Buddhist nun's legacy: helping others

By Rob Schneider, Indystar.com, Nov 17, 2005

Obituary - A Life Lived: Ruth McDaniel, 1949-2005

Indianapolis, Indiana (USA) -- Some called her an angel, but to her students, Ruth McDaniel was simply the teacher they greeted as "hey McD," followed by a high-five salute.

By day, Mrs. McDaniel, 56, Indianapolis, was a seventh-grade math teacher at Maxwell Middle School in Hancock County. But after work, she touched the lives of a number of people, including high school students with children of their own and dying AIDS patients.

She became an ordained Buddhist nun, and the homeless were known to come to the Dromtonpa Buddhist Center in Indianapolis to ask for her by name because she gave them food and money.

"She was just one of those people who found beauty in everything," said Jan Hacker, a teacher at Maxwell, recalling her friend who died Nov. 12 of cancer.

Tributes to Mrs. McDaniel's life on the school's Web site describe her as amazing, with a big heart.

She left a legacy, not of power and money, but of caring, love and commitment to someone other than herself, said her son, David McDaniel. Her philosophy: There is always something you can do to help others.

A native of Greenfield, she decided to become a teacher, going to school and raising a family at the same time. "Mom didn't take on anything without following through completely," David McDaniel said.

She was close to making a transition in her life. Mrs. McDaniel had begun to think of leaving teaching in the next couple of years to take on a leadership role at a Buddhist temple.

She taught at Greenfield Middle School for 10 years before moving to Maxwell eight years ago. There she had a reputation for reaching students other teachers had problems with. "They knew they had a safe haven in her classroom," said Jim Wade, who worked with her at Maxwell.

Larry McBride, who also taught at Maxwell, said Mrs. McDaniel readily stepped forward to take on grunt chores like keeping track of students who were missing assignments for other teachers.

He was aware of her volunteer activities but usually had to draw the details out of her. "She didn't brag," he added.

Mrs. McDaniel's other son, Gregory McDaniel, told McBride how he always thought of his mother as kind of an angel. "That's pretty well put," McBride said. "That's kind of how the rest of us feel about her."

Other survivors include sisters, Nancy Kiser and Rebecca Lake. Services will be at 10 a.m. today in Erlewein Mortuary, Greenfield.