Nurse Ruth still one of BU’s most passionate fans


Shelby Stephens

Former director of the Student Health Center Ruth Sarna peps up the BU football players before they take the field against Evangel on Nov. 12 at Liston Stadium. Sarna is one of the Baker sports teams’ most enthusiastic supporters. Image by Shelby Stephens.

After the Baker football team emerged victorious against Missouri Valley on Nov. 5, the BU players made their way to the center of the field for a post-game talk. Missouri Valley handed Baker its only conference loss during the 2015 season, but this year’s win meant the Wildcats had clinched at least a share of the conference championship.

After the men dispersed from their post-game circle, Nurse Ruth greeted each player with a handshake, hug or high-five. Parents and players alike took photos and made conversation with Nurse Ruth, just like they do after every game.

After posing for a picture with junior Logan Brettell, senior Quanzee Johnson and junior Cornell Brown, she pulled away and put her hands on her hips to watch the team celebrate. With a large grin on her face, she said, “This Baker win is the best birthday gift ever.”

Saturday was her 74th birthday.

Ruth Sarna, better known as “Nurse Ruth” around Baker University, served as the campus nurse for 25 years until her retirement in 2013. She says that those were some of the best days of her life.

Her care for the students has always run much deeper than just their health, though. She always wanted to make it clear that she cared for them as “whole beings” on spiritual, intellectual, athletic and emotional levels.

“I did it to make sure they know I cared about them as individuals,” Sarna said. “I guess that’s kind of how it carried over to the football team that I got so attached to, and just making sure they knew I cared about them.”

Sarna began attending football games while working her first year as campus nurse in the days of head football coach Charlie Richard. Since that time, and even after her retirement, she has traveled from her Lawrence home to almost every home and away game.

Current Baker head football coach Mike Grossner doesn’t know if he ever remembers a time when Nurse Ruth missed a football game.

“I get a text every Friday from her that says ‘Hooray, it’s game day! Let’s have a great day and I’ll see you … wherever, home or away,” Grossner said with a chuckle. “She meets [the players] coming out in the helmet tunnel if we are home. If we’re on the road, she meets us at the gate, slapping high-fives, always.”

Sarna remembers when Grossner began the first of his 13 seasons coaching the Baker football team. She said she “gave coach Grosssner some space” during his first season and eventually built up the courage to step into his office the following season. Sarna then told Grossner that it was her “life dream” to give a speech to the football team before a big game.

To Sarna’s surprise, Grossner replied, “OK, well, when do you want to do it?”

For years now, Sarna has given pregame speeches to the football team, and even a halftime speech or two. She often writes out her speech on notecards and pulls quotes and ideas from famous coaches like Vince Lombardi. Grossner said her speeches are best when they come from the heart.

Junior wide receiver Cornell Brown can recall several of Sarna’s pregame speeches.

“We’re all teammates. We’re all working toward the same goal,” Brown said. “But it’s kind of different to see an outside person with the same passion and same support as the whole team, and I think we realize that and see that.”

For the Baker football team, coaches included, Nurse Ruth has been a constant presence who not only supports the team, but believes in it, too.

“I so appreciate coach Mike [Grossner] letting me be a part of the team and the support coming from all the coaches,” Sarna said. “I am absolutely just so blessed. I love the kids, the game and the parents, and everything about it is just a pretty neat blessing.”

Grossner said that he won’t ever be able to find a bigger fan. He always reminds his coaching staff to think about who was there since day one, even in the hard times when the team wasn’t having much success.

“I think [the players] see her excitement and dedication and drive behind us,” Grossner said. “If she cares that much, then why wouldn’t they care as much?”