Of all the wondrous moments at the Masterpiece Lyceum/Positive Aging Conference, the most WOW of all was being introduced by Marc Middleton, one of yesterday’s keynote speakers, to Ruth Jensen Hamilton, aka Ruth1898. At 109, she was the world’s oldest blogger! And although the impact she had through her video blogging at Marc’s Growing Bolder is incalculable, it’s exceeded by the power of her back story.
Imagine a life spanning three centuries, one lived with gusto & verve. Ruth was tfn years old when the first Model T rolled off the assembly line. She captained her high school girls basketball team – imagine them playing in 1916! – & zipped through her training at what was then Iowa State Teachers College because of the great need to fill classroom positions. She loved being a teacher, commenting that she never counted the days until Friday, never disliked Mondays.
She also loved Carter Hamilton, who was pitching for the semi-pro Sunshine team & a medical student at the University of Iowa when they met in 1920. He popped the question after being recruited by the Cleveland Browns & they secretly wed in 1921.
Ruth’s contract stipulated she could NOT continue teaching if she married, but when she finally ‘fessed up the to school board, they removed the clause & gave her a $25 a month raise in hopes of not losing her gift for connecting with her students. The school board, her colleagues & students must have been crushed when she & Carter moved to Boston, where he became part of the Brigham Hospital’s new radiology department.
Ruth was never cut out for the role of being simply a physician’s wife. She got a job at a seafood restaurant run by Rose Kennedy’s brother, which was surely a bustling place, the Fitzgeralds being Boston’s premier Irish clan (Joseph Kennedy married up).
The itch to get back into teaching drew Ruth to enroll in the Miller Teaching System’s vocabulary classes, which led her to becoming a radio broadcaster & popular lecturer. She headed out to Hollywood to teach proper elocution. to starlets – including Bette Davis – facing the challenges of talkies.
In 1934, Ruth & Carter adopted a son & headed to Europe, where she learned all about the rise in power of Adolf Hitler, a name virtually unknown back in America. On a train ride through Germany, she was warned to take care, that there were spies everywhere. In Berlin, she visited Hitler’s Chancellery, was part of a crowd watching his car drive by, was surrounded by people chanting, “Heil Hitler!”
Back home, she became the first woman elected in New Hampshire to the House of Representatives – Ruth was thrilled to be on the same ballot as FDR.
I wish my attention had been more intensely focus Marc Middleton’s every word as he started telling us yesterday about his first encounters with Ruth. As I recall, his website, Growing Bolder, had spotlighted her when she nipped past her 100th birthday. Some time after that feature, the folks at Growing Bolder wondered how the unforgettable centenarian was doing.
When Marc & his colleagues came calling to see how their centenarian friend was faring, they were thoroughly shocked at what they found.
To their horror, they discovered that after moving into an assisted care facility, the lack of engaging social connection had left Ruth in a sorry mental state. His photos & video from this time are heartbreaking, showing a once vibrant elder in shocking decline due to lack of PEOPLE in her life. But as Marc & others made regular visits to their dear friend, Ruth revived flourished bloomed. Restored to her old self, she found a new audience through vlogging (video blogging) on Growing Bolder.
I will always treasure being introduced to Ruth, to a story that John & I have seen unfolding – outside our reach – too many times. Of people who have out-lived friends & family (Carter died many years before Ruth, Peter in 2005), people with no one to connect them back to their earlier selves, to help anchor them in the present.
How can you have a sense of place without a sense of who you are, how you got here? It’s why John & I are playfulness coaches, why we find out about a person’s past, so we can help give them a stronger sense of being placed in the present, connecting them to the future.
Thanks to friends who didn’t forget her after the original segment aired, Ruth’s spirits were restored, her health improved; she rediscovered a voice that had been muted, never lost.
Ruth was still in the assisted living facility, but found herself emotionally in a place where she could joke about age in a way that speaks volumes about her spirit & zest for life – “I recently sent a fax to St. Peter to ask when I might be called. He waited a couple days before faxing me back. When he finally replied he said he had no space, that I’d have to wait a couple more years. So I’m here for awhile longer.”
They didn’t write back & forth – they faxed. Way to go, Ruth!
After being rescued by friends who engaged her mind, who drew her away from the dying & back to the living, Ruth laid out what she saw on her horizon – “I’ve got more adventures ahead of me. I believe everyday is an adventure, an opportunity to do something positive.”
My thanks to Marc Middleton for his hit-me-smack-in-the-heart keynote! Thanks to the Storm Lake Pilot Tribune & Lorri Glawe’s wonderful tribute to Ruth ~ it gave me an even deeper appreciation of all that Marc & his colleagues opened up in drawing Ruth Jensen Hamilton out from the shadows & back among us, spikes the rush of joy I get watching Ruth doing what we need more of from olders elders ancients – sharing her experience insights wisdom, while cracking jokes & loving life.
How better to end than with Ruth’s own words – – “I’m living proof that it pays to get old I’ve never had so much fun in my life. You don’t think anything like this will ever happen to you. I remember my mother watching me when I was young and so active and asking, ‘what is ever going to become of Ruth?‘”
She soared, Mrs. Jensen, your daughter soared!