Ruth Nelson, leading Tulsa philanthropist, passes at 87

Ruth Nelson dedicated her life to helping those around her who were less fortunate.

Ruth Kaiser Nelson passed away on Wednesday, Jan. 25, at the age of 87. Nelson was one of Tulsa’s leading philanthropists committing herself to helping those less fortunate than herself.

Nelson and her family are Jewish and originally came to the United States in 1941 to escape Nazism in Germany. Her father, Herman Kaiser, and later her brother, George, created the Kaiser-Francis Oil Company, which helped aid in their family’s enormous success. Nelson was also successful with oil and gas production, creating her own success.

But her biggest successes, and what she was best known for, were rooted in philanthropy. She aided many different charities and organizations and often found herself in leadership roles. She dedicated her time, energy and financial resources to the organizations she was a part of during her lifetime.

The first charity that caught her interest was the Center for Individuals with Physical Challenges. With this organization, she served as the board president, and with them she partnered with the Tulsa Housing Authority to work on a property next door and witnessed their struggles as an organization firsthand. The properties were in shambles. Residents were sleeping in their bathtubs to avoid gunfire at night, and there was rampant drug abuse and open dealing and, in certain places, even the staff were not safe to walk alone.

Nelson had a very strong belief that affordable and safe housing was imperative to the health of a community, and with the Tulsa Housing Authority, she helped provide housing to the homeless and repaired the public housing units that were in desperate need of fixing. The actions that she took were frequently debated and contested by members of the community, but Nelson stood her ground, defending her actions and need to help those around her. She helped build several new facilities in north and west Tulsa and a four story complex off Interstate 244 on Yale Avenue.

The next organization that Nelson developed a long standing relationship with was Planned Parenthood of Arkansas and East Oklahoma. She served on Planned Parenthood’s board and even a term as president and was later awarded the highest award, the Founder’s Award. At the time, the organization was nationally synonymous with abortion, and very little else. When Nelson served on the board, she pushed them to focus on women’s health and education as a whole.

Nelson was also a staunch supporter of higher education. She attended Bryn Mawr College and remained closely linked to as she served on the Board of Trustees as the Vice Chair of the Executive Committee. In Tulsa, she and her family supported the Herman & Kate Kaiser Student Success Center on the northeast campus of Tulsa Community College. She helped with a fundraising campaign and TCC President told Tulsa World Nelson “helped TCC raise a record $20 million in 18 months.”

Nelson accumulated many honors throughout her life, among which she was inducted into the Tulsa Hall of Fame and the Tulsa Library Hall of Fame. In 2016, the City Council awarded Nelson the key to the city in recognition of her work to help housing, women, and the poor. Most of her work and donations were done anonymously, with people who benefited from her charity never knowing the source of the donations.

Post Author: Erika Brock