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    Keswick school founder dies at 103

    Novelist and missionary Ruth H. Munce achieved her dream when she founded the school in 1953.

    By CRAIG BASSE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 25, 2001


    Ruth H. Munce, a romance novelist, mission teacher and founder of Keswick Christian School, has died at 103.

    Mrs. Munce, who taught Bible classes well into her 90s, died Wednesday (May 23, 2001) at Mariner Health of Belleair, where she had been a resident for a week. For many years she lived at Pinecrest Place, Largo.

    Since she was close to 50 years old, widowed and the mother of two young sons, she had dreamed of opening a private school where "God would be the sum of the equation, the Bible a textbook."

    Inspired by that dream, she believed that God wanted her to build the school. To prepare herself, she spent summers studying for a bachelor of arts degree from Wheaton College in Illinois.

    Looking for a place to build, she made a start just east of Seminole Boulevard, buying a 13-acre former chicken farm on 54th Avenue N.

    Without the financial backing of an affiliated church, she got a bank loan and supervised the construction of four classrooms.

    Opening in 1953 as Grace Livingston Hill Memorial School, named after her mother, it provided Christ-centered education for as many as 200 students a year.

    Mrs. Munce, the author of seven romance novels under the pen name Ruth Livingston Hill and published by J.B. Lippincott and Harvest House, often dipped into her literary earnings to meet the school's payroll during the early, difficult days. She was the school's principal for 15 years.

    In 1961, Mrs. Munce turned the facility over to Bill Caldwell, who also operated Christian radio stations WGNB-AM and WKES-AM and the Southern Keswick Bible Conference at the same site.

    Today, Keswick Christian School enrolls about 650 students in preschool through 12th grade on a 30-acre site at 10101 54th Ave. N.

    "She was a wonderful, dedicated Christian," a son, Robert, said Thursday. "And she was really smart."

    At age 70, she undertook an eight-year stint teaching at Nairobi Bible Institute in Kenya.

    Born Ruth Glover Hill in Germantown, Pa., she was the second daughter of a Presbyterian minister, the Rev. Thomas Franklin Hill, who died when she was 2. Her mother, who wrote more than 100 romance novels, kept the family comfortably solvent in the college town of Swarthmore, Pa.

    Her husband of 24 years, Gordon, a Gulf Oil executive, died in 1949, and she moved with her two sons to this area that same year from Swarthmore, where she had attended Swarthmore College.

    Survivors include two sons, Jim Munce, Orlando, and Robert Munce, Indian Rocks Beach; five grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

    A memorial service will be at 3 p.m. Tuesday at Suncoast Bible Church, 12855 110th Ave. N, Largo, where she was a member. E. James Reese Funeral Home & Crematory, Seminole, is in charge of arrangements.

    -- Information from Times files was used in this obituary.

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