Aunt Ruthie Longenecker: Her Life in Pictures

Yesterday, Tuesday, October 4, my Aunt Ruthie celebrated her 98th birthday. Born in 1918, she is a towering figure in my life and, and along with Mother and Grandma Longenecker, my strongest mentor. And she has been mother/teacher to many.

* * *


See the determination in that little girl’s face!

Her mother, my grandma Fannie Longenecker, replying to my sister Janice’s questions for a sociology-class interview assignment, mentioned that “Ruthie was industrious, a busy-body, a tomboy who would take risks.”


The blurb in her Elizabethtown High School yearbook photo acknowledged her brilliant mind. (She skipped two elementary grades.) The description below also foretold her teaching career and hinted at the math skills she used in her long career as tax collector for West Donegal (PA) Township. She was so young when she began college at age 16, she required a chaperone.


Ruthie attended business school near Elizabethtown and earned a bachelor’s degree from Eastern Mennonite College in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She earned a master’s degree in education from Temple University in Philadelphia.

Teaching Career

Country children in rural Lancaster County usually did not attend kindergarten. Aunt Ruthie created kindergarten for me as a 5-year-old at Cherry Hill School, close to Milton Grove, PA. I remember bouncing up and down over hills and dales riding in the back seat of her brown Hudson on the way to Cherry Hill. Two or three days a week I learned the alphabet and numbers sitting along side first graders. In the one-room classroom with eight grades, I loved singing: “Good morning merry sunshine, how did you wake so soon? You scared away the little stars and shined away the moon.”


Hundreds of students remember Miss Longenecker at the age pictured below at Rheems Elementary School where she taught sixth grade and served as principal. Earlier in her career there, the school board (probably all male) refused to acknowledge her true function as principal and condescendingly referred to her as “head teacher.”


It galls me even now to disclose this awful truth, and so I ask:

What title goes to the person (man or woman) who approves the curriculum, supervises textbook orders and presides over faculty meetings, responding to parental complains. It’s the PRINCIPAL I tell you!


Host to Refugees and Immigrants

This 1979 photo below shows Grandma Longenecker, Aunt Ruthie and Phuong Le, a refugee from Vietnam, a young girl they welcomed into their home as a daughter. Phuong was the first among dozens who sought shelter from war-torn countries. She made the most of Aunt Ruthie’s mentoring from 1976-1982, later succeeding in a career as a computer programmer and raising a fine family.


Lutheran Social Services acknowledged Ruthie’s magnanimous contribution to refugees and immigrants with The Salt of the Earth Award, a plaque which recognized “her exceptional commitment and warmhearted compassion in welcoming the stranger. ‘Ye are the salt of the earth’ Matthew 5:13” (script from plaque)


Love of Family

“You are always welcome here,” were Aunt Ruthie’s words after my sisters and I married and moved away from home. She labored in the kitchen when her nieces from Florida and Michigan nested in her home during vacations.


In a small way, we returned the favor and relished her enjoying the citrus we bought from our orange and grapefruit trees in Florida.



Appreciation for Music

A music lover, Ruthie played the piano vigorously. If the apron is any indication, she is relaxing here after over-seeing meal making, her grand-niece Crista in the background.


Into her early 90s, she played dinner music for the elderly ( ! ) at Rheems Nursing Home. “They don’t have anybody doing much for them,” she said.


Playing the dulcimer – wholeheartedly!


Animal Friends

Through the years, her Schnauzers, Fritzie I, II, III, and IV have been her ever-present companions, protecting her by day and warming her feet at night in bed.



The last Fritzie, # IV, has found a dog’s paradise, adopted by teen-age Jason and his family.

Love for Learning

Books, magazines, and the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal/New Era have kept her curious mind informed.


During most of her stay at Landis Homes, she has whizzed through Word Finds puzzle books.


Hands in the Soil

A life-long gardener, Aunt Ruthie has always had her hands in rich Pennsylvania soil. She was my hoeing companion in the 4 1/2 -acre tomato “patch” in Bainbridge, PA in the 1950s.

Aunt Ruthie with scarf and I hoeing in tomato field
Aunt Ruthie with scarf and I hoeing in tomato field

At home, she kept a large garden, the envy of passersby on old route # 230 that borders her property.

