Ruth Drover Burnham

March 29, 1921 - July 9, 2021

Ruth Drover Burnham, 100, a World War II veteran and longtime Batavia volunteer dedicated to serving community and church, died of natural causes Friday morning, July 9, peacefully at her residence at the Holmstad Retirement Community in Batavia.

Mrs. Burnham was born in Elgin in 1921 to Ethel and Percy Drover and raised in Barrington, the fourth of five children.  Her father, an English immigrant, and her mother, a grade school teacher in Chicago, met in Saskatchewan, where he homesteaded in a sod house on the Canadian prairie as a young man.

Mrs. Burnham graduated from Barrington High School in 1938.  Having come of age during the Great Depression, she was later fond of saying, “Everything after that was a gift.”

A graduate of the University of Illinois with a B.S. in Home Economics, she enlisted in the WAVES in 1942, where she served as a recruiter. While stationed in Kansas City, Missouri, she met her future husband, Joseph Burnham.  In 1943, they became the first reserve Ensigns to marry in the Navy, and they moved to Palatine, Illinois, shortly after the war.

In 1955, Mr. and Mrs. Burnham brought their family to Batavia, where they purchased a two-story Greek Revival house built a century before. They raised four sons and a daughter in this historic home on Main Street.  Mr. Burnham, who was chief executive officer of Marshall Field and Company in Chicago, died in 1977.

Mrs. Burnham’s commitment to volunteer service was untiring. She was an active member of the Batavia Historical Society and the Batavia Foundation for Educational Excellence. She served on the Council on Aging, which was instrumental in building Riverain Point Apartments and in establishing the RSVP volunteer program. She was chairman of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program and a member of the Blue Ribbon Committee responsible for moving and renovating the old CB&Q railroad Depot.  In 1992, she was declared Batavia’s Citizen of the Year for her wide-ranging community work.

For more than half a century Mrs. Burnham was a devoted member of the Batavia Congregational Church, whose sanctuary, built in 1856, the same year as her Main Street home, is still standing.  She played a key role in designing the steeple erected in the 1970s to replace the original one, lost in a storm a hundred years before. In 1985, she was chairman of the Sesquicentennial Celebration Committee and in 2004 was a member of the building committee for the new addition. 

Mrs. Burnham, who traveled as far afield as London, Cairo, Athens, St. Petersburg, and Beijing, both as a wife and a single, was quietly cosmopolitan.  But she never lost her affection for the Fox Valley.  She lived almost her entire life in small towns, often noting how deeply enriched she was by the experience.

Proud of belonging to “the greatest generation,” Mrs. Burnham once wrote that “embracing a cause—making a difference—gives a perpetual spark to one’s life journey,” a credo that served her for a lifetime.

Survivors include three sons, Bruce, Philip, and Gregory; a daughter, Ann; four grandchildren, Alec, Thomas, Kate, and Max; three great grandsons, Colin, Deacon, and Jack, and two great granddaughters, Maren and Emilia.  One son, Stephen, preceded her in death in 2016.

A Memorial Visitation will be held Saturday October 23, 2021 from 10:00 am till time of service at 11:00 am at the Congregational Church of Batavia, Interment will be private. The video from Ruth's service can been seen following this link.    If a password is need please use:  ruth1


Memorials may be directed to the Batavia Congregational Church and to Garfield Farm Museum, P.O. Box 403, La Fox, IL.  

 For additional information, please contact Moss Family Funeral Home in Batavia at (630) 879-7900.

Guest Book

  • Tom Van Cleave Ruth was an amazing lady. She was an inspiration to me or grace and honor.
  • Judy RITTER-Broholm Pleasure knowing you Ruth and all your wonderful Knowledge. You had and created a wonderful life filled with so much love ….you are in my thoughts and prayers. Judyjean
  • Cathy Youssi Searl Ann and Family: I was so sorry to hear about your mother's passing. As you know my parents and I thought so much of her and were so pleased to have known her for so long. I always enjoyed seeing her at the Holmstad when I was there for many occasions and will always remember the fun times we had with PEO. She was a remarkable woman and will be truly missed. You are in my thoughts and prayers, Lovingly, Cathy
  • Becky Moorehead Hoag It was an honor and privilege for my family to know Ruth for so many years, and to enjoy friendship with her and the Burnham family. She led a beautiful life, and the story of it posted here is inspiring. She will be greatly missed but not forgotten.