Ruth Ann Gaines was born in Des Moines, Iowa in 1947. She was educated in the parochial school system. She received a BA degree in Drama/Speech in 1969 from Clarke College in Dubuque, Iowa and a M.A. in Dramatic Art from the University of California in Santa Barbara in 1970. She taught drama at East High School for 40 years and has taught Speech and Drama at Des Moines Area Community College since 1971. She has developed and taught diversity courses to teachers since 1979 at the Heartland Area Education Agency in Des Moines, and most recently at Viterbo University Iowa Center in West Des Moines. She is recognized as a national diversity trainer for college and universities, businesses, corporations and churches.
Ruth Ann has served on numerous boards and commissions throughout the years. She was appointed to the State Foster Care Review Board by Governor Tom Vilsack in 2000 and is currently serving on the Iowa Arts Council where she was appointed by Governor Chet Culver in 2009. She was a Des Moines Human Rights Commissioner from 2004 -2011and reinstated Friends of Des Moines Human Rights Committee.
Among the many initiatives she created for the Des Moines Public Schools is Sisters for Success, a mentorship program for African-American and African middle- and high-school girls. This program has been used as a model for other similar programs in schools throughout the state.
Ruth Ann is also well known for her acting and directing endeavors. In 2009, she directed a 32 episode radio drama that was a part of the Iowa Initiative to prevent unwanted pregnancies, chaired by Christie Vilsack and Sally Pederson. This program aired in various communities throughout the state and was made available to schools. She has hosted her own radio and television shows, and is an accomplished public speaker, having delivered commencement addresses at Clark University, UNI, Iowa State, ITT and Kaplan University.
Ruth Ann was a 1987 YWCA Woman of Achievement and the 1993 Rotary High School Teacher of the Year. She was the 1998 Iowa Teacher of the Year and one of four finalists for National Teacher of the Year. During the last few years, she has also been inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame, the Iowa African American Hall of Fame and the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame. In 2002 she was selected as a Central Iowa Woman of Influence. She was given the key to the city by Mayor Preston Daniels in 2003 and received an Iowa Character Counts Award in 2005. She served on the Loras College Board of Regents from 2001-2004 and was the recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008. Ruth Ann is also a graduate of Leadership Iowa in 1996 and a 2002 graduate of the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute.
Ruth Ann is a single adoptive parent of a child with multiple disabilities. In 1984, she was one of 15 single persons to adopt in Iowa. She has worked for and served on numerous committees and boards to help the disabled. She served on Very Special Arts Iowa Board and has sponsored many special needs artists in the Des Moines community.
A lifelong Democrat, Ruth Ann ran for the Iowa Senate in 1994 and the Des Moines City Council 2004. In 2010, she was elected to the Iowa House of Representatives, House District 32. She currently serves on the Education, Local Government, Veterans’ Affairs and Government Oversight committees; she is the Ranking Member of Government Oversight.
Special Honors, Awards and Presentations
• 2020 Iowa Democratic Party’s We The People Award as a Member of Black Caucus
• 2020 Progress Iowa’s Harkin Hero Award as a Member of Black Caucus
• 2020 Herbert Hoover Foundation’s Herbert Hoover Uncommon Public Service Award
• 2019 Des Moines Business Record’s Sages Over 70 Award
• 2018 Interfaith Alliance Joy Corning Public Leader Award as a member of the Democratic Women of the Iowa House of Representatives
• 2018 Banker’s Trust Black History Month Honoree
• 2018 DSM Magazine Feature Article
• 2018 Wallace Winkie Lifelong Learner Hall of Fame
• 2018 NAACP Community Activist Award
• 2017 DAWN’s List Barbara Boatwright Award
• 2015 I’ll Make Me a World in Iowa Award
• 2014 DMEA Professional Educator of the Year
• 2014 Alpha Kappa Alpha Citizen of the Year Award
• 2012 Delta Sigma Theta Dramatist of the Year
• 2011 Volunteer of the Year for Des Moines Museum
• 2010 Broadway League Educator Award Recipient
• 2008 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award
• 2007 Inductee, Iowa Womens Hall of Fame
• 2006 Character Counts Awards
• 2005 Rosa Parks Recognition Award
• 2004 Inductee, Iowa African American Hall of Fame
• 2003 Inductee, National Teachers Hall of Fame
• 2002 USA Today All-USA Third Team Teacher Award
• 2002 Women of Influence in Central Iowa Award, Des Moines Business Records
• 2002 Graduate of Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute
• 2002, 2000, 1990 Who’s Who Among Teachers
• 2002 I’ll Make Me A World in Iowa – Heritage Legacy Award (first recipient)
• 2001 Commitment to Diversity Award (Conferred by University of Iowa Ed. Dept.)
• 2001 Selected to Board of Regents at Loras College, Dubuque, IA
• 2000 Teacher of the Year Award (Friends of Iowa Civil Rights Commission)
• 1999 Angel in Adoption Award (US Congressional Committee on Adoption)
• 1998 Wal-Mart Teacher of the Year
• 1998 Iowa Teacher of the Year
• 1998 Minorities in Teaching Award (University of Northern Iowa)
• 1998 Risky Business Iowa Teacher of the Year
• 1998 One of four finalists, The National Teacher of the Year
• 1997 Graduate of Leadership Iowa
• 1993 Rotary High School Teacher of the Year (Des Moines Rotary Club)
• 1987 YWCA Woman of Achievement Award
• 1979 George Washington Carver Award (Simpson College)