All summer long until Aunt Ruthie was almost 90, she mowed nearly an acre of grass on her land near Rheems, preferring outdoor work to household duties.


For decades, she kept a strawberry patch and a vegetable garden, bordered by flowers. Now the flowers come to her.

Niece Jean brings knockout roses for Aunt Ruthie now living at Landis Homes.
Niece Jean brings knockout roses for Aunt Ruthie now living at Landis Homes.


She has had a goodly heritage

The Martin-Horst-Longenecker Freindschaft, circa 1938 Both in back row: My dad Ray Longenecker with zippered sweater and Aunt Ruthie on right with cape dress and white covering strings
The Martin-Horst-Longenecker Freindschaft, circa 1938
Both in back row: My dad Ray Longenecker with zippered sweater and Aunt Ruthie on right with V-necked cape dress and white covering strings


Gutes Leben, her high school yearbook blurb concluded.

Yes, Aunt Ruthie, has enjoyed a good life.


Happy Birthday, Aunt Ruthie!

Ruthie after enjoying a birthday lunch at Oregon Dairy near Lititz, PA a few years ago
Ruthie after enjoying a birthday lunch at Oregon Dairy near Lititz, PA a few years ago



Coming next: Heart on Fire, Guess Who’s Voted for President!


68 thoughts on “Aunt Ruthie Longenecker: Her Life in Pictures

    1. You are the conversation starter, Linda – and all the way from Australia. I’m glad you like reading family stories. Thanks for reading and commenting here. I believe you are a former teacher & school principal also.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Thank you for sharing your Aunt Ruthie with us, and Happy 98th Birthday to her! I’m gratified and joyful to learn of such a wonderful woman and her life of mission, education, caring, and love. What a woman! She inspires us, and helps us realize that there are GOOD people, unacknowledged and wise, out there. She is a PRINCIPAL of LIFE!!!!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, David. A Facebook friend posted the yearbook picture some time ago, and I got a “capture.” Otherwise, I would have no idea that Gutes Leben was part of the blurb by her photo, a spot-on prediction. Huge hugs back to you too. 🙂

      Thanks too for the tweet.


  2. What a full and compassionate life your Aunt Ruthie has led. I can think of no greater reward than to be well-loved by your community –friends and family — after a good long life. Happy Birthday to you, Marian’s Aunt Ruthie.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Landis Homes where she lives had a fall festival with cake. Before the party ended, the group sang Happy Birthday to her. She thought the entire event was in her honor though it was not. Funny!

      We’ll still have a party for her next week during our visit. 🙂


  3. Happy Birthday to your Aunt Ruthie! I feel like I know her a bit from this and your other stories–and I know if I did meet her, I’d be welcomed. I can see why you admire her so much. She is a role model–well-educated (I imagine that that was quite a feat for her to go both to college and to graduate school), independent, talented, hard-working, kind, and yes, she was definitely a principal! (And I love that you are so indignant on her behalf.)
    She also has a face with such a sweet smile and a wise twinkle in her eyes.
    I will echo David in sending both you and her hugs!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aunt Ruthie took advantage of an education few women in her era enjoyed, especially Mennonite women. Thought she dated a little, she told her mother, “It’s not my line.” She was never a wife, but I would dispute the idea that she was never a mother. Thanks for your insight.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I remember we talked a little bit about this in Chincoteague. My mom would have liked to go to college to major in art, but her parents thought that was too impractical, especially for a young woman who would get married. (Her younger brother became a psychologist.)


  4. Hi, Aunt Ruthie! Happy birthday!

    I’ll offer another name for you: “president of life.” That’s different from “president for life.” It means you were given many talents, and you used all of them. The world is a far better place because of you. The letters you taught the little girl long ago rise up to honor and embrace you now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can’t wait to read these comments to her. At this stage in her life, she has been offered art and music therapy and appears sharper than ever. She’ll love this! Thank you for your generous, heartfelt comment, Shirley.

