By: Anastasia Dula, Class of '58 researcher and UM-Flint student
Ruth Wagner-Belisle lost her father, a parochial school teacher, at age 13. At this time, her widowed mother learned to drive and took a correspondence course from the Chicago School of Nursing to become a licensed practical nurse. She also began to encourage her daughter to pursue higher education after high school. Therefore, after she graduated from Saginaw’s Arthur Hill High School in 1954 in a class of 560 students, Wagner-Belisle began considering her options for college, unbothered by potentially large campuses or class sizes.
Her mother saw an article about University of Michigan scholarships in a local newspaper and encouraged her daughter to apply, and when she did so, Wagner-Belisle received not one but two of them. She decided to take advantage of these scholarships and attend the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, then its only campus.
Halfway through her third year attending U of M in Ann Arbor, Wagner-Belisle married. Her husband, recently returned from an Air Force assignment in Germany, was unable to find a satisfactory job in Ann Arbor, and so the couple elected to move back to Saginaw. Wagner-Belisle was now too far away to commute to Ann Arbor for classes, so she transferred to the Flint College in 1957.
She encountered some difficulty when one of her University of Michigan-specific scholarship funders attempted to revoke the scholarship when she transferred, as they did not initially understand that the Flint Senior College was actually part of the University of Michigan. She managed to explain the difficulty in the end, however, and was able to use her scholarships as well as money from working to pay for the remainder of her education. She held summer jobs for a meatpacking company and for the Teamsters Union, and she would also type master’s theses for 33-50 cents per page for a little extra money.
Wagner-Belisle had been very involved on Ann Arbor’s campus, planning and chording music on guitar for dances, socializing with other women from her dormitory, working on the student newspaper, working in the psychology department, and otherwise taking part in student life there; however, living far away from the Flint campus and also being married soon after her transfer both contributed to her lesser degree of involvement at the Flint campus. Even so, she was satisfied with her new college, as she found the classes to be of similar difficulty and quality.
In addition, she was unbothered by the smaller size—she felt that it did not matter if one’s university campus comprised one building, 10, or 15, as long as one still got the necessary classes. She graduated in 1958 with a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration and a minor in economics, one of a small handful of women in her class who chose not to become a teacher. In fact, she had always been more interested in journalism, and she was ultimately able to put her degree to use in that field by becoming Editor of the Teamsters Union paper and Director of Research.