Oral History Project:
Autobiographical Stories of Women From Chandler as Told to CGCC Students in partnership with Chandler Museum's Public History Program
Oral History of Dorothy Ruoff
Written by: Aryn Warner & Amber Fowler

Dorothy Ruoff Interviewed by Aryn Warner and Amber Fowler On October 12, 2004

Dorothy has a diverse family background of Irish and Italian immigrants. Her mother is Italian, and her father Irish. Her mother, Alice, was raised in Phoenix and attended Phoenix Union High School. After completing high school her mother spent two years obtaining her teaching degree. She then went to Holbrook, Arizona to teach. It was here that she met Dorothy's father, Joe H. Woods, whose father was the Navajo County sheriff from 1906-1916, during Arizona's territorial years (Arizona became a state in 1912). Her parents moved to Chandler in 1931 after their marriage and bought their first movie theater. The reason they moved to Chandler? It was the only place with a movie theater for sale.

And it was here in the comforts of small town Chandler, without any stop lights till 1956, that Joe and Alice raised Dorothy and her siblings. Even little events like a birthday party became a big deal in this town. On October 20th, Dorothy’s eighth birthday, the local newspaper ran an article including all the names of her friends that attended. And don’t think you can get in trouble at school and find a way to hide it from your parents. “You knew everyone and everyone knew you. If you broke the rules your parents knew about it before you got home,” said Dorothy.

Even though Dorothy’s life sounds like something out of “Leave it to Beaver”, this wasn't your stereotypical 1950's family. All the family members worked to run the theaters. Dorothy's father didn't leave the house in the mornings in a suit, but instead left after the children were at school. Then he would go to the theaters to catch up on maintenance work while they were empty. After school the four Woods children, three daughters and one son, would come home, do their school work, and chores right away. Then once 6:30pm was on the clock, the whole family would drop everything and head for the theater. They usually got back home around one in the morning. On weekends they spent most of their time there, watching movies several times in a row and trying to be on their best behavior.

Yet, as the children got older they were required to help out more and were given more responsibilities. And with more children to disperse responsibilities among, the Woods family bought more theaters to compete even harder with the popularity of television. At the company's peak, they owned three theaters with a family member or two working in each one. These were The Rowena, The Parkway, and The Mustang Drive-in. Dorothy didn't like working on the weekends so much as a teenager, because while she was helping out in the theater, her friends were no doubt at a high school football game. Yet, she usually got to see them after the games when they came to the theaters while she was working. Dorothy looked forward to the summers when she could sleep in a little after working all night and then spend her days swimming.

In 1937, her parents bought a house in an upper class neighborhood nicknamed "the Silk Stocking" neighborhood. It was named this because you had to purchase a house for at least $3,500, and by doing that it was concluded that a husband could afford silk stockings for his wife. Many other well known members of the community resided in this neighborhood as well. This included the Dudding family who owned the first drugstore in town, the owner of the newspaper, the superintendent of Chandler schools, and the now very well known Basha family.

Dorothy and her family lived within walking distance of their schools, therefore they walked to school every morning. While in school Dorothy was active in many clubs such as student government; she wrote for the newspaper, served as editor of yearbook one year, and attended Girl’s State where she learned about government. She was also an active participant at dances, parades, and carnivals for school. One year, she even helped her class raise enough money to put a water fountain in the hallway.

With such a small, tight knit community it was common for Dorothy to receive most of her academic pressure from teachers. Though, unlike her older sister Mary, Dorothy didn’t excel in English and history, but excelled in Science.

Unlike today's laid back dress code at schools, Dorothy didn't even wear jeans to school! They weren't even allowed to wear dress slacks until her senior year, and skirts always had to be below the knees. While attending school moccasins and Indian jewelry were all the rage! There also wasn't a great divide between the grade levels when it came to socializing.

Once she graduated high school in 1954, Dorothy and about 25 other women went on to attend college. She, along with her older sister, attended an all girls Catholic school in Denver, Colorado. It was here that she received her degree in biology! What an accomplishment for a woman of that time.

Dorothy met her husband the second day of school at a co-ed picnic and waited two months before they began dating. They married in 1959, a year after they graduated from college. Before moving back to Arizona in 1963 where they had their four final children, they lived in Colorado and Texas. Dorothy and her family have a total of three boys and two girls.

While she was away at college, one of the theaters, The Rowena, was closed down. The other two soon followed after her father’s death in 1962. Her mother was not able to run them on her own, so as a result, in the late sixties the Parkway and Mustang Drive-In were shut down.

They moved back to Arizona, and their youngest child was in kindergarten. She never used her biology degree again after that, but instead followed her mother's footsteps and taught. When she did she first worked as a teacher’s aide in the Madison School District in Phoenix, and then taught gifted 7th and 8th graders for about 5 years. While teaching, Dorothy earned about $1.40 an hour. She never experienced any sexual discrimination when it came to her paycheck. The only reason why the men might be making more money than her was due to things such as coaching, which was on a different pay scale. She also worked in a business for teachers called Thinking Caps until 1989.

She stayed very active in her children's life though she was working. She was constantly volunteering in classes and was there as often as she could once they were out of school. This was easier for her to do since she didn't work full time until her third child was in the third grade. Dorothy also made sure she wasn't a maid for her children, and that they knew how to do things like laundry and cooking.

After living in Phoenix for thirty years, Dorothy and her husband moved back to Chandler and into the same house she grew up in. While living in the house she was taking care of her ill mother. Sadly, in 1998, her mother passed away at age 92.

Dorothy and her husband are still living in that very same house, on Washington Street, that she was raised in. She now gathers with all 14 grandchildren and five children for special occasions and holidays. She has still remained very active in her community by serving on the Chandler Education Foundation Board and is now an Ex-afficio member. She and another woman who lives on Colorado Street are currently working together to establish their neighborhood as a Historical Neighborhood in Chandler.

Photos courtesy of the family.

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