After three decades, Puent retires, honored with retirement celebration

By Ken Luchterhand

After 37 years of dedicated service, Ruth Puent has decided to retire.
In honor of her service to the Ho-Chunk Nation, a retirement celebration was held on Monday, July 10, at the Ho-Chunk Health Care Center, Black River Falls. Approximately 75 people attended.
Ruth’s last day was June 30. She was the Community Health Representative supervisor with the Ho-Chunk Health Department.
Larry Walker conducted the ceremony and Bernice Blackdeer offered the prayer.
The first to speak was Linda Severson, a former grants writer and health education director, who retired about 11 years ago. She said she spent many years out in the communities and Ruth has helped her with each of her programs.
“Because of Ruth’s leadership, the CHR Program has had very little turnover. It’s been maintained at a very high level. Without an excellent staff, we wouldn’t have the quality program that we do.”
Ho-Chunk Nation President Wilfrid Cleveland said that he appreciates Ruth’s accomplishments and sacrifices she has made on behalf of the Nation. He said he feels good that everyone was able to give her a farewell and to give her some encouragement.
“If it wasn’t for this program, our elders would have a very difficult time,” Cleveland said. “Ruth has been a good role model over the years. She has developed good work habits that have impacted every part of the health department.”
Cleveland said he has known her since he was in seventh grade. He wished her well on her retirement.
Each of the Community Health Representatives (CHRs) present spoke about their experiences with Ruth and to wish her well in the future. They were Betty Blackdeer, CHR Black River Falls; Diane Cayer, CHR Tomah;  Linda White Goodwin, CHR Nekoosa; and Linda DeLay, CHR Black River Falls. Other CHRs not present for the ceremony were Terri Bluebird, CHR La Crosse and Renee Bradford, CHR Wisconsin Dells. The CHR position in Wittenberg is vacant because Larry Walker, the former CHR, was elected as a legislator.
Blackdeer said Ruth was always there for them. She remembers when Ruth got them cell phones because often they would be out in distant areas when landlines didn’t even exist.
White Goodwin said that she will always remember when she told a joke during the interview for her job and Ruth was the only one who didn’t laugh. When someone did something she shouldn’t have, Ruth wouldn’t scold but instead she would calmly tell that person what she should have done. White Goodwin said that she learned how to keep from having the door closed in her face, first by sticking her foot in the doorway, then by using Ruth’s name – which opened a lot of doors.
Delay said that she loves her job and they addressed a lot of things while Ruth has been in charge.
“We’ve accomplished a lot,” Delay said. “Ruth never asked us to do something she wouldn’t do herself.”
Ruth took her turn to speak, saying that she has been with the Ho-Chunk Health Department for more than 30 years, starting on Dec. 1, 1980.
“At that time, all we had in the Health Department was Contract Health, the CHR Program, and Food Distribution. That’s all,” she said. “Now we have clinics and different departments. We have a good support system. The CHRs developed their own health specialties.” For example, she knows who has a vast knowledge in cancer and who has knowledge in maternal health and WIC and others with their own special interests.
“I’m the last original member of the Diabetes Program,” she said. “There were five of us sent for training in Santa Fe and, as a result of that, it has grown into the program it is today.”
The Diabetes Program is now a very helpful and integral part of the Health Department.
“A lot of people lose focus of who we’re here to serve – it gets lost along the way. We have a ways to go yet to provide all services available,” Ruth said. “We’re here to provide services and education. It’s up to the community members to learn it and to use it. As we develop projects, keep that in mind: We’re here to service those people.”