Remembering Ruth Wickersham Papalia (1935–2019)

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Ruth Wickersham Papalia died peacefully on Oct. 8, at Aster Retirement Community Home in Cottage Grove, Wisc. She lived for six years with Parkinson’s disease without complaint. 

Whether we were playing trios together, working together in our administrative roles for the American Harp Society (AHS), or enjoying social events with our families, it was always a pleasure for us to be with Ruth. 

Everyone who knew Ruth always commented on her kindness. She listened to everyone’s viewpoint, was detailed and thorough in her work, and had a great wit. Ruth served on the national level with the AHS as chairman of the board, secretary, and treasurer. She was a founding committee member of the AHS Foundation and served as the first treasurer. She was a co-founder of the Central New York Chapter of the AHS. Ruth received the AHS Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008 at the National Conference in Dearborn, Mich.

Ruth was born Feb. 5, 1935 in Quakertown, Penn., and began harp lessons at age 9. She used her older sister Esther’s harp at the beginning of her studies. She entered the Oberlin Conservatory at age 17 and received a degree in harp performance. During the summers she studied with Carlos Salzedo at his harp colony at Camden, Maine. She toured the United States and Canada in the 1950s with The Angelaires, a quintet of professional harpists under the management of Columbia Artists. Ruth performed for 40 years with the College Community Orchestra at State University of New York in Cortland, N.Y.

In 2004, we formed a harp trio  with Ruth and commissioned two pieces from the British composer Simon Proctor. The name of our trio is the title of the first piece: The Three of Harps. We performed concerts in the United States, London, and at AHS conferences.

Ruth met her husband of 63 years, Dr. Anthony Papalia, at Oberlin, and they often presented wonderful workshops together for AHS national conferences on performance anxiety and other topics. Tony and Ruth have four daughters and five granddaughters. She was a marvelous hostess and always remembered everyone’s birthday. 

We feel honored to have played together as The Three of Harps. We miss Ruth immensely, and we will be forever inspired by her. 

—Lucy Scandrett and Jan Bishop

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