Marilyn Ratkin first became aware of bigotry and discrimination at age 8 while visiting her grandparents in a small Mississippi town in the ’50s.
“I saw signs on water fountains that said, ‘Whites Only’ and ‘Colored Only,’ and I knew it was wrong for people to be treated differently because of their skin color,” Ratkin says. “These feelings were the beginning of my passion for pursuing social justice through volunteering.”
Ratkin, a 2018 Woman of Achievement, also was honored last month with the JProStl Partnership Award, which recognizes a volunteer leader who exemplifies the lay-staff relationship through commitments to the Jewish community and the metro area. (An initiative of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, JProStl represents local staff working throughout that community in agencies, organizations, congregations and schools.)
Born and raised in St. Louis, Ratkin graduated from University City High School in 1962, attended Northwestern University in Illinois and graduated from Washington University in St. Louis. On graduation, she taught at Flynn Park Elementary School in University City. She eventually earned an MBA from the University of Missouri-St. Louis with a specialty in marketing and then worked for six years at Maritz.
Right before her 50th birthday, Ratkin made the decision to “get back into the nonprofit world” and started serving on the boards of the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee. She next worked for 11 years as the domestic issues director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, where she focused on advocacy and social action projects. “This is how I learned about the nonprofit landscape in St. Louis,” she says.
When she retired, Ratkin served on the Allocations Panel of the United Way, where she had the opportunity to visit not-for-profit organizations requesting funding. “National Council of Jewish Women’s mission ‘to improve the lives of women, children and families’ spoke to me, and I became hooked on volunteering after retiring from the JCRC,” she says.
One NCJW project that touches her deeply is the Healing Hearts Bank, which provides low-interest loans to underserved women and families. Ratkin remains busy as one of the five co-chairs of NCJW’s 125th anniversary. She also has a passion for early childhood literacy and has been an active volunteer for many years with Ready Readers (which LN showcases monthly), serving on its board for six years and reading to preschoolers for 10. “Children must learn to read so that they can read to learn,” she says.
At Congregation Shaare Emeth, Ratkin serves on the Committee for New Americans and volunteers at Room at the Inn, which provides dinner and sleep at different congregations in St. Louis for the homeless community. “This [experience] is a real eye-opener and tears at my heartstrings,” she says.
Ratkin has lived with her husband, Gary, for 45 years in their Creve Coeur home. It was there that they raised their two daughters, who have made them proud grandparents of five. “Our children and grandchildren were taught to do something to make a difference in people’s lives,” she says.
Always with a positive attitude, Ratkin enjoys meeting new people through her volunteerism, in both the experiences detailed here and many more. “It gives me a sense of purpose,” she says. “Together, we can really make a significant difference.”
An innate storyteller and award-winning photographer and writer, Alice Handelman provides Ladue News readers with a glimpse into lives that enrich St. Louis.