The Filipina Women’s Network named Davis councilmember Ruth Asmundson one of the 100 most influential Filipinas in the country.
Asmundson was presented an award in Washington D.C. at a gala in October. The group’s goal is to double the number of Filipina leaders in five years by having all 100 influential women mentor a young Filipina. The Filipina Women’s Network will hold another event in 2012 for all the mentors and protégés.
The 63-year old mother of six has come a long way since her childhood in a barrio in the Philippines. Since coming to Davis 40 years ago as a Fulbright scholar she has earned a Ph.D. in chemistry, married former Davis mayor Vigfus Asmundson, served on the school board for 10 years and on the city council since 2002.
Now, she is somewhat of a celebrity when she returns to the Philippines. On her four visits there each year, she occasionally travels with a police escort, meets with presidents and is beloved by all at her Alma mater, Adamson University.
Encouraged by her husband, Asmundson began her career in public service in 1990 by serving on the Board of Education. In 2001, her husband, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease, decided he wanted to run for city council again. She was concerned for his health and volunteered to take his place. She won the 2002 election with the highest vote count. Asmundson served as mayor between 2004 and 2006 and will be serving again beginning in July.
Ruth and I worked together on the school board from 1995 to 1999, said councilmember Don Saylor. She is extremely compassionate, very hard-working, dedicated and focused.
Asmundson has a unique ability to forge lasting relationships with people from all backgrounds all over the world, Saylor said.
It’s like everyone is her cousin or her sister or her brother, he said.
She has always been involved in numerous philanthropic endeavors. She helped setup a scholarship program for Adamson University in addition to personally sending seven of her nieces and nephews to college. She has been involved in the International House on campus for many years. Asmundson also mentors several people in the community, including two UC Davis Filipina students who will be attending the Filipina Women’s Network conference with her in 2012.
Asmundson is one of eight children born to a very poor family in the Mabini barrio of Isabella province, where she grew up without running water or electricity.
Her Filipina mother was 14 when she married Asmundson’s Chinese father, who died when she was four. Her mother quickly remarried because Asmundson’s father’s family told her if she didn’t marry her deceased husband’s brother, they would take her children away.
I grew up in this poor village and I knew that education was my way out, Asmundson said. Everything after I got out is like a bonus.
Asmundson’s mother worked to instill the importance of education in her from a young age. She excelled in elementary school and graduated at the top of her class. Her step-father wanted her to attend a Chinese language high school but Asmundson, who had always refused to speak Chinese, wouldn’t hear of it and fought to attend regular Filipino high school. She eventually won the argument and continued to excel in high school.
I was always the rebel, she said.
Her next battle would be to find a way to go to college. Her stepfather refused to pay, but she worked hard to get a full scholarship to Adamson University in Manila.
Asmundson continued stand out at Adamson, becoming close friends with the university’s president. She was recently the keynote speaker and honored guest at the university’s 75th Diamond Jubilee.
She completed her masters in chemistry on a Fulbright scholarship to Wilkes University in Pennsylvania. After two years in the cold, she decided to apply to doctorate programs only in sunny California.
Asmundson ruled out Los Angeles because of the smog and Berkeley because of the radical movement of the 1960s, she said. That left Davis. She arrived here Aug. 4, 1968.
After several months in Davis, she met the young Mayor Asmundson who promptly asked her on a date. After their third date, he proposed, and she accepted. The couple dated for two more years while she completed her PhD.
She knew immediately that Asmundson was the man for her. As a girl going to school in the Philippines, Ruth Uy had to sit in the back of the classroom organized alphabetically. She was short for her age and had a hard time seeing the board. When she went home she told her mother she was going to marry a tall man whose last name starts with an ‘A.’ At 6’2 – over a foot taller than her – Vigfus Asmundson met young Ruth’s criteria.
I knew as soon as I saw him, she said. Tall, good-looking with a name that starts with A.
The couple eventually settled down and had four daughters. When her sister and brother-in-law died 17 years ago, the Asmundsons volunteered to raise their two sons.
Ruth and Vigfus Asmundson were married for 30 years before he passed away in 2003 from Parkinson’s disease.
The motivation, passion, optimism and sense of humor that got Asmundson out of the barrio 40 years ago continue to guide her actions in life and in the community. She is famous for her large parties to which the whole town is invited and treated to traditional homemade Filipino dishes like lumpia. Everyone, even school children, remembers her phone number – 753-RUTH, she said.
Life for me has been wonderful, Asmundson said. I love life and I always look at the positive side.
ALYSOUN BONDE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.