Ma Renu, founder of Sri Ram Foundation, dedicated her life to the study of yoga and service to orphaned and destitute children.
Born Ruth Johnson in Chicago, Illinois on January 18, 1919, she was educated at Northwestern University earning her BA in English Literature in 1940. After studying painting and sculpture at the Chicago Art Institute, from 1946 to 1950, she became a professional artist and later returned to Northwestern University where she received her Master of Fine Arts degree in 1959. She was married and had three children.
After her divorce, Ma Renu (now Ruth Horsting) moved to California and joined the faculty at the University of California at Davis. She was an accomplished artist, both a sculptor and printmaker, who helped build the internationally renowned UCD Art department. She exhibited in both group and one-woman shows in Chicago, New York City, Arizona State University, University of California, and Sacramento’s Crocker Museum.
In 1970 Ma Renu took a sabbatical leave from the university and spent the year on the north coast of California reading books on various philosophies. Of this time she says, “I basically got nowhere, none of the books said anything to me.” During this same time period, two of her students requested her help in getting visas for an extended journey to India. After crisscrossing India in search of him, they finally met life long yogi Baba Hari Dass and started studying Ashtanga Yoga from Babaji.
Toward the end of her sabbatical year Ma Renu agreed to sponsor Baba Hari Dass for a short stay in America. At this same time, Ma’s elder son was killed and she became despondent and questioned deeply the meaning of life. Babaji’s arrival in this country proved to be a turning point in Ma Renu’s life. In her own words she describes her first meeting with Babaji. “I picked Babaji up at the airport, and when I first looked into his eyes, I immediately knew that he knew what I needed to know. Within three days I requested an early retirement from the university, I felt there was no time to lose. I had already given my permission to sponsor his stay in America, but what had been intended as a short stay, turned into a 29 year darshan and blessing.”
Ma Renu devoted herself fully to the study of Ashtanga Yoga. She became the editor of several of Babaji’s books including Silence Speaks, Fire Without Fuel, and The Path to Enlightenment is Not a Highway. She shared her study and understanding of Ashtanga Yoga with students all over the world. She was one of the original sponsors and contributors to the Mount Madonna Center, in Watsonville, CA, and traveled to teach and practice at Salt Spring Center in British Colombia, the Ashtanga Yoga Fellowship in Toronto, and to Mexico, Hawaii, and New Mexico.
Ma Renu was founder and president of Sri Rama Foundation, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to supporting orphaned and destitute children in India and to the publication of Babaji’s writings. She traveled tirelessly to India eventually establishing Sri Ram Ashram, a children’s home, school, and medical clinic in rural India. In India she became a surrogate mother to countless children who loved her as their “Renu Ma.” She followed every detail of the children’s care and education, making sure their every need was met.
Her example of service, kindness, generosity and calm was an inspiration to everyone. She truly led a selfless life, giving to all those around her while keeping firm her own aim of inner peace. Ma Renu died peacefully at home in Bonny Doon, CA. on the 26th of November 2000 at the age of 81. She is deeply missed by all those whose lives she touched and guided.