Ruth Keppel lived in Holland, Michigan for her entire life. Born in 1896, she spent almost a century carefully observing her beloved hometown transform from a small Dutch village to a city with industry and growing cultural diversity. Her parents were Albert and Kate Keppel, and both sets of grandparents were original Holland settlers. This genealogy had always fascinated Ruth and would be the foundation of her later research and writings about the Holland community. The second of five daughters, Ruth took on heavy responsibilities during her lifetime, including taking care of both her parents during the last days of their lives.
The Keppels were a musically gifted family. Mrs. Keppel was an accomplished pianist and Ruth's older sister, Evelyn, was a lyric soprano. Ruth herself was an accomplished violinist and attended Oberlin Music Conservatory and Chicago Music College to earn her degree and teaching certificate. She spent over ten years directing the orchestras at Holland Junior High and High School. A bone disease caused her to give up her violin in 1940-something.
A busy Holland citizen, she contributed to the community through her involvement in the Women's Literary Club, Tulip Time, Hope Church, and the Holland's Musician's Club, among other organizations. After giving up the violin, Ruth turned to writing and needlepoint to occupy her free time. Between taking care of her ailing mother and her social commitments, she still found the time to pen "From Trees to Tulips" in 1947, just in time for Holland's centennial celebration.
Ruth thought it was her duty to preserve the heritage of her beloved hometown Holland. She felt this need in part because her father was adamant about local history. Albert wanted desperately to pass down his knowledge to his daughters, and Ruth was the only one interested it seems. Ruth, who greatly admired her father and would later go on to write an essay on him, remembered these stories and added her own research to them.
Most of her writings come from after her father's death in 1939. Many finalized versions, expanded essays that did not appear in "From Trees to Tulips," were written in the 1980s in the last decade of her life. With a need to carry on his legacy, as well as the legacy of Holland, Ruth became a locally celebrated historian. Her topics include:
- Isaac Cappon
- John Cappon
- The De Vries Family
- Christine Van Raalte Gilmore
- Albert Christian Keppel
- Hobert Keppel
- Teunis Keppel
Ruth was recognized in the community for her contributions to preserving the history of Holland. She remarks in a 1980 oral history interview that "not a week goes by that someone doesn't ask me for historical information." Though she wasn't a trained historian, Ruth understood the importance of recording and archiving, thereby participating in the process. She made sure to record the stories her father had passed down to her so that future generations could understand their heritage and the past.
Holland is a unique community with a unique history. Ruth's work contributes to the community's collective memory. The Holland Museum Archives and Joint Archives of Holland are full of documents that can help us reconstruct Holland's history from multiple perspectives. The Keppel family is only one of many families that have deep historical roots in Holland, Michigan. Ruth's work helps us to not only understand an ordinary Holland family throughout the twentieth century, but also that family's interaction with its past, its genealogy, its heritage.