Ruth Armstrong. Credit: Family of Ruth Armstrong

Ruth Armstrong — artist, community activist, and Berkeley Path Wanderers co-founder — died on Jan. 24 at age 71 in Cambria, California. Fellow co-founder Jacque Ensign credits Ruth with coming up with the idea for a group of like-minded citizens dedicated to the stewardship of the public paths and stairways in Berkeley. 

“In 1997, Ruth posted a flyer for a meeting at the North Berkeley Library and a nice-sized group showed up,” remembers Ensign; attendees included sitting councilmember Betty Olds, who was a strong early supporter of the effort. By 1998 the Berkeley Path Wanderers Association was established by four women: Ruth, Jacque Ensign, Pat DeVito, and Eleanor Hall Gibson. Jacque also credits Ruth for coming up with the group’s name, as Ruth had hiked for years in Germany during her childhood, and latched onto the German word for hiking: wandern.

Ruth Armstrong was born and grew up in the Van Nuys area of Los Angeles. She attended UCLA then moved north to Berkeley to attend the California College of Arts and Crafts (now known as California College of Art, CCA) where she earned her bachelor’s with distinction in 1975. 

This story was first published by the Berkeley Path Wanderers Association

Ruth married and had two sons, Damian and Alex Moskovitz, who grew up rambling the hills of Berkeley by their family home near Codornices Park. Ruth hiked nearly every day, all over — not just the paths, but also on the trails of Tilden Park. Damian recalls exploring with his mother, looking for the hidden public stairways and paths. There was no map of the pathways at that time, and many of the paths in the hills had city property set aside for them but were never built. The public pathways had no signage, and many were blocked by fences from neighboring houses, making them unpassable. Creating a map of the city streets, parks, and all the public paths (built and unbuilt) became one of the driving missions of the BPWA. 

Creating community in the city’s parks was also one of Ruth’s passions, and she used her artistic talent to design inventive play structures for parks with no playgrounds for young children. Damian recalls beautifully crafted models his mother made for tot playgrounds in Live Oak, Codornices and Glendale-La Loma parks. Ruth’s quiet, behind-the-scenes, yet very effective lobbying skills persuaded the City of Berkeley to implement her designs to build the playgrounds, which are much used and loved to this day. 

Armstrong designed this beloved play structure at Codornices Park, as well as others at Live Oak and Glendale-La Loma parks. Credit: Colleen Neff

Ruth’s friend from those days, Teri Gerritz, remembers Ruth as “a free-spirited legend, small in stature but speaking loudly without being loud; an artist who liked making and encouraging others in functional art outdoors for the betterment of the community.” 

Ruth Armstrong Path is between Hearst and Berkeley Way in downtown Berkeley. Credit: Colleen Neff

In the early 2000s, Ruth moved down to the village of Cambria to take care of her elderly mother and decided to make it her new home. She continued to be a working artist inspired by the natural world. A fellow Cambrian, Tom Cochrun, wrote of his friend Ruth: “She introduced people. She was a wonder at matching folks with new friends. It was Ruth’s mission to make sure everyone knew each other.” 

Just this past year, the City of Berkeley named four public paths for the four co-founders of the BPWA. Ruth’s son Damian reports that his mother was thrilled and so very proud of this honor. You can walk Ruth Armstrong Path, a pedestrian continuation of Walnut Street between Hearst Avenue and Berkeley Way. The brand new signs were recently placed at each end of the path.

On Feb. 22, Councilmember Sophie Hahn closed the Berkeley City Council meeting in honor of Armstrong. “Berkeley is so grateful for Ruth Armstrong’s contributions to the community as the lead founder of the Path Wanderers and champion of path revitalization and accessibility,” Hahn said. “We are saddened by her death, but glad that the path renaming for all founders was able to take place before she passed away.”

Now in its 24th year, the Berkeley Path Wanderers Association is forever indebted to Ruth Armstrong for her love of the public pathways and for her visionary leadership that continues on with today’s dedicated path stewards.

Armstrong is survived by sons Damian Moskovitz and Alex Moskovitz, and her two living sisters, Alice Armstrong and Jessie Cyr.

A meeting of the first Berkeley Path Wanderers Association board, circa 1998. From left to right, Charlie Bowen, Susan Schwartz, Tom Edwards, Maggie Hodges, Eleanor Hall Gibson, Ruth Armstrong, Patricia DeVito, and Jay Cross. Credit: Berkeley Path Wanderers Association