Ruth Ann Gaines: Instructor and Politician

Ruth Ann Gaines has proved herself over the years as not only an educator, but as a legislator speaking on the specific issues that concern students in the Des Moines area. 

Graduating with a bachelor’s degree in drama and speech from Clarke College, she later received her master’s in dramatic arts from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Gaines later returned to Des Moines and applied for a teaching job at the DMACC Ankeny campus.  

In 1973, the idea for DMACC Urban was formed to give lower income students a possibility of an education in Des Moines. Gaines was on the original committee to form Urban and went on to become one of its first four instructors when it opened. She taught an introduction to theatre class and had high hopes for a theatre at Urban.  

“I’m getting older and thinking about retiring from many of the things I do, but I still have the dream of starting a performing group here, I’ve had many drama clubs but there’s never been a theatre group that did plays here at the urban campus — I still have that goal. We may not have a theatre as such, but there could be some other building close by where we could hold plays,” said Gaines. 

Gaines described some of the changes she’s seen on the campus over the years, saying that the original staff, including administrators, were mostly African American. She said it was one of the things she loved about the Urban campus.  

While Urban remains the most diverse DMACC campus, as it has grown that diversity is changing and things don’t look like they used to. Despite the changes, Gaines’s teaching continues to inspire students new and old. 

DMACC Urban student, Azka Naqvi, is taking a class with Gaines this semester. Naqvi said, “Ruth Ann is a great teacher and I feel like if you are shy or less outgoing, she’s someone who can make you feel comfortable every time you come to class. I feel like I can go to her for anything, and she will hear me out. She’s also personable and easygoing, making her class enjoyable.”  

Since 2011, Gaines has served in the Iowa House of Representatives. Gaines hadn’t planned on getting into politics, but community members urged her to get involved. She said, “I didn’t come on my own, I probably never would have been a politician if different people had not asked me to run three different times and that tells me that people saw in me what I didn’t see in myself because they kept coming even if I lost, I’d lose and they’d come back and say run for this.”  

Gaines spoke to the difficulties she faced coming into her new role. She said, “I questioned my own presence, because I had been an artist and now suddenly a politician and it didn’t seem that was a role for me. But I stayed because I felt I should. And now I don’t see myself as a politician, I see myself as more of a stateswoman. That means that I’m there doing politics but I’m not doing all the finagling and ‘I’ll scratch your back, you’ll scratch mine.’ I’m just there, straight forward, trying to get the job done.”  

Gaines is clearly doing the job because as well as being in the Iowa Democratic Hall of Fame, she won the Hoover Presidential Award for Uncommon Service in 2020.  

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