From IWU Magazine, Winter 2011

At Age 92, A Star Is Born

The TV commercial for new electric car discovers a ‘natural’ in Ruth Steele ’41.

Ruth Steele (above) rode in a new Mitsubishi electric “i” car during Illinois State’s Homecoming parade. She also appeared at an event for IWU’s Homecoming.

A Mitsubishi commercial that ran nationwide on TV this fall featured 92-year-old Ruth (Holbert) Steele ’41. The commercial, which has also become a hit on YouTube, includes footage of Ruth driving around the town of Normal, Ill., in a new Mitsubishi “i” electric car. Normal is the center of the Mitsubishi advertising campaign for its i-car.

Ruth was chosen as a potential subject for filming by Normal Mayor Chris Koos and was then screened by a casting agency, according to her daughter Nancy (Steele) Brokaw ’71.

“Soon a crew of 26 California filmmakers showed up at her house for over two hours of filming,” Nancy says. The commercial’s Emmy award-nominated director, Matt Ogens, asked Ruth if she wanted to drive the vehicle. “She said sure, she loves to drive,” Nancy says. “A couple of days later they called and had her do that — in the rain, as it turned out. After that, she stood outside in 50-degree weather for several hours to film the last portion of the commercial.” 

The ad’s release has made Ruth something of a star; this year, she rode in the front of Illinois State University’s Homecoming parade in an i-car. Two weeks later, she appeared at an IWU Homecoming screening of the commercial prior to the world premiere of DreamWorks Animation’s Puss in Boots, hosted by Bill Damaschke ’85, the company’s chief creative officer. Ruth gets recognized on her daily two-mile walks on the Constitution Trail. “People come up to her on the trail all the time and say, ‘Nice commercial,’” says Nancy, who jokingly refers to herself as her mom’s “press agent.” Even Ruth’s granddaughter, Katie Brokaw ’03, has seen the ad on TV in California, where she resides.

“She loved the whole thing,” Nancy says of her mother. “The most common comment is that she’s so natural. Katie likes to point out that in fact she was trained as an actress by the IWU School of Theatre.”

To view the commercial, click here.