Ruth Wilson Townsend is the most ‘senior subject’ of this Seniors column...so far! Without actually divulging her age, she is nine months shy of becoming a centenarian, a momentous occasion that will take place next February.
Age doesn’t bother Ruth. She’s proud to be Melita Lodge’s oldest resident...and having lived there longer than anyone else. She feels blessed that she lives without any serious aches or pains, that she has a good appetite and that she sleeps well. She may have the occasional restless night, but that’s okay – she uses those times to refl ect on how good life has been! Thanks to her scooter, she still gets around pretty good...although it will never replace the freedom she knew when she was able to drive a car! Perhaps her greatest ‘aging regret’ has been the loss of hearing – it has certainly affected her socializing abilities.
A sketch of her life looks like this – she was born, as Ruth Walker, south of Carievale, SK, in February of 1920 (now you know what a centenarian is!), the third of fi ve children. Her unusual middle name – Wilson – is a tribute to Mrs. George Wilson. Ruth arrived before the doctor did, and Mrs. Wilson stepped in where the doctor didn’t! Three years later, her family moved to Elva, MB. She married Hector (H.A. – “I just couldn’t call him ‘Hec’!”) Townsend in 1940 and enjoyed life with him for forty-nine years until his death in 1989. Their family began with two children – Larry and Diane – and expanded to two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. In 1993, she moved to Melita Lodge, which has been home ever since.
She started her schooling in a one-room school in Belfry (the bat in the Belfry?) but then in Grade 8, something strange took place – she was taken from school by her father (Frank) and a school trustee and consigned to a different school – a two-room school in Elva. Why? Elva needed one more student to qualify for a grant! She studied there until the end of Grade 11. Since Elva didn’t offer Grade 12, her only option was to attend school in Melita and since times were hard in the 1930’s, that was not fi - nancially possible. This decision was hard on her father.
The Depression years are vivid in her mind. She depressingly remembers the time when her father had to leave home, on foot, with the livestock, so that he could work for a farmer in Elphinstone (near Dauphin) for room and board...and feed for the animals. She and her family watched until he walked out of sight. It took a week to get to his destination! Since many students were unable to fi nish Grade 12 during the Depression, the Manitoba government offered a DIP program. It wasn’t a Grade 12 replacement, but it did offer education beyond the Grade 11 level. It was a six-month course offered at the University of Manitoba and Ruth was one of twenty-fi ve students selected from across Manitoba to take it. The program’s intent was to provide students with additional education to benefi t their home communities. Ruth loved those six months. Students were treated very well and it was a welcomed change from the hardships they experienced at home. Ruth made some great friendships during that time...some continue to this day!
Ruth grew up on a farm. So did Hector – a farmer’s daughter married a farmer’s son and she became a farmer’s wife! She milked cows, fed pigs, drove tractor and fed workers. She also tried working away from the farm – fi rst at Cameron’s Insurance Agency and then as a business owner, opening a fabric store called The Pin Cushion. The store lasted six years and, while it may have been fun, it wasn’t very profi table. Fun doesn’t pay bills! She didn’t make much money...but she did make a lot a friends!
Ruth has been a busy lady! She was a member of the Women’s Institute and the Victoria Club. She was also a Melita New Era reporter, keeping our community up to date with the happenings at the Lodge. She also sang in the United Church choir. But perhaps her most enjoyable ‘busy-ness’ was singing in a quartet called The Melita Belle-Airs.
Ruth had been singing regularly with her sister Mil and sister-in-law Vivian. One night, as they sang in a concert, they caught the eye (or should we say the ear) of Elma, a soloist who was also performing that night. Elma was interested in singing with the trio and The Melita Belle-Airs were born! For years, Ruth sang baritone with this group, traveling to places as far away as Edmonton and Minneapolis – ambassadors for the Melita area. And, if that don’t beat all, they landed on a page in Melita’s history book!
What keeps Ruth busy these days? Her computer does, as she emails friends and plays games like Lexulous. So does her phone, as she gabs with her DIP friend, Eleanor. And so does her TV, as she keeps her mind active by playing along with Jeopardy, watching documentaries, and cheering on her favourite curling teams. She is thankful for her daughter Diana and son-in-law Harvey, along with her nephew Bob and his wife Marlene – they are always just a phone call away. Without them, Ruth wouldn’t be able to live as independently as she does!
And that’s Ruth...this is no longer a ‘Ruthless’column!