May Ruth Seidel of Cambridge and Wellfleet died peacefully on June 14, 2023 at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge. She was 99.
Born to the late Mollie and Sidney Needle on March 5, 1924 in Baltimore, Md., May Ruth grew up in the city’s Forest Park neighborhood and attended Teachers College, Columbia University. A lifelong commitment to education and civic engagement was evident in the tremendous energy that she brought to many leadership roles at community organizations in Baltimore, Columbia, Md., and Wellfleet.
While raising three sons in Baltimore, May Ruth became active in the PTA and volunteered for the League of Women Voters. She also worked as an educator and community organizer for Planned Parenthood of Maryland. In 1970, after moving from Baltimore to the newly created city of Columbia, Md., May Ruth focused on two critical issues: affordable housing and public transportation. She and her husband, Dr. Henry Seidel, had moved to Columbia, midway between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., just three years after the city was founded.
Inspired by James Rouse’s idealistic vision of a better society, May Ruth threw herself into making Columbia a city where citizen participation played a critical role in addressing issues of inequity. From 1972 to 1975, she served as president of the Community Action Council. She planned programs to benefit low-income residents and helped create the Urban Rural Transportation Alliance, providing free transportation. In 1981, she was named Volunteer of the Year by the Association of Community Services of Howard County.
May Ruth was also a member of the Howard County Housing and Community Development Board, organized the Howard County Housing Alliance in 1987, and helped establish the county’s first homeless shelter. She was instrumental in the creation of the Columbia Forum, a group focused on engaging the community in shaping the future of the city. In 1999, she was inducted into the Howard County Women’s Hall of Fame.
In Wellfleet, May Ruth in 2000 founded the Wellfleet Non-Resident Taxpayers Association, now the Wellfleet Seasonal Residents Association (WSRA). Susan Reverby, the current president of the WSRA, called May Ruth the guiding spirit of the organization.
“She was this amazing force of nature, a democrat with a small d,” said Reverby. Noting that May Ruth’s philosophy was informed by her experience working with the League of Women Voters in Baltimore, Reverby said that May Ruth founded the WSRA to provide education and information without promoting any particular political point of view. May Ruth served as president of the association for 10 years and then served as an adviser.
May Ruth also started Wellfleet’s “State of the Town” talks, a public forum devoted to informing residents about critical local issues. She served on the Wellfleet Council on Aging and enjoyed its benefits, attending regular exercise classes and other educational programs.
May Ruth leaves her brother, Howard Needle, and wife Sue; sons Robert and wife Mary and Steve and wife Adria Steinberg; two grandsons, Samuel Seidel, and wife Sunanna Chand and Adam Seidel and wife Ashley Herring; and great-grandchildren Lamont Herring Seidel and Janayah Chambliss. She was predeceased by her husband, Dr. Henry Seidel, her son Stuart, and her brother Alan Lee Needle.
The family is planning memorial services in Baltimore and Cambridge.