Ruthe B. Cowl

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Ruthe B. Mandell Cowl
Born (1912-02-26)February 26, 1912
Brooklyn, New York City, USA
Died March 17, 2008(2008-03-17) (aged 96)
Laredo, Webb County, Texas, USA
Resting place Farmingdale, New York
Occupation Businesswoman
Director of rehabilitation center
Spouse(s) Jack Cowl (1909–2001, married 1934–his death)
Children Anthony Cowl
John Cowl
The Ruthe B. Cowl Rehabilitation Center at the intersection of Malinche Avenue and Laredo Street in Laredo, Texas

Ruthe B. Mandell Cowl (February 26, 1912 – March 17, 2008) was a businesswoman and philanthropist who in 1959 established the first physical therapy and orthopedic clinic in her adopted city of Laredo, Texas. Her Ruthe B. Cowl Rehabilitation Center is a private nonprofit organization that treats between 125 and 200 patients daily for physical, mental, or emotional problems.[1] The center employs therapists, program managers, accountants, cooks, teachers, teacher aides, and counselors, some of whom work in the child development center. Cowl was the longtime unpaid executive director of the facility, located at 1220 Malinche Avenue in "The Heights" section of Laredo.[2] The facility was named for Cowl on December 16, 1969. At the time, U.S. Representative Abraham Kazen, Jr., of Laredo paid tribute to her generosity and commitment in the Congressional Record.[3]

Cowl Center[edit]

Many of the standards which Cowl set for the center were incorporated in operational manuals by state and national agencies and became regulations mandated by the United States government in the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law in 1990 by U.S. President George Herbert Walker Bush. Cowl pleaded with agencies, organizations, and individuals to contribute to the handicapped, the dependent, the neglected, and the socially and economically deprived in a community which was then known for high unemployment (a problem since ameliorated) and intense social needs. Ruthe Cowl founded the Laredo Rehabilitation Foundation after becoming aware of the lack of services for victims of the polio epidemic in the early 1950s as well as the lack of access for all people, both wealthy and poor, to basic physical therapy services. The Rehabilitation Center began as a small, two-staff operation (including Cowl herself) in two rooms borrowed from the Department of Public Health in a building on a dirt street. In time it became apparent that there was a general lack of comprehensive treatment for victims of other critical problems including victims of brain injuries, physical trauma, strokes, learning disabilities and the list just kept growing. In 1969, the center was renamed for its founder. Prior to the administration (1978–1990) of Mayor Aldo Tatangelo, who died a week before Cowl, nearly three-fourths of Laredo streets were unpaved. The center now has 32,565 square feet (3,025.4 m2) with a large parking lot, a staff of some seventy persons, and an operating budget of over $2 million annually. At least 125,000 sessions of treatment are provided annually to thousands of physically and emotionally handicapped persons in the region irrespective of their financial means. [4]


Cowl was born in Brooklyn, New York, the youngest of eight children of Russian parents. Her father died before she was two years of age, and her mother expired when Ruth was only twelve. When sixteen years old, she attended the Alliance Française for a year of high school while her sister attended the Sorbonne University in Paris, France. She obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from New York University in southern Manhattan and was certified to teach English and French.[5] However, she spent her sophomore and junior years in Columbia, South Carolina, where she supported herself as a student, working first as a research analyst in vocational placement and subsequently as a research assistant for a professor of geology at the University of South Carolina, where she was enrolled.[3]

On New Years Eve, 1934, in Nyack, New York, she married Jack Cowl (October 17, 1909 - July 6, 2001).[6] The Cowl family moved to Dallas with their two sons and were looking to establish a new business in Texas. During a trip to Mexico during the Christmas school vacation in 1952, the family stopped in the Rio Grande border city of Laredo, the seat of Webb County in south Texas to visit people whom they had met through mutual friends in Dallas. They were impressed with the unique culture and business opportunity that Laredo presented and purchased a music store there in March 1953. The store grew and sold records, televisions, and prestigious sound systems, having drawn customers from Mexico as well as South Texas.[5] In time, the Cowls devoted themselves to the establishment and expansion of the Cowl Center.

Cowl's death and legacy[edit]

Cowl died in Laredo at the age of ninety-six. Services were held on March 21, 2008, in Woodbury, New York. She was interred next to her husband at Farmingdale, a rural community near New York City.[7] Survivors included two sons, Anthony Cowl, a retired educator in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and John Cowl, M.D., of Pembroke, Massachusetts; granddaughter, Dr. Allison Cowl Nicoletti of Petersham, Massachusetts; and numerous nieces, nephews and grandnieces and nephews including grandniece, Judy Lockman; and grandnephew, Jonathon Lockman.[5]

Mary Lamar Leyendecker of Laredo, a long-term Cowl board member who was named the president of the association in 2015,[8] told the Laredo Morning Times that Cowl was "a true champion of the poor and people with physical disabilities. She was a true leader in the fight for human rights and fought for the rights of all people to live as dignified and independently as possible. She was an ageless and progressive thinker. ... She was always forward-thinking and kept up with what was good for patients. We're going to miss her so much."[5]

