Ruth Corina “Rina” Burt was born April 12, 1921, in Vance County, North Carolina. Her early education began at the Episcopal Church School and continued at Henderson Central Graded School . She graduated from Henderson Institute in 1936 and from Winston Salem Teacher’s College in 1942. She also did further study at North Carolina Central University.
Ruth retired from teaching after 30 years of service. During her teaching career, she was active in educational professional organizations. On the local level, she became the first president of the Vance County Unit of the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) and served as President of the Association of Classroom Teachers and chairman of the Legislative Committee. On the District Level of the NCAE, she served as Secretary, Vice President, and President, and on the state level, she was elected to the Board of Directors and served on the Finance and Personnel Committee. She remained an active member of the Vance County Retired Teachers Association until her health failed.
Ruth Burt believed in helping others. Her beliefs were evidenced by her participation in several community organizations. She served on the Vance County Youth Services Advisory Council for 11 years and on the Board of Friends of Youth, and she was recognized by Gov. Hunt for her service to youth in the community. The Vance County Commissioners selected her to serve on the Vance County Social Services Board and she was elected Board chair for 2 years. She was a member of the Board of Area Christians together in Service (ACTS) for three years and The United Way for six. Ruth was the first African American to serve as Chair of the United Way. She was also a member of the Vance County Housing authority; and was a member of Shiloh Baptist Church for over 75 years.
Of all her community activities, nothing was closer to Ruth Burt’s heart than Henderson Institute. She served as National President of the Alumni Association, Executive Committee member, member of the Board of Directors and Chairman of the Board Directors. However, the highlight of her years with Henderson Institute was the eighteen years (1990-2009) she served as the Director of the Henderson Institute Historical Museum. Under her leadership, the Henderson Institute Historical Museum was listed by the federal government on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Early in her tenure, Ruth realized that opening the Museum at a scheduled time was non-productive, few people visited. As a result, the Museum Committee decided to open the Museum by appointment. When a tour request was received, it was usually accommodated within 24 hours and sometimes that day. She was always by herself, yet she had no fear. She believed that anyone coming to the Museum came with good intentions. One night she stayed at the museum until 1:00 am, so that a working mother, who she did know, could complete a report about HI for her class at North Carolina Central. Ruth also spent several days and evenings at the Museum with another North Carolina Central student as she researched her master’s thesis, “The History of Henderson Institute.”
While visiting the Museum, a staff member from the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources recommended that Henderson Institute establish an obituary file of Vance County African Americans. Obituaries often contain family and birth information that is sometimes difficult to establish through legal records. Ruth solicited the membership and local funeral homes to help her create it. Several people were successful in finding the information that they needed by searching the file.
Ruth Burt’s service to the community and to Henderson Institute did not go unnoticed. In 2005 she was recognized by the Henderson-Vance Chamber of Commerce as Vance County Outstanding Citizen of the Year. She was noted for her contributions to the well-being of Vance County’s citizens and her leadership at Henderson Institute.
Ruth Burt passed April 27, 2015. During her funeral, the minister shared that he had visited Ruth as she began her earthly transition. She had three concerns, one of which was the direction of the leadership of Henderson Institute. She wanted the Association to thrive, even as she faced death.