Ruiter takes to the stage in upcoming “Miracle on 34th Street: The Musical”

Published 8:00 pm Friday, November 25, 2022

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Retired Barb Ruiter says she has theatre in her blood, making it only a matter of time before she stepped foot on stage. Her time has come with BrickStreet Theatre’s production of Meredith Willson’s “Miracle on 34th Street: The Musical.” 

She is Mrs. Gimbel and part of this large show’s animated ensemble. According to Ruiter, this debut role feels just right.

“I just love it,” she said. “When I first read her lines, I thought, ‘That sounds like me. I talk just like that.’ She even uses pauses like me. It feels like the part was made for me.”

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One of the first people she called after getting a role was her first cousin, Cathy Fank, who has made theater her career. Ruiter has enjoyed watching her cousin perform and direct shows in Houston, Boston, and most recently, at University of Wisconsin-Superior near Duluth, where she was on faculty.

“When I called to tell her, she exclaimed, ‘Oh, great!’ She’s really excited for me and that means a lot,” said Ruiter, who prior to retirement worked in administrative roles for FAVA (Family Alliance for Veterans of America) and the local AEA (Area Education Agency). Earlier in her career, she was a reporter for the Mason City Globe Gazette and the Albert Lea Tribune.

Ruiter says she has “always felt I was meant to be an actress.” Her recent route to the stage began at the Forest City Senior Center when she heard about BrickStreet’s fall production of “The Mousetrap.”

Unable to find anyone to go with her, this mystery lover decided to attend the show alone. At intermission, she learned that auditions were being held the next day for “Miracle on 34 th Street.” Her spirit of adventure carried her to and through rehearsals; and she chose to be undaunted even though the production is a musical, and she claims she cannot sing.

“I have always thought BrickStreet’s shows are wonderful. I have gone to so many and enjoyed each one,” she said, noting that rehearsals have helped her better understand how much time goes into putting a play or a musical together.

“I just love being at rehearsal,” Ruiter said. “I love standing in the back and watching as others work on their parts to learn the music and lines. I love being there so much.”

For the past 11 years, Ruiter has made appearances speaking about her paper doll collection. She also regularly serves as lector for St. James Catholic Church in Forest City and St. Wenceslaus Church in Duncan. A life highlight is when she was chosen to serve as lector for the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Assisi, Italy. The basilica is regarded as one of the most significant Christian landmarks in Europe. The trip was also a favorite memory of her late husband, Barney, former mayor of Forest City who died this past July.

“That is my one regret — that Barney is not here to say, ‘good job,’” she said, reflecting on the loss of her biggest encourager and supporter.

While words from Barney will be missing, Barb may receive many “good job” messages for her debut performances. BrickStreet Theatre has a recent tradition of placing a Happy Fun Bag in the lobby for each performer where fans can place notes of affirmation to cast members of their choosing.

“Miracle on 34 th Street: The Musical” will be performed the second and third weekends of December: 9-11 and 16-18. The curtain opens at 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays.

The show will be performed in the Boman Fine Arts Center in Forest City. Tickets are available at or at the door, if available. They may be also purchased by leaving a message with the BrickStreet Box Office at 641-585-1800.

BrickStreet Theatre is a regional community theater based in Forest City that provides art and entertainment opportunities for north Iowa and southern Minnesota. Its mission is to entertain, educate and inspire through quality performances and learning opportunities, thereby enriching the cultural life of surrounding communities.