community councils and numerous individuals petitioned for Moulton’s achievements to be publically recognized. The Ruth Moulton Plaza in Town Square Park was dedicated in 2010.
Induction ceremony acceptance speech https://youtu.be/kM0FUEFa9TQ