Ruthe B. Cowl

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Ruthe B. Mandell Cowl

(Founder of Cowl Rehabilitation Center in Laredo, Texas)

Born February 26, 1912
Brooklyn, New York City, USA
Died March 17, 2008 (aged 96)
Laredo, Texas

Resting place:
Farmingdale, New York

Spouse Jack Cowl (1909–2001, married 1934–his death)

Anthony Cowl
Dr. John Cowl

Religion Judaism

Ruthe B. Mandell Cowl (February 26, 1912 – March 17, 2008) was a businesswoman and philanthropist who in 1959 established the first physical therapy and orthopedic clinic in her adopted hometown of Laredo, Texas. Her Ruthe B. Cowl Rehabilitation Center is a private nonprofit organization that treats some two hundred patients daily for physical, mental, or emotional problems.[1]


Cowl was born in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, the youngest of eight children of Russian parents. Her father died before she was two years of age, and her mother expired when Ruth was only twelve. At the age of sixteen, she attended the Alliance Française for a year of high school while her sister attended the prestigious Sorbonne in Paris, France. She obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from New York University in southern Manhattan and was certified to teach the English and French languages.[2] However, she spent her sophomore and junior years in Columbia, South Carolina. She supported herself as a student, working first as a research analyst in vocational placement and subsequently as a research assistant for a professor of geology at the University of South Carolina, where she was enrolled as a student.[2]

On New Years Eve, 1934, in Nyack, New York, she wed Jack Cowl (October 17, 1909 – July 6, 2001). The Cowl family moved to Dallas with their two sons looking to establish a new business. During a trip to Mexico during the Christmas school vacation in 1952, the family stopped in the Rio Grande border city of Laredo in Webb County in south Texas to visit people whom they had met through mutual friends in Dallas. They were impressed with the unique culture and business opportunity that Laredo presented and purchased a music store there in March 1953. The store grew and sold records, televisions, and prestigious sound systems, having drawn customers from Mexico and South Texas.[2]

The Cowl Center

To meet the demand for services, the Cowl Center employs rehabilitation counselors, occupational and physical therapists, speech pathologists, program managers, accountants, teachers and teacher aides, and cooks. There is also a child development center. Cowl was the longtime unpaid executive director of the facility, located at 1220 Malinche Avenue in "The Heights" section of Laredo.[2]

The facility was named for Cowl on December 16, 1969. At the time, U.S. Representative Abraham Kazen, Jr. (1919-1987), a Laredo Democrat, paid tribute in the Congressional Record to her generosity and commitment in the Congressional Record.[3]

Many of the standards which Cowl set for the center were incorporated in operational manuals used by state and national agencies and became regulations mandated by the United States government in the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law in 1990 by then U.S. President George Herbert Walker Bush. Cowl pleaded with agencies, organizations, and individuals to contribute to the handicapped, the dependent, the neglected, and the socially and economically deprived in a community which was then known for high unemployment (a problem since ameliorated) and intense social needs. Ruthe Cowl founded the Laredo Rehabilitation Foundation after becoming aware of the lack of services for victims of the polio epidemic in the early 1950s as well as the lack of access for all people, both wealthy and poor, to basic physical therapy services. The Rehabilitation Center began as a small, two-staff operation (including Cowl herself) in two rooms borrowed from the Department of Public Health in a building on a dirt street. In time it became apparent that there was a general lack of comprehensive treatment for victims of other critical problems including victims of brain injuries, physical trauma, strokes, and learning disabilities.[4]

In 1969, the center was renamed for its founder. Prior to the administration (1978–1990) of Mayor Aldo Tatangelo, who died a week before the passing of Cowl, nearly three-fourths of Laredo streets were unpaved. The center now has nearly 33,000 square feet with a large parking lot, a staff of some seventy persons, and an operating budget of more than $2 million annually. At least 125,000 sessions of treatment are provided annually to thousands of physically and emotionally handicapped persons in the region irrespective of their financial means.[4]

Death and legacy

The Cowls were Jewish and shared a dedication to their religious heritage and culture. In 2001, Ruthe Cowl donated $1 million to the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts, to establissh the Jack and Ruthe B. Cowl Center. This particular center celebrates Yiddish culture and Jewish literary, artistic, musical, and historical knowledge and accomplishment.[5] Early in 2007, Cowl donated $750,000 to the Yiddish Book Center to create the Cowl Jewish Leadership Program for promising college students.[6]

Cowl died in Laredo at the age of ninety-six. Services were held on March 21, 2008, in Woodbury in Nassau County, New York. She was interred next to her husband at Farmingdale, a community near New York City.[7] Survivors included two sons, Anthony Cowl, a retired educator in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and John Cowl, M.D., of Pembroke, Massachusetts; granddaughter, Dr. Allison Cowl Nicoletti of Petersham, Massachusetts, and numerous nieces and nephews.[2]

