Ruth Emple, a mainstay of Bangor’s Little City neighborhood since the 1950s who pushed for a greater voice for women in politics, died on Monday at the age of 100.
Emple was born on Dec. 9, 1919, in Amsterdam, New York, the eldest of four children. She grew up alongside a fellow Amsterdam native named Issur Danielovitch Demsky, later known as movie star Kirk Douglas. As a young woman, she served in the Women’s Auxiliary Corps during World War II at Camp Stoneman in California, and after the war moved to Brooklyn, New York.
It was in Brooklyn in 1953 that she met her future husband, Maurice Emple, who owned A. Emple and Company, a wholesale textile company. They married that year and moved to Bangor, settling in the Little City neighborhood in 1954, where she lived for the rest of her life. At that time, Little City was home to many members of Bangor’s Jewish community.
Shawn Yardley, now CEO of Lewiston-based social service organization Community Concepts, lived two doors down from Ruth Emple on Grant Street for more than 30 years. Yardley, a former public health director for the city of Bangor, sold the house he and his family had lived in just three weeks ago, and the last thing he did before he drove away to their new home in Lewiston was say goodbye to his neighbor.
“She attended all my kids’ graduations. She always went to birthday parties and baby showers and weddings. She gave us Christmas presents, even though it was outside of her faith tradition. She was just such a presence in the neighborhood,” Yardley said. “Even in her 90s, she would stand on her porch and survey her neighborhood, and people would stop to talk to her. She was truly the grand dame. I am just so grateful I got to say goodbye to her.”
The Emples raised three children, Sheila, Nancy and James, and Ruth Emple enmeshed herself in the social and political life of the Bangor region, including after her husband died in 1998. She was an active member at the Bangor YWCA, taking classes, and she was the driving force behind the start of the Y’s first-ever belly dancing class. She was an avid swimmer and took up downhill skiing and golf in her 50s. She was a member of Congregation Beth Israel for many decades.
Emple was an advocate for women’s education and for women in politics. She volunteered for Bangor native Bill Cohen’s first run for U.S. Congress in 1972, and later volunteered for Olympia Snowe’s campaigns. She also offered support to Sens. Susan Collins and George Mitchell.
Cohen, a former U.S. Secretary of Defense, said that he benefited from Emple’s vast network of friends, who later became his supporters.
“She knew everyone in Bangor,” Cohen said. “I’m pretty sure I got some votes from people who weren’t sold on me but who liked Ruth.”
Cohen said Emple inspired countless other women in politics and in other fields.
“She was a person of integrity, compassion and courage who looked for the best in people,” he said. “She will be remembered as someone who truly loved and drew energy from her family, her friends, and her community in Bangor.”
According to her family, she was a lively, generous woman, with diverse interests ranging from jewelry- and candle-making to horse racing.
“My mother was the first feminist I had ever known,” said her daughter, Nancy Emple.
More than 100 people attended a 100th birthday party for Emple late last year, held at Bagel Central in downtown Bangor.
“She loved it. She talked about it for a long time afterwards,” said her son, Jim Emple, a longtime copy editor for the Bangor Daily News. “She certainly loved a party.”
Correction: Ruth Emple’s husband, Maurice, ran A. Emple and Company, a wholesale textile company. Additionally, Ruth Emple was never a member of the League of Women Voters. She was a member of the Bangor YWCA, which later merged with the regional YMCA. It also incorrectly listed her birthday. It was Dec. 9, 1919.