Meet a Tour Director: Cathie Ruth

Jul 14, 2015

Travel Notes

BRT’s tour directors are some of the most interesting people you’ll meet, and they love sharing their favorite cities with students from across the country. For part two in our series, we sat down with Chicago based tour director Cathie Ruth to learn her story, what she loves most about her job, and some hidden gems in her favorite destination.

What led you to become a tour director?

I became a tour director after a chance meeting with another tour director while at Essentially Ellington with my son’s jazz band in May 2000.  We were both waiting at the hotel for my son’s band to arrive. The more she talked, the more interested I became.  I started tour directing the following January, and they’ve kept me busy for the past 14 years.  It has been a great empty nest job!

What is your favorite thing about Chicago?

My favorite thing about Chicago is that it is always changing. I love to share it with my groups! I love the stories more than the data, and there are SO many – some only loosely based on fact, but colorful, interesting and fun.

Tell us about a “hidden gem” or something most people don’t know about Chicago.

Few people have heard of the Eastland Disaster (1915) that killed more passengers (844) than died on the Titanic (818 passengers died in 1912). The Eastland, a passenger ship used for tours and charters, was top heavy at least in part due to the additional lifeboats added after Titanic. The Eastland rolled over in the Chicago River and sank to the bottom (20 feet) on a calm, sunny day.  Lookingglass Theater actually did an amazing musical telling the story.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

There are three parts of my job I find most rewarding. The first is seeing a group totally immersed/involved in the activity – could be a clinic, a museum, a performance, etc. Second, I really enjoy seeing all of the wonderful unexpected things happen that aren’t on the itinerary. Finally, I love repeat tours. After 15 years, these groups are like family!

What has one of your favorite moments been as a tour director?

My favorite moment? Hard to pick just one!

First, one student decided she wanted to be a docent/guide after two pretty amazing tours in Franklin, TN of the Carter House and the Carnton Plantation. I hooked her up with one of them who talked to her about what she should study in college and how to get into that profession.

Second, my sister was mid-battle with breast cancer and we had selected a “fight song” for her. It was “The Storm is Passing Over” arranged by Baker. The Oberlin Choristers were beginning a rehearsal for a performance on the first night of a ten day tour. After hearing the first 3 chords from another room, I quickly ran to the back of the hall they were in and discovered – it was HER song! I stepped away, called my sister, and had a good cry. When I was saying goodbye, I told the students the story and they sang it to me a cappella on the bus. Wow! It was incredible for me and it showed them how their performance can really touch people in the audience.

Cathie Ruth grew up in Southern California and met her husband in her junior high band. She earned a degree in recreation from Oregon State University, and went on to chaperone many trips with her sons, before becoming a tour director. She currently lives in St. Charles, IL.

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