Oklahoma City woman, 78, earns college degree and finds new purpose in life

After Ruth Benford earned her bachelor's degree in July in human services, she found a new purpose in life becoming a companion to Ethel Wilcox, who is 98.
by Bryan Painter Published: September 16, 2012

“I said, ‘This will take my mind off me, and I will get a chance to do something for someone else.'”

The perfect person

Her Sunbeam supervisor Georgetta James asked Benford about hobbies and likes.

James told Benford, “I've got the perfect person for you to meet.”

That's when Benford met Ethel Wilcox, who was raised in Muskogee, but has lived in the Oklahoma City metro since 1945.

Ruth has been a senior companion to Wilcox for about five years through Sunbeam. But it's difficult to tell who's helping whom the most in the close-knit friendship.

Wilcox for years had a prayer ministry in which she would use her own ink and stamps to mail prayers to prisons and other countries. With time, it got to where she couldn't do it alone. But now, Wilcox chooses the prayer and Benford enlarges it on a copier. About 50 to 60 prayers are mailed out each month.

This is so important that one day Wilcox asked Benford whether the work would be continued when she is no longer on this earth.

“She has asked me if she was to go to sleep, would I continue this, and I would,” Benford said. “She's a sweetie. I love her.”

With those words, Wilcox shakes her head, begins to cry and says, “The Lord has blessed me. I've had a lovely life.”

Sixty years separated the time between when Benford graduated from a high school in Denver until she earned her bachelor's degree this summer. Coincidentally, when Wilcox was in her 70s she went back to school at Rose State College, Benford said.

Both believe strongly in new purposes.

“What she doesn't know is that she did more for me than I could ever do for her,” Benford said. “When I came to Mrs. Wilcox, I was sinking in quicksand.

“She recycled me.”

by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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