Ruthe B. Mandell Cowl (February 26, 1912 - March 17, 2008) was a businesswoman and philanthropist who in 1959 established the first physical therapy and orthopedic clinic in her adopted city of Laredo, Texas. Her Ruthe B. Cowl Rehabilitation Center is a private nonprofit organization that treats between 125 and 200 patients daily for physical, mental, or emotional problems. The center employs therapists, program managers, accountants, cooks, teachers, teacher aides, and counselors, some of whom work in the child development center. Cowl was the longtime unpaid executive director of the facility, located at 1220 Malinche Avenue in "The Heights" section of Laredo.The facility was named for Cowl on December 16, 1969. At the time, U.S. Representative Abraham Kazen, Jr., of Laredo paid tribute to her generosity and commitment in the Congressional Record. Many of the standards which Cowl set for the center were incorporated in operational manuals by state and national agencies and became regulations mandated by the United States government in the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law in 1990 by U.S. President George Herbert Walker Bush. Cowl pleaded with agencies, organizations, and individuals to contribute to the handicapped, the dependent, the neglected, and the socially and economically deprived in a community which was then known for high unemployment (a problem since ameliorated) and intense social needs. Ruthe Cowl founded the Laredo Rehabilitation Foundation after becoming aware of the lack of services for victims of the polio epidemic in the early 1950s as well as the lack of access for all people, both wealthy and poor, to basic physical therapy services. The Rehabilitation Center began as a small, two-staff operation (including Cowl herself) in two rooms borrowed from the Department of Public Health in a building on a dirt street. In time it became apparent that there was a general lack of comprehensive treatment for victims of other critical problems including victims of brain injuries, physical trauma, strokes, learning disabilities and the list just kept growing. In 1969, the center was renamed for its founder. Prior to the administration (1978-1990) of Mayor Aldo Tatangelo, who died a week before Cowl, nearly three-fourths of Laredo streets were unpaved. The center now has 32,565 square feet with a large parking lot, a staff of some seventy persons, and an operating budget of over $2 million annually. At least 125,000 sessions of treatment are provided annually to thousands of physically and emotionally handicapped persons in the region irrespective of their financial means.
The Cowls were Jewish and shared a dedication to their religious heritage and culture. In 2001, Ruthe Cowl donated $1 million to the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts, to create the Jack and Ruthe B. Cowl Center. This particular center celebrates Yiddish culture and Jewish literary, artistic, musical, and historical knowledge and accomplishment.Early in 2007, Cowl donated $750,000 to the Yiddish Book Center to create the Cowl Jewish Leadership Program for promising college students.
Odie Arambula, a longtime Cowl Center board member and retired editor of the Laredo Morning Times, recalled the difficult tasks of getting the center on its feet financially. Arambula said that Cowl once told him that she did not want him ever "to abandon or quit this board, and I never did."Jack Cowl did much of the fundraising for the center from the golf course. Among large donors to the facility were the late philanthropists Guadalupe Martinez, a Laredo businessman and rancher, and his wife, Lilia Martinez.
At a memorial service for Cowl held on April 3, 2008, at the Laredo synagogue, Congregation Agudas Achim, Arambula continued: "Very few people listen to the elderly, the poor, the impoverished, those in need and little children because they don't protest, they don't picket and they don't march. . . . We're entrusted to do it for them to help restore their lives physically and emotionally.
Joaquin Gonzalez Cigarroa, Jr., M.D., Cowl's friend and personal physician and a prominent Laredo civic leader, said that she introduced another "facet of medicine and therapy to a community that didn't have it. Her employees and patients loved her. She was persistent and plugged away and succeeded in getting funds to operate the center. . . . She was a remarkable woman and had very deep feelings toward people. The best quality she had was her love for human beings."
In June 2008, the Cowl board of trustees tapped Julie Bazan, a Houston native who has lived in Laredo since 1990, to succeed Cowl as executive director of the rehabilitation center. Bazan holds a bachelor's degree in social work from Texas A&M International University in Laredo.