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.

* * *

ruthage3

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.”


Education

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-l_hs-yearbook_layer_3x2-copy

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.”

ruthieschoolphoto1940s-copy

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.”

1975-ruthie-schoolphoto-3a_small-copy

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.

1979grandmaruthie-phuong_small-copy

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)

1990s-saltofeaward-copy


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.

1990s-ruth-in-kitchen-2_small

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

ruthiecitrus-copy

 

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.

1989ruthiepiano_small-copy

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.

ruthiepianorheems-copy

Playing the dulcimer – wholeheartedly!

1996ruthiedulcimer_small-copy-2


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.

1998ruthiefritzieporch_small-copy

ruthiedogpiano-copy

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.

ruthienewspaper-copy

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

ruthiewordfinds2015


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.

ruthie_lawnmover_5x4_180-copy

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!

Advertisements

Friends from Faraway and Long Ago: Kitsa and Lydia

Kitsa and Lydia were among the very few women in my graduating class at Eastern Mennonite College who did not wear a prayer veiling atop their heads. Why? Because they were not Mennonite.

Lydia Mattar from Jerusalem, Jordan and Kitsa Adamidou from Salonika, Greece were international students and my good friends when I attended EMC. Their origins both have a biblical stamp: Kitsa’s hometown was originally known as Thessalonika, the name of two New Testaments books (Thessalonians I and II) and Kitsa’s father from Jerusalem was the Keeper of the Garden Tomb, the site of Jesus’ burial and resurrection. (Photos from 1963 Shenandoah yearbook)

KitsaYearbookPortrait

Always on the look-out for fun!
Kitsa, always on the look-out for fun!

And then Lydia . . .

LydiaYearbook Portrait

Lydia in Dr. Daniel Suter's Anatomy class
Lydia in Dr. Daniel Suter’s Anatomy class with lab assistant

I was drawn to Kitsa and Lydia during my freshman year because I have always been curious about other cultures. In fact, one year Lydia was my roommate. It appears this inclination has run deep in my DNA. Now as I hold in my hand one of my Grandma Fannie Longenecker’s letters from college I can sense her keen interest in my “foreign” friends and a deep longing to know them better.

In this letter dated December 1, 1960, she insists that she would like both girls to spend Christmas at her home. Born in 1892, Grandma Fannie Longenecker was 68 when she wrote these words to me:

Dear Marian – Guess you’ll be surprised to hear from me, I sure wanted to write before, just didn’t get at it – (Reason) older and slower . . . . Ruth was looking for a letter from you so be sure and bring Lydia & Kitsa along home over Christmas, and forget all about paint etc, two of you can stay here & we’ll have a good time that’s the thing that really matters, I think I’ll be Kitsa’s Grandma of America – Do you know what she needs or wants for Christmas? Forgot to say I’ll pay her way up & we really want them to come, so make it strong, times soon here!

Later in the letter, Grandma admonishes:

Be sure and get arrangements to come home early & if possible bring the girls along. I’ll pay Kitsa’s fare on arrival & find out what she would like for Christmas. This $ 5.00 spot is for you, maybe you need a little for odds and ends or transportation home. Tell us what you are hungry for, that you don’t get at school.

Mark tells me ‘Marian will soon come home’ and his face lights up, so we are all looking forward to that day. Hope your old toe is better.

Grandma’s interest in Kitsa persisted through most of my college years. In her letter of March 8, 1962, she referred to Kitsa and her roommate pictured on the front page of Christian Living magazine (February 1962).

For over 25 years, my Grandma and Aunt Ruthie practiced peace and goodwill toward all, as they opened their home to refugee and immigrant families, beginning with Phuong (pictured below), a young woman who arrived by boat from Vietnam. Their home was a warm cushion absorbing the cultural shock of leaving home and family; it was a safe haven, welcoming refugees from a colláge of countries including Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, Russia—anywhere there was political upheaval.

1979Grandma,Ruthie, Phuong_small

Although she graciously accepted the Salt of the Earth Award from Lutheran Social Services in the 1990s, Aunt Ruthie never bragged about her benevolence. From her perspective, she was merely sharing the love of Christ and fulfilling the statement of Menno Simons, founder of the Mennonite faith:

Framed print on the wall of Grandma and Aunt Ruthie's sitting room, 1996
Framed illustration on the wall of Grandma and Aunt Ruthie’s sitting room, 1996

In a noisy world where some speak of building tall walls and wish to spread terror and violence, I am thankful for my heritage including an education at an institution, now Eastern Mennonite University, where the language of peace is preached and modeled. In fact, it is now possible to earn both under-graduate and graduate degrees in justice and peace-building at the University.

EMUJusticPeaceQuote

 

Regrettably, the contact information I have currently for both Kitsa and Lydia has not yielded any results, so I don’t know what paths their lives have taken. But I do know that their lives, like mine, have been imprinted with the power of peace, a message this world could stand a good dose of in these troubled times.

Postcript:

Just this morning, December 11, 2015, I had a long phone conversation with Kitsa, her smooth, alto voice music to my ears. She now lives with her husband in North Carolina and is very active at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church where she is head of the Hellenic Culture initiative. She also gives private Greek language lessons.


 

How have international friendships affected your life? Have you connected with long-lost friends recently?