Lillian Dickinson, a retired manager at the rehabilitation center who traveled to New York for Cowl's funeral services, in an interview with the Laredo Morning Times, called her "a visionary for the community. ... she and I were idealistic and wanted to improve the quality of life for so many people. There were times I would make home visits and come into the center discouraged because of the poverty, and she would say, ‘No, no, let's sit down and talk about it.' So we would strategize and come up with ideas for solving problems."[5]

The Cowls were Jewish and shared a dedication to their religious heritage and culture. In 2001, Ruthe Cowl donated $1 million to the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts, to create the Jack and Ruthe B. Cowl Center. This particular center celebrates Yiddish culture and Jewish literary, artistic, musical, and historical knowledge and accomplishment.[9] Early in 2007, Cowl donated $750,000 to the Yiddish Book Center to create the Cowl Jewish Leadership Program for promising college students.[10]

Odie Arambula, a longtime Cowl Center board member and retired editor of the Laredo Morning Times, recalled the difficult tasks of getting the center on its feet financially. Arambula said that Cowl once told him that she did not want him ever "to abandon or quit this board, and I never did."[5] Jack Cowl did much of the fundraising for the center from the golf course.[3] Among large donors to the facility were the late philanthropists Guadalupe Martinez, a Laredo businessman and rancher, and his wife, Lilia Martinez.[11]

At a memorial service for Cowl held on April 3, 2008, at the Laredo synagogue, Congregation Agudas Achim, Arambula continued: "Very few people listen to the elderly, the poor, the impoverished, those in need and little children because they don't protest, they don't picket and they don't march. . . . We're entrusted to do it for them to help restore their lives physically and emotionally."[12]

Joaquin Gonzalez Cigarroa, Jr., M.D., Cowl's friend and personal physician and a prominent Laredo civic leader, said that she introduced another "facet of medicine and therapy to a community that didn't have it. Her employees and patients loved her. She was persistent and plugged away and succeeded in getting funds to operate the center. . . . She was a remarkable woman and had very deep feelings toward people. The best quality she had was her love for human beings."[5]

Until Cowl opened her center, physical therapy was essentially unavailable in Laredo. Lillian Dickinson said that "not many people are aware that physical therapy started here in Laredo with Mrs. Cowl. In 1959, she embarked upon a lifelong journey involving physical therapy."[13] Dickinson also referred to Cowl as "a tough teacher [with] high standards." [13] Webb County Judge Danny Valdez recalled his early years as a volunteer at the center and how Cowl was "passionate ... She would stop and talk with each patient individually."[13]

In June 2008, the Cowl board of trustees tapped Julie Bazan, a Houston native who has lived in Laredo since 1990, to succeed Cowl as executive director of the rehabilitation center. Bazan holds a bachelor's degree in social work from Texas A&M International University in Laredo.[14]

In 2011, Faith Ellen Ruiter "Fay" Mainhart (1950-2014), a Laredo civic leader originally from Ohio, became the executive director of the rehabilitation center, a position she retained until her death at the age of sixty-four from cancer. Earlier, Mainhart was a president of the Laredo Business and Professional Women's Association and the United Way of Laredo. She served too on the executive board of the Webb County Community Action Agency.[15]Mainhart was succeeded as executive director by Jacqueline "Jackie" R. Rodriguez, the former assistant director of the facility.[16]


  1. ^ Ruthe B. Cowl Rehabilitation Center Laredo Texas, rehabilitation service, occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech pathologists,
  2. ^ Tricia Cortez, "True Champion Gone: Rehabilitation center founder Ruthe B. Cowl deat at 96", Laredo Morning Times, March 18, 2008, p. 1:;
  3. ^ a b c Laredo Morning Times - Monday Wash; Kazen put Cowl in Congressional Record
  4. ^ :: :: - Bussines
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Laredo Morning Times - 'True champion' gone; Rehabilitation center founder Ruthe B. Cowl dead at 96
  6. ^ Social Security Death Index Interactive Search
  7. ^ "Cowl funeral set Friday", Laredo Morning Times, March 19, 2008, p. 3A
  8. ^ "Local rehab center announces new board president". Laredo Morning Times. October 2, 2015. 
  9. ^ National Yiddish Book Center - About the Cowl Center
  10. ^ National Yiddish Book Center - Inspired Gift from Visionary Donor Will Bring Yiddish to College Campuses
  11. ^ Laredo Morning Times - Local benefactor dies at 91
  12. ^ Laredo Morning Times - Cowl left her heart in Laredo
  13. ^ a b c Joe Rutland, "Officials mark Physical Therapy Month", Laredo Morning Times, October 2, 2009
  14. ^
  15. ^ "Mainhart active in the community", Laredo Morning Times, June 22, 2014, p. 3A
  16. ^ "Rehabilitation center names new director", Laredo Morning Times, July 11, 2014