It’s no exaggeration to say that Ruth “Tootsie” Bligen will be remembered for a very long time. Children not yet born probably will hear parents and grandparents tell stories about things “Miss Tootsie” would say and do.
Bligen was known to four or five generations at Wesley United Methodist Church on Johns Island. She also was a Moving Star Hall singer, a church usher and the daughter of both.
“She was the most amazing usher I will ever know,” says Easter LaRoche, who ushered with Bligen for four of the five decades the former served.
“She was short and statuesque,” says LaRoche of Bligen, who was born Nov. 7, 1930, and died March 17. Bligen had a high-pitched voice that often could be heard above the choir, LaRoche says.
LaRoche says “she would rock the church with songs” that included ‘We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder,’ ‘At the Cross,’ ‘If When You Give the Best of Your Service’ and ‘Amazing Grace.’ When the pastor was speaking, she would get up and shout. At times, she would get happy.”
Praising God, ushering and singing were what Bligen loved to do, says her daughter, Albertha “Doris” Sease.
She was raised that way and raised her children that way, Sease says.
“We lived right behind the Moving Star Hall (a historic Johns Island praise house whose singers performed at the Smithsonian and other prestigious venues),” says Sease. “My uncle, my aunt, my cousin. ... Everybody in it was somehow related.”
Bligen, who never drove, was as faithful about attending ushers’ anniversaries in Charleston, North Charleston, James Island and elsewhere in the area as she was attending Sunday church services, says LaRoche.
She would catch rides to more than 50 ushers’ anniversaries each year and was always on time.
“It’s a different atmosphere in church (without her),” LaRoche says. “When she was there, it was more lively. Her laughter sounded like a little cackle. She would hug you and would make little jokes:
“ ‘Why you look so pretty?’ ‘Your husband know you wearing that dress?’ If you needed to talk to her about something,” LaRoche says, “she’d say, ‘You can always call me.’ If children were misbehaving in church, she never chastised. She would shove a little mint candy in their hand and quietly say, ‘Hush, hush, hush.’ ”
Senior ushers don’t serve second Sundays, says LaRoche, but Bligen always wore her uniform anyway. Bligen suggested others wear them every Sunday in case they were needed to serve.
“Miss Tootsie was on post 24/7,” LaRoche says. “Even when she came to a program, she would get to work.”
Linda Gadson, executive director of Rural Mission, was in a prayer group with Bligen.
“I will miss her singing and shouting. It was the way she did it. She would get up in church and it did not matter if no one else was shouting. Then she would turn to others and ask, ‘What’s wrong with y’all?’ She was not abashed or ashamed (to praise God) in front of anybody.
“Some days, she had to thumb a ride to get to her prayer group meeting at Rural Mission,” Gadson says. “That’s how determined she was to serve her God.”
Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705 or wminis@ postandcourier.com.