Obituary: Imogene Woodruff, 94,
longtime dance instructor
Imogene Woodruff, who taught ballroom dance and cotillion classes to generations of Midpeninsula residents, died on March 14, one day short of her 95th birthday. She had been ill a short time, but had struggled with Alzheimer's disease for several years.
Ms. Woodruff, who had lived in Woodside for more than 50 years, was living in Belmont at the time of her death. Family members say a memorial service will be announced later.
Born in Corbin, Kentucky, the youngest of five children, she moved to the small town of Kiowa, Colorado, as a very young child. The family moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, when she was 9, and there, in a gym class, she discovered a natural talent for dance.
"When she was 12 she was teaching tap ... on the porch at Grandma's house," says son Barry Woodruff, head of the theater arts program at Woodside High who took over the cotillion classes when his mother retired at the age of 82.
Imogene's mother worked at all kinds of odd jobs in other people's homes and her father was a custodian at the college her brother attended.
Young Imogene's dance classes were so successful that she moved them to the local armory and by the age of 13 she had saved enough money from the 25-cent lesson fees for a down payment on the home her family had been renting, Barry Woodruff says.
Another of Imogene Woodruff's talents was baseball, which her older brother had taught her from a young age. In high school the local drygoods store promised free nylon hosiery for each home run, and Imogene supplied the entire family with nylons.
Imogene also loved horses, especially Star, a black mare with a white star on its forehead that had been with her since she had watched its birth. "People came from all over to see this horse with her," Barry Woodruff said. The horse showed up at the front door each school day and gave her a ride to school, reappearing for the ride home as the school day ended.
Imogene also competed in "Roman races," standing astride two racing horses. "She was a great athlete," Barry Woodruff said.
She attended Colorado State University, and dated Byron White, who later became a Supreme Court justice. "She never graduated college — she was just too busy working," Barry Woodruff says.
She met her husband-to-be, Walter "Woody" Woodruff, when she was teaching dance at a military base in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He was a pilot, and that day had flown a military bigwig to the airbase. To make amends for being overdue returning for the flight home, the man introduced him to the pretty dance teacher on the base. They were married on Oct. 3, 1943.
Mr. Woodruff, a test pilot for United Airlines for 30 years, and Imogene were married for 68 years until he died last year.
Ms. Woodruff started her dance business, Imogene Woodruff Ballroom Dance Studio, when they moved to the Bay Area, and it grew to be one of the largest dance studios in the United States, Barry Woodruff says. "Mom had a thriving dance business in the 50s. She was making more than most men," he says.
She taught dance in San Mateo, Menlo Park and Redwood City, and taught cotillion at countless local middle schools, where children learned manners as well as ballroom dance. Barry Woodruff says she had 42 annual recitals at the Burgess Gym in Menlo Park. He joined his mother in teaching the cotillion classes and took them over after her retirement.
"Watching her teach, that's how I learned to teach," he says. "I just do the same things she did."
She is survived by her three sons, Sterling Woodruff of Belmont, and Barry and Dirk Woodruff of Woodside.
Visit tinyurl.com/dance-318 to see a Facebook page started by alumni of her dance classes.
Visit tinyurl.com/dance-349 to see an Almanac article from 1999 about her cotillion classes.