[dropcap sid=”dropcap-1446573855″]O[/dropcap]f her star turn as Queen of the Senior Prom at City College Downtown (today’s Baruch College), Ruth Printz O’Hara (’52) is dismissive. “I was good-looking,” she states matter-of-factly. “The role didn’t require much.” O’Hara had enrolled not to gain a tiara or—like many of her contemporaries—a husband, but to earn a degree. “I wanted respect. Education was a way to get respect,” she says.
O’Hara chose Baruch, specifically, for practical reasons. It was close to her home on the Lower East Side, where she lived with her parents and brother, Jack (also an alum, from the class of ’49). “One ride on a bus, and I was there,” she recalls. That proximity also allowed her to work a variety of part-time office jobs. “I always worked at something,” she says.
For the hardworking O’Hara, a summer waitressing job in New York’s Catskill Mountains proved serendipitous, launching her career in the world of art. Herman Wechsler, director of Far Gallery on Madison Avenue between 64th and 65th Streets, was among the “Borscht Belt” vacationers she happened to meet. And Wechsler offered her a job.
The genteel, progressive art gallery world—“the men were pretty respectful, and my boss was the sweetest, nicest boss in the whole world”—turned out to be a perfect fit for the business admin major. Eventually O’Hara became an art dealer and gallery owner of the eponymously named Ruth O’Hara Art in Midtown Manhattan, working and traveling for clients on four continents.
Along the way, the independent alumna did marry, at 25. Her late husband had talents in another creative medium, rising to director of publishing at Dell Magazines.
The ardent businesswoman is also a philanthropist. Passionate about her Polish-Jewish heritage, she has made a $1 million estate gift to endow the Ruth Printz O’Hara Professorship in Holocaust Studies, which will support a Weissman School of Arts and Sciences faculty member affiliated with the College’s Sandra Kahn Wasserman Jewish Studies Center (JSC). O’Hara’s parents came to the U.S. from Poland, her father as a child and her mother when they married in 1925. “My mother always regretted leaving Poland,” recalls O’Hara. “She lost her entire family in the war.”
The Ruth Printz O’Hara Professorship in Holocaust Studies was dedicated on Oct. 7 at a private reception followed by a public event.