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Friends mourn passing of pianist, LDS youth leader

Published February 15, 2011 9:16 am

Friends recall the courage, endurance and passion of former Young Women's leader.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Ruth Funk, a former president of the LDS Church's worldwide organization for young women, had two strong traits, recalls a close colleague: "Courage and incredible endurance."

"She never gave up," Ardeth Greene Kapp says.

An accomplished pianist, music teacher and choral director as well as a leader in auxiliaries of the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Funk died Saturday, less than a week before she would have been 94.

She remained in her Salt Lake City home to the end, visited often by friends of all ages, and confident that she still could make a difference in others' lives, said her daughter, Nancy Funk Pulsipher.

"She loved bringing the best out of people," Pulsipher says, "and that's what she did best."

Funk was president of the Young Women's program from 1972 to 1978, a time of great change in the church's youth programs and their governance.

"It was such a challenging time," recalls Kapp, Funk's second counselor who later served as president of the Young Women's organization.

Courage was needed to answer the questions of those uncomfortable with change, she said, and to express concerns to the proper leaders.

"She recognized her responsibility and spoke up, but was also very responsive to the direction that was given," Kapp says. "She wasn't one to share discouragement. Her spirit was always upbeat, supportive and optimistic."

Funk's tenure over the Young Women's program followed other church assignments.

She was named at age 29 to the board of the Mutual Improvement Association (MIA), an earlier youth program, and helped organize many June conferences for youths from 1946 to 1962. She also served for a decade on the church's Correlation Committee, which coordinates the content of the church's published materials.

Funk also served on the Utah Board of Education from 1985 to 1992.

Born in Chicago and reared in Salt Lake City, Ruth Hardy Funk's talent as a pianist was evident from an early age. In an interview last year for the Mormon Women Project, an online compilation of women's stories, Funk said she once performed for Helen Keller, who placed her hands on the piano as Funk played in her Salt Lake City home.

She also told of how she chose between a concert career and a family. Her father's blessing suggested the latter, and, as a young bride, she knew it was the right course.

"My passion for music when I was young was so great that it consumed every other thought," she told the project. "I realized more and more how I simply could never have handled a top concert career and a family."

She graduated from the University of Utah with a teaching degree in 1938 and married Marcus Funk later that year. The couple lived in Chicago while he was in dental school, but returned to Salt Lake City. He died in 1997.

Funk taught private piano lessons, led choirs and, occasionally, directed orchestras. She was East High's music director from 1969 to 1972.

Carla Rae Cook, now a professional singer, says an encounter with Funk, who was her choir director in the 1960s, changed her life.

During a test, Funk asked Cook to sing note after note after note. "She said, 'Carla, you have perfect pitch,' " Cook recalls.

"Sometimes one sentence can make a difference in a child's life. That hit my core," says Cook, who has sung for the San Francisco Opera and other major companies.

Funk's daughter says her mother loved beauty in all its forms.

On Valentine's Day, the boxes Pulsipher and her sisters would take to school sometimes were decorated in the same fabric as the dresses they wore.

"She always inspired us to do things in a different, more creative way," Pulsipher says. "She made our childhood magical."

Though loss of sight and feeling in her fingers meant she no longer could play the piano, Funk remained upbeat, Kapp says. "All the gifts she had seemed to have been taken. But her spiritual gifts continued to expand."

kmoulton@sltrib.com ww—

About Ruth Hardy Funk

Born Feb. 11, 1917, in Chicago to Thomas Frederick and Polly Reynolds Hardy.

Reared in Salt Lake City, graduated from the University of Utah in 1938, married Marcus Funk later that year and raised four children.

Served on the LDS Church's Mutual Improvement Association board and its Correlation Committee, and was president of the Young Women's program from 1972 to 1978.

Belonged to the Utah Board of Education from 1985 to 1992.

Became known for her accomplishments as a piano accompanist, music teacher and choral director. —

Funeral set

P Services will beFeb. 18 at 11 a.m. at the Parleys 3rd Ward, 2625 E. Stringham Ave. (2295 South). The family will greet visitors the night before from 6 to 8 p.m. at Larkin Sunset Lawn Mortuary, 2350 E. 1300 South, and an hour before the service at the church.