      I’ll happily vote for this “president”!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I enjoy your stories about Aunt Ruthie and other members of your wonderful family. I feel I know them all personally. She is a remarkable woman and an excellent mentor to many generations. I love love the family picture! We have both been blessed with such great role models.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, you may remember the story I told which labeled her as a cheater, on my behalf, of course. Ha!

      And, yes, we are blessed with great role models. Best of all, you and I know and appreciate it. I enjoy reading the tributes to family members I often see on your blog, Darlene.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I loved, loved, loved your tribute to your beautiful Aunt Ruthie, Marian. What a full life she’s lived. I enjoyed all of the photographs, but my favorites are her stirring the pot on the stove (such a sweet smile) and her on the riding lawn mower. Happy Birthday Aunt Ruthie!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome! I have been trying to find a picture of her playing the dulcimer with padded sticks. (I know I have it – ah, retrieval!) She put her whole heart into that too. I’m glad you enjoyed the photos, Jill.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks, enjoyed these memories of your Aunt Ruthie. She was also a wonderful Sunday school teacher. I think I  was beyond Rheems Elementary when she was principal.  Often wondered why she went to Zarfoss Hardware after school teaching.  Ava Lee Sent via the Samsung Galaxy S® 5 mini, an AT&T 4G LTE smartphone

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, everyone at Bosslers knew she taught Sunday School for many years. I didn’t know you were one of her students; she taught the older women’s class in her later years. You asked about the Zarfoss Hardware experience: Because she began teaching at 20, she was only 55 years old when she reached the 35-year mark for which she was aiming. She missed the social aspect of teaching and working at Zarfoss’ store kept her mingling with the public.
      She loved when customers triggered the ring of the cash register when she was behind the counter.

      In addition to stocking shelves, she also “dressed” the windows and kept them reflective of the seasons, expressing her artistic side. Also, her cousin Mary Longenecker was married to one of the owners, Howard (Hob) Zarfoss, so she had a family connection to the business too. She often rode the distance from Rheems to E-town in her scooter – ha!

      I appreciate your following the family stories on my blog and commenting too. Thank you, Ava Lee!


    1. She has always remembered who I am even though I see her only 2-3 times a year. I’m holding my breath that her face shows recognition when I walk in the door. Fingers crossed! Thanks, Dolores.


  8. How fortunate you are to have had so many strong women in your life, especially Aunt Ruthie. And I’m sure she knows how lucky she is to have you. You pay wonderful tributes to your family and friends, Marian. Please send her my happy birthday wishes to her, even though I’ve never met her!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I realize I grew up with strong, (mostly) positive feminine role models. The men thought their duties at work took priority over home and children, a very traditional view, of course. My aunt suffers from memory loss, but when I show her this post and all the comments, I know she’ll take it all in – and smile!


    1. She had her flaws, disappointments, setbacks. In a memoir chapter entitled “Ruthie the Cheater” I show a scene of her over-helping me to win an art contest, a spelling bee. She couldn’t tolerate self-centered people or men in power who underestimated her strength (for example, men on the school board.)

      Thanks for your good wishes. Many are in harm’s way, including my family. I pray for the vicious storm to turn east, so we can all miss the brunt of it. Welcome back to the USA, Susan. I know you have many fond memories of India now in your travel bank.


      1. I remember reading that chapter about Aunt Ruthie, Marian, when we were in Chincoteague. Characters in our memoirs, it seems to me, are always more interesting when we show their flaws and vulnerabilities. I’ll be teaching a class on character development in Philadelphia at a fiction writers conference later this month. Looking forward to it. Thank for the welcome home from Nepal, I’ll keep you and your family in my prayers.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Growing up, I wasn’t aware that everyone didn’t have an Aunt Ruthie to supplement the efforts of Mom and Daddy. She doted on my sisters, brother and me. I can never repay her generosity except to honor her life achievements here. I thought I’d see her this weekend, but the threatening hurricane has diverted my plans for now. Thanks for the mention here, Kathy.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Marian — It’s abundantly clear that your aunt Ruthie Longenecker is a remarkable woman. I hope you show her this heartwarming tribute. She’ll be tickled pink!

    happy, Happy, HAPPY 98th birthday!


