Dear Ruthie dishes out humor, talent, advice and drag queen bingo
If the words "drag queen bingo" are not intriguing – or especially if they're offensive to you – it's probably best you stop reading right now because you're clearly in no condition to meet Dear Ruthie.
Dear Ruthie is a persona / alter ego of actor and comedian Mark Hagen who created Ruthie as an entertainer and spokesperson for the LGBTQ community.
"Who the hell is Mark? I wish someone would tell me. I keep getting the bastard's mail. Mostly 'International Male' catalogs and Marie Osmond dolls. Freak. Anyway, back to me," says Ruthie.
Ruthie, known for her teased hair and cat-eye glasses, hit Milwaukee's mainstream after appearing weekly on "The Don and Bo Show" on CBS 58.
Since April, she has hosted "Hambingo" – sometimes referred to as "drag queen bingo" – at Hamburger Mary's, 2130 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., every Thursday night at 8 p.m. and every other Sunday night at 7 p.m. Ruthie takes turns hosting the Sunday night events with Shannon Dupree.
The cost is $10 for 10 bingo games and takes about two hours to complete. All of the money is donated to the charity of the night. Ruthie sometimes performs as herself, as well as another character who is a ventriloquist nun named Sister Mary Ruthie.
"I ask my identical cousin, Sister Mary Ruthie, to perform for me when I'm hungover or when I wake up under a stranger," she says.
During Hambingo, the charity talks about its cause and a volunteer from the charity calls a game of bingo. In addition, some charities hold bake sales, set up silent auctions or raffle off additional prizes in order to raise additional donations for their group.
"The crowds are incredibly fun, and the charities we work with are great. The kooky kids at Hamburger Mary's are a real kick in the head to work with, and we have many terrific regulars who come in," says Ruthie. "I've added quite a few inches to my keister, too, sampling all of Mary's food."
Ruthie claims she grew up in a small town at the Canadian border.
"Mama worked in a sauerkraut factory and daddy was a toe dancer. I got my love of the footlights from daddy – no pun intended – so I moved to the big city of Cudahy as soon as I graduated high school. A brief fourth marriage brought me to Milwaukee, and I've been here ever since," she says.
Ruthie is also a columnist. In 1997, she began writing an advice column called "Dear Ruthie" for "Wisconsin Light" newspaper and, at the time, she had no intention of making any sort of public appearance. However, after the paper received numerous requests for Ruthie appearances, she attended the Madison Pride Parade.
"Then, my friend Karen Valentine asked me to perform in a show at (the now-defunct) M&M Club in the Third Ward. My second number was a comedy duet with Karen, and I knew I found my calling," says Ruthie. "I needed to be the funny performer or at very least be the performer that had the crowd clapping / singing along."
The "Dear Ruthie" column has since run in Outbound magazine, as well as InStep newspaper and appears in Quest magazine under the title "Ruthie's Bitchin' Kitchen." It offers no-fuss recipes to readers, as well as a little "over-the-kitchen-table advice."
"Readers send me recipes. I test them and if I publish them, the reader gets a free Dear Ruthie Bitchin' Kitchen T-Shirt," she says.
But Ruthie is not all schtick – there's a serious side to her sass. She has stood shoulder-to-shoulder in solidarity to Candace Gingrich Jones, Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, Mayor Tom Barrett and former Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, speaking on behalf of equal rights and Milwaukee's LGBTQ Community.
In addition to countless appearances benefiting statewide HIV/AIDS-related agencies, Ruthie has volunteered her time and talent to organizations such as Gilda's Club of Southeastern Wisconsin, BSTD Clinic, COA Youth & Family Center, Camp Heartland and many others.
Through a series of viral videos and presentations, Ruthie helped bring the Gay Softball World Series (NAGAAA-Fest) to Milwaukee in 2009. She was later honored with a Volunteer of the Year award by the Saturday Softball League (SSBL), and in 2010 she was inducted into the organization's Hall of Fame.
Similarly, Ruthie appeared in a series of viral videos to promote services offered by Milwaukee's LGBT Community Center. She continues to help SSBL and Milwaukee's LGBT Community Center with fundraising efforts.
After hosting many Hambingo games for animal rescue groups, Ruthie decided to launch her own charity in 2013 called Ruthie's Kennel Club. The group will "adopt" about five animal charities per year.
"It's a way to help out smaller, grassroots, animal-related charities in Milwaukee that could truly benefit from a little financial assistance" says Ruthie. "If Oprah can have her own charity, so can this big-boned redhead."
Ruthie has been a part of the Milwaukee Pride Parade every year since 1993 and in 2012 was named the Grand Marshall. She also has her own clothing line, RuthieWare, that's available at Outwords Books in Milwaukee and online at Shop Ruthie.
As an actress, Ruthie made her professional debut in Dale Gutzman's "Holiday Punch Y2K" in 1999. Since then, she played the leading lady in productions of "Mame" and "Die Mommie Die." She also appeared in RSVP Productions' "The Women" and "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane" at Off the Wall Theatre.
"In 'Baby Jane,' I actually switched roles every other night. It was wonderful playing the Bette Davis character one night and the Joan Crawford role the next," says Ruthie.
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