Wednesday, August 4, 2021

In Memoriam: Ruth Piwonka

Columbia County suffered a great loss on Monday when Ruth Piwonka died. Ruth was a formidable and respected scholar of local history. She was for many years the town historian for Kinderhook, but the scope of her knowledge embraced all of Columbia County and extended beyond into the Hudson Valley. 

Many of us were introduced to Ruth and her scholarship through the book she coauthored with Roderick Blackburn, A Visible Heritage, Columbia County, NY: A History in Art and Architecture, which was originally published in 1977. The preface to the book explains the title:
Art and architecture are our visible heritage; they symbolize our history and dramatize the creativity of our past. By emphasizing the relationship between history and the arts, history becomes more interesting and the arts more meaningful. 
Ruth Piwonka with portraits of the mayors of Kinderhook--Photo: Ralph Gardner Jr
A few years ago, Ralph Gardner Jr featured Ruth in one of his weekly commentaries on WAMC: "Go Ask Ruth." Gardner's commentary captures much of the essence of Ruth--her vast knowledge, her curiosity, and her generosity when it came to sharing information. As Gardner said, "She's no show off but she's also not shy when asked to share her knowledge." Gossips has more than once benefitted from Ruth's scholarly generosity.  

Columbia County has lost a great treasure. We are all richer for her scholarship and dedication. Ruth Piwonka will be sorely missed.


  1. A tremendous loss indeed.

    RIP Ruth Piwonka.

  2. Thank you so much, Carole, for this remembrance. Ruth is a wonderful reminder to our current policymakers that when they are gathered arund the policy-making table, there should be a place or two reserved for history.

  3. It is a rare thing to have so much history in your head. She was a treasure - an irreplaceable one.

  4. Thank you Ruth . What a sweet heart !