Ruth McLeod earns the annual Elkhorn Independent Outstanding Senior Award


By John Koski

SLN Staff  

For some people, finding a passion comes later in life.

For example, Colonel Sanders started his first Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise at age 65, Grandma Moses began painting at 76 after arthritis forced her to give up embroidery, and Laura Ingalls Wilder published the first book in her “Little House on the Prairie” series at age 65.

For others, such as Ruth McLeod, finding a passion comes much earlier – sometimes a whole lot earlier.

McLeod, who is a graduating senior at Elkhorn Area High School, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was 9 years old.

That’s a heavy burden for any young person to accept. McLeod, however, not only accepted her diagnosis, she embraced it and turned it into a passion in her life.

“A large portion of who I am came from my personal experience,” she wrote in her application for the Elkhorn Independent’s annual Outstanding Senior Award, which she received at the Elkhorn Area High School Senior Banquet on May 13.

“From the day I was diagnosed (with Type 1 diabetes),” McLedod said, “I had to deal with some very adult responsibilities. I was insulin dependent and needed to check my blood sugar multiple times a day.

Ruth McLeod helped build a church and assisted in a medical clinic during a recent mission trip to the Dominican Republic. The trip was sponsored by the Foundation for Peace. “I was amazed to see how even with class and language barriers we were all able to work together to get something accomplished,” she said. (Photo submitted)

“I was scared out of my mind. I felt like my life was over, that I could never do anything that I wanted to do. I could have just stayed with that mindset, but I did not. I decided I was going to make something good out of this bad thing.”

Considering her accomplishments thus far, that last remark is clearly an understatement.

For example, McLeod has been on the high honor roll at her high school all four years. She has received several citizenship awards and is a member of the National Honor Society. She also has been awarded a prestigious Presidential scholarship from Beloit College, where she will attend this fall.

In addition, she performs in the high school’s highest choir, is captain of the school’s varsity dance team, has been in all eight of the high school’s theatrical productions, is president of the drama club, and is a member of the forensics team where she has been a conference champion three times.

The list goes on. McLeod also is a Student Council member and has successfully competed in Quiz Bowl, Knowledge Masters and Mathletes.

And that’s just what she does in school.



Wanting to do more

Having diabetes prompted her to become an advocate for juvenile diabetes research and to educate others about the disease.

“In my first week after being diagnosed, I started administering my own shots, checking my own blood sugar and, with my parents’ supervision, being responsible for my own care,” McLeod said.

“Yet, I felt as if I had more to make of this circumstance. I became an advocate.

“It started with teaching my classmates about diabetes and grew into a passion to find a cure,” she said. “I got involved with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, which is the world’s leading source of funding and education about Type 1 diabetes.”

As captain of her JDRF family team, McLeod has raised more than $30,000 for research through the Milwaukee JDRF

The same year she spoke at the JDRF Gala, McLeod was in Washington, D.C., for the JDRF Children’s Congress – an event where 150 children from around the country and the world get together to lobby for diabetes research and funding. “I learned about the power of a group getting together to change things,” McLeod said. “I learned that I can change the world if I am willing to work for it.” (Photo submitted)

Walk to Cure Diabetes. Her efforts were recognized when the Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter of JDRF named her its 2007 KUDOS Volunteer of the Year.

A significant year for McLeod’s advocacy efforts was 2009, when she was honored to be the JDRF Gala speaker at the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee where she spoke at the million-dollar fundraiser.

That same year, she was selected to represent Wisconsin at the JDRF Children’s Congress in Washington, D.C.

“There I met with our legislators, sharing my personal story with them, attended a Senate hearing on research funding and met with President Obama for a photo opportunity at the White House,” McLeod said.

“Although it is difficult to top that year, my advocacy efforts have continued throughout high school,” she added, “making presentations at Elkhorn’s elementary schools and being a resource to newly diagnosed children and their families.

“Looking back, I can she how that decisive moment when I was nine years old shaped my life. It forced me to live with purpose most teenagers do not have, and that purpose spread to the rest of my life. Now, I never do anything halfway. I put my whole self into everything that I do. Having a life-threatening illness at a youn age made me want to take advantage of every opportunity.”

And indeed she has.


Editor’s Note: Each year the Elkhorn Independent asks teachers and administrators at Elkhorn Area High School to nominate four seniors for the Elkhorn Independent Outstanding Senior Award. In addition to Ruth McLeod, this year’s nominees were Danielle Braun, Margaret Koss and Jon Stopple. All four candidates were outstanding choices and the decision made by our editorial staff was difficult, but ultimately only one student could be chosen. Congratulations to all four nominees.


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