Services were held November 2, 2013 for Ruthia M. Turner-Brookens, known as “The Great Mother,” at St. Mark A.M.E. Church, 1616 W. Atkinson Avenue, Milwaukee, where she had been a member since 1950. She was also a member of its gospel chorus for almost 50 years.
Proclamations were issued by Governor Scott Walker, Mayor Tom Barrett, Russell Stamper Jr., of the County Board, and a letter was sent by the Honorable Gwendolyn S. Moore, U.S. Representative, whose campaigns for State Senate and her current office the Great Mother had worked on. In attendance at the memorial services were also former State Representative A. Polly Williams, County Board Supervisor Willie Johnson, and Sherry Hill, former director of the Milwaukee Governor’s Office, among others.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel also cited her in a November 3, 2013 article, “Brookens Was Mother To All.” It had previously cited her on June 5, 1997 in an article, “Family Story Is An Education All By Itself,” for successfully raising six children, all of whom attended college, with many of them having post-graduate degrees, while using Christian and leadership principles.
Brookens became so widely known as a mother figure that she earned the nickname Great Mother. Word of that spread to the mayor’s office and, in 1998, Mayor John Norquist and Gov. Tommy G. Thompson declared a “Great Mother Ruthia Brookens Day,” said the November 3 article. In attendance at that event were many politicians, including former State Rep. Polly Williams, the late former Deputy Superintendent of Schools, Barbara Powell-Horton, former Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Russell Stamper and members of the clergy. This event recognized the mothering instincts of Ruthia Brookens, which extended far beyond her family, as they recognized her for inspiring and producing quality leaders through endless motivation by a labor of love to the public schools, political, and church communities, and at the polls, and by many, many other gestures of love. After dropping off her own children at school, she’d go back and comb the neighborhood for kids who were playing hooky. One friend said she came to her home, picked her children up and took them to the library to teach them how to be somebody. Another friend said she came to her home asking if her children had summer jobs, delivered letters of employment to them from the mayor’s office, and followed through by delivering them to their workplace on their first day. This included the neighbor’s teenage brother visiting from Mississippi for whom she also found employment.
“Great Mother” was quick to share lessons and had many famous quotes: “What you do for self dies with you; what you do for the community will become a legend and last long after you’re gone; moreover it will inspire others to give because they have received the same.”
Ruthia Turner, the great grand-daughter fourth removed of Nat Turner, famous civil rights activist, was born in Smale, AK, the youngest of six children of middle-class landowners. She was valedictorian of her high school class where she was even then allowed to major in chemistry, where the lowest grades she received were an A+. She met her husband, the late Benoit Brookens, Sr., when he came home after serving in World War II and spotted her. They married in 1947, moved to Milwaukee in 1950 for his job at Allis Chalmers, and joined St. Mark A.M. E. Church and were lifelong members. Due to activities and parenthood demands, in her mid-life she attended Milwaukee Area Technical College, earning an associate degree; while working in various capacities at the county in administrative, supervision, and at the local library.
But Brookens never gave up on the kids, and people never gave up on her guidance. Many sought her advice. She’d say, ‘We’re losing the children, talk to them, reason with them, show