Mary Lamar Leyendecker of Laredo, a long-term Cowl board member who was named the president of the association in 2015,[8] told The Laredo Morning Times that Cowl was "a true champion of the poor and people with physical disabilities. She was a true leader in the fight for human rights and fought for the rights of all people to live as dignified and independently as possible. She was an ageless and progressive thinker. ... She was always forward-thinking and kept up with what was good for patients. We're going to miss her so much."[2]

Lillian B. Salinas Dickinson (1940-2018), a retired social worker[9] and manager at the rehabilitation center,o traveled to New York for Cowl's funeral services. In an interview with The Laredo Morning Times, she called Cowl "a visionary for the community. ... she and I were idealistic and wanted to improve the quality of life for so many people. There were times I would make home visits and come into the center discouraged because of the poverty, and she would say, ‘No, no, let's sit down and talk about it.' So we would strategize and come up with ideas for solving problems."[2]

Odie Arambula, a longtime Cowl Center board member and editor of the Laredo Morning Times, recalled the difficult tasks of getting the center on its feet financially. Arambula said that Cowl once told him that she did not want him ever "to abandon or quit this board, and I never did."[2] Jack Cowl did much of the fundraising for the center from the golf course. Among large donors to the facility were the late philanthropists Guadalupe Martinez, a Laredo businessman and rancher, and his wife, Lilia Martinez.[10]

At a memorial service for Cowl held on April 3, 2008, at the Laredo synagogue, Congregation Agudas Achim, Arambula continued: "Very few people listen to the elderly, the poor, the impoverished, those in need and little children because they don't protest, they don't picket and they don't march. ... We're entrusted to do it for them to help restore their lives physically and emotionally."[11]

Joaquin Gonzalez Cigarroa, Jr., her friend and personal physician and a prominent Laredo civic leader, said that she introduced another "facet of medicine and therapy to a community that didn't have it. Her employees and patients loved her. She was persistent and plugged away and succeeded in getting funds to operate the center. . . . She was a remarkable woman and had very deep feelings toward people. The best quality she had was her love for human beings."[2]

Subsequent leadership

Until Cowl opened her center, physical therapy was essentially unavailable in Laredo. Lillian Dickinson said that "not many people are aware that physical therapy started here in Laredo with Mrs. Cowl. In 1959, she embarked upon a lifelong journey involving physical therapy."[12] Dickinson also referred to Cowl as "a tough teacher [with] high standards." [12] Former Webb County Judge Danny Valdez recalled his early years as a volunteer at the center and how Cowl was "passionate ... She would stop and talk with each patient individually."[12]

In June 2008, the Cowl trustees tapped Julie Bazan, a Houston native who has lived in Laredo since 1990, to succeed Cowl as executive director of the rehabilitation center. Bazan holds a bachelor's degree in social work from Texas A&M International University in Laredo.[13]

In 2011, Faith Ellen Ruiter "Fay" Mainhart (1950-2014), a Laredo civic leader originally from Ohio, became the executive director of the rehabilitation center, a position she retained until her death at the age of sixty-four from cancer. Earlier, Mainhart was a president of the Laredo Business and Professional Women's Association and the United Way of Laredo. She served too on the executive board of the Webb County Community Action Agency.[14]Mainhart was succeeded as executive director by Jacqueline "Jackie" R. Rodriguez, the former assistant director of the facility[15], who remains in the position.[16]


  1. Ruthe B. Cowl Rehabilitation Center in Laredo, Texas. Retrieved on October 5, 2019.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 True champion gone; Rehabilitation center founder Ruthe B. Cowl dead at 96. Laredo Morning Times. Retrieved on March 18, 2008; no longer on-line.
  3. Odie Arambula, "Monday Wash: Kazen put Cowl in Congressional Record," The Laredo Morning Times, accessed March 20, 2008.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Business. A Journal of the Borderlands. Retrieved on March 20, 2008; on longer on-line.
  5. National Yiddish Book Center - About the Cowl Center
  6. National Yiddish Book Center - Inspired Gift from Visionary Donor Will Bring Yiddish to College Campuses. Retrieved on March 20, 2008; no longer on-line.
  7. "Cowl funeral set Friday," Laredo Morning Times, March 19, 2008, p. 3A.
  8. Local rehab center announces new board president. Laredo Morning Times. Retrieved on October 2, 2015; no longer on-line.
  9. Lillian S. Dickinson. Retrieved on May 19, 2020.
  10. Local benefactor dies at 91. Laredo Morning Times. Retrieved on March 20, 2008; no longer on-line.
  11. "Cowl left her heart in Laredo," The Laredo Morning Times, accessed April 4, 2008.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Joe Rutland, "Officials mark Physical Therapy Month," Laredo Morning Times, October 2, 2009.
  13. Julie Bazan. Retrieved on July 1, 2008; no longer on-line.
  14. "Mainhart active in the community," Laredo Morning Times, June 22, 2014, p. 3A.
  15. "Rehabilitation center names new director," Laredo Morning Times, July 11, 2014.
  16. Jacqueline Rodriguez. Retrieved on October 6, 2019.