  10. Recently my four sisters and I (ranging in age from 59 to 73) decided to visit a relative we hadn’t seen for years. She is 90 years old and when she heard we were coming she said she would like to serve us lunch. We could not believe our eyes and are still reeling. Her apartment was immaculate and beautiful, as was the dining room table. Like a good Russian Mennonite, she had made two kinds of Borscht (one tomato and one green), fresh buns, Rollkuchen (fritters), a sour cherry pie and a lemon cake. She kept us all entertained with her stories and never once looked as if she was tired. It was amazing!
    Your Aunt Ruthie sounds very much like this kind of person. What a blessing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your relative sounds like the Energizer Bunny. I’d be stumped by baking the fresh buns alone, as bread-making has never been my forte.

      The Borscht we were served in Ukraine seemed more broth-y than I expected. The recipes for borscht I had read before our trip seemed to have the consistency of stew, but what we experienced surprisingly was a light, savory broth. Delightful, actually!

      I’m glad we can honor our forebears on these “pages” where they can live on and inspire others. Thank you, Elfrieda.


  11. What a sensational tribute to a wonderful woman, Marian. Wishing you–and Aunt Ruthie–a joyous year ahead to continue the blessings of this her special birthday. The pictures and words are a lovely combination.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Please send her my very best wishes Marian! She’s an inspiration clearly to all who’ve met her or been taught by her and those she’s welcomed into her home and heart – but to me personally although we’ve never met, she is an inspiration. A life so well lived. President of and for Life. Have a wonderful birthday celebration – 🙂 Happy Birthday Aunt Ruthie! Knock ’em out with your smile!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the kudos here in her behalf. I hope to celebrate a belated birthday with her, but the storm, hurricane Matthew, is gumming the works at the moment. We will find a way somehow.


  13. What an an amazing life , happy birthday Aunt Ruthie .
    I think there is nothing quite like an aunt , they have qualities our Mums don’t have , can’t have , because they’re our mum .
    I had an Aunty Gwen , she was great fun , I lost her when I was in my twenties . How I’d love to talk to her now .
    Enjoy Aunt Ruthie , power to the Aunt Ruthie s of the world 🌻🌻

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Here’s to the power of aunty’s. They are sort one step removed from having to discipline us like our Mums do. They can spoil us a little. I’m sure you have great memories of Aunt Gwen, probably some pictures too.

      Thanks, Cherry!


    1. Yes, she was scholarly and benevolent, but she was also very practical. She wasn’t above pulling her 22 rifle out of the kitchen closet and taking aim at a ground hog that was messing in her garden. Ha!

      Thanks for tweeting this – always appreciate your commenting here and sharing there!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I just poked around in your blog for a while and left a comment. What a talented woman you are: poet, short story writer, book reviewer – and dancer!

    Thank you for reading about Aunt Ruthie here, whom I want to visit as soon as the big storm leaves the Florida coast. I don’t think many parents will be naming their sons Matthew any time soon in these parts. 🙂


  15. Happy Birthday, Aunt Ruthie. I’m so grateful to know a tiny bit about your big heart. Marian,
    thank you for the well-told stories and wonderful photos. What a treat! The timing couldn’t be better. The world needs Aunt Ruthie.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I will add my own well wishes to Aunt Ruthie. Beginning when Marian and I were married, even before having our two children, Ruthie always welcomed us into her home when we travelled from Florida to Pennsylvania. Since the rooms had more space than at Marian’s parents house I welcomed a space where I could place all my luggage and suitcases in one big room.

    After Marian’s grandmother, Fannie Longenecker, passed on Marian and I often stayed in her room which had a gigantic king bed with an ancient five-foot cherry headboard, and tall windows illuminating antique dressers and several pots pushing out cascading delicate ferns.

    The German-style menus were always a treat as well.

    God Bless you Aunt Ruthie for your welcoming hospitality in excess of 40 years in the Cliff and Marian Beaman family and Happy Birthday to you!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. What an amazing family and how wonderful that you have the honor of being part of it. Your history is so interesting and to think that there is a part of each one of them that dwells within you. How lucky to be able to trace your roots back to such stupendous family accomplishments. It was an honor for me to read about them. Thank you for sharing. :o)

    Liked by 1 person

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