Ruth Klingler turned 105 on March 28, 2013. She lives in Harleysville, Pennsylvania and is still the life of the party at her assisted living home.
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Ruth Klingler celebrated her 105th birthday on March 28 in Harleysville, Montgomery County, Pa. At The Birches of Arbor Square where she moved after living independently until she was 102, Ruth is still the life of the party. She's a vibrant, happy woman who has a graceful and genuine way of bringing a bit of laughter into the lives of others.
She was born in 1908 -- the same year that Henry Ford developed the first Model T, the first Mother's Day was observed in Philadelphia and Connie Mack sold hurler Rube Waddell to the St. Louis Browns for $5,000. She grew up in Atco, New Jersey and lived most of her adult life in the Burlhome section of Northeast Philadelphia.
Longevity does run in Ruth's family. Her father lived to be 96 and most of her siblings lived into their 90s. Her sister Gertrude, who lived to be 105, took up ballroom dancing when she was 82. Ruth shares that sense of adventure along with an ability to embrace the day, every day.
We spent a little time with Ruth in the days leading up to her birthday.
How do you remember your childhood? What was it like?
Ruth: I lived on a farm and I had a great life there. I enjoyed it. We had animals – dogs, cats, horses and a field full of all kinds of good vegetables. And I really enjoyed it because I could work in the garden and go help myself to a big, nice watermelon! I had a good youth.
There were six of us -- four girls and two boys. I was number five. My youngest brother, he was always after me! He’d say he was gonna get a snake and that snake was gonna be put down my back! And I used to run and run and think, “I’m gonna drop dead!” (laughs)
Looking back on your life, what are some of your happiest memories?
I guess living on the farm and having the animals and being able to work with my mother. We had a very nice family life with all the animals, and a carriage and a horse. That’s how we went for a while, you know, and then my mother learned to drive a car. And I can remember my father, he couldn’t see why my mother was going to drive and he wasn’t, so one day he goes and gets in the car, and what does he do? He hits a tree! My mother said, “That’s the end of him driving!”
So we had many good times. And I used to swim and we could skate. As we grew older, we did all those things that we enjoyed.
Now I was brought up in a two-room schoolhouse -- four grades in each. Then I went to Haddonfield for my Junior Year. That’s where I graduated. Then I started on to other kinds of things, getting into church work. I sang for the choir for 85 years!
I taught Sunday school and that was quite a chore because some of the girls, you know, they were going to have a wonderful time!
Then after that, I married my husband and we were married for 70 years. He died when he was 99.
How did you and Harry stay so happily married for 70 years?
He was very, uh, it was a good marriage, let’s put it that way.
As my daughter always said, “Well you and Dad never argued.” If there was a question that came up, you know, that needed to be settled, we didn’t fight about it. We would discuss it and then accept which one’s we thought was the better judgment. And, well, Harry drove the car and I did all the housework. But I wanted to drive, and I would drive and then he said, “No,” he’d take me wherever I wanted to go. But don’t ever let a man talk you out of it, because I could have been just as good a driver as he was! (laughs) We really had a good life. We had a lot of friends. We played bridge and we took a trip to Bermuda on a boat with a couple of other friends, so we did get around.
We spent a lot of time together.
It’s strange. I was going with someone else and then met him. For some reason, we connected. And after that, I told Tom I wouldn’t go out with him anymore. Harry sent me a big bunch of roses and a note that he wanted to take me out to a dance. We were married a few months after that. We just connected. That’s the only way I can say it. He liked me and I liked him. He smiled and I smiled and the next thing I knew we were going together. And from that time on, we never had any trouble. We never argued. We didn’t fight. I don’t know why. We loved each other!
We laughed a lot.
And how many children did you have?
One. My daughter and she’s a professional musician.
I was 34 when I had Carol and the doctor said, “You can have 16, so be careful!” I’ve had some funny spots in my life. That’s what he said when I had Carol.
I would have had a couple, but after I had Carol, she was just a baby at the time and there was a world war, and I thought, now if I had another one and if they take Harry, he was on the list to go (to war), I thought, ‘Who’s going to take care of two kids?” I could have had another one, but I never did because of the war.
People are fascinated about the lifestyles of Centenarians. I guess they want to know what it takes to live to be 100 years old or more. What about you? Did you exercise? Did you drink? Smoke? Do you eat a special diet?
No, but I couldn’t overeat. I knew when it was enough for me and I think that’s what kept me on an even basis of not getting too heavy or not getting the wrong food. I loved to cook and I loved to bake. But mostly, I loved to gardening. I loved it. Flowers! I had vegetables, I had flowers. And we had a dog.
Drinking? Let me say this, maybe on the weekends we’d have a beer or so, but not excess. And smoking, I never did.
I read a study that says there is one thing that people who live to be over 100 have in common, and it’s their ability to move past traumatic events. You seem to have that ability.
My saying is, “Don’t worry, you can’t change things and make the best of it.” I just won’t sit and worry about things. And maybe I’m a little crazy, but it’s worked out for me as far as I’m concerned because I’m not going to worry if I spend ten cents more or something like that. A lot of men are like that. But Harry and I were never like that. If I wanted something, we’d talk it over and I’d get it. (laughs)
You do have a great outlook on life, don’t you?
Well, I don’t know. That’s what somebody said to me, “You don’t look on the other side, you always look on the good side.” Well, you have to. I guess I’m crazy but you can’t sit there and worry about something that might not happen. You have to think about how you’ll make the best of this.
I know that you’re a happy person by nature, but there had to be a tough stage or phase of your life. What was it?
Well, I guess the one time when I was hit by a car and then the couple of operations I had. A 16-year-old hit me with a car and they had to put me in the hospital for a while. I don’t remember how old I was, I think I was in my fifties and they had to put me in the hospital for four weeks. I shattered my knee. I have a metal bar in my leg. Now the only thing is that I’m this old, I can’t walk anymore. I have to stay in a wheelchair. I was doing my laundry until about a year-and-a-half ago and then I fell.
I had colon cancer when I was 92.
And the worst thing was I lost the power to walk and to do all the things that I used to do. I used to be able to go down to therapy, and I loved it, it was just a lot of fun. But then, I don’t know what, I just lost my ability to walk. So here I am in a wheelchair.
What advice do you have for the rest of us?
I would tell you to love your husband and use good judgment in your decisions. And realize that there are difficult times and there are good times. That’s the only way I can put it. I’ve accepted most things change. Even though I didn’t like some of them, I accepted them. You can voice an opinion but you can’t always change things.
What is your relationship like with God?
Oh! I was in church work for 90 years. 85 years I sang in the choir. Our congregation at Lawndale Presbyterian Church was getting smaller and smaller as many of our neighbors passed on. Our neighborhood was also changing and many of the new residents were Korean and they were looking for a church building. So our church voted to give them our church building to continue serving the neighborhood. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to stay in church any longer, but I had a good life there and I enjoyed it. My faith in God is an important part of my life and I pray every day for friends and family. Now my husband never went to church. But he always made sure that I got there. And he picked me up.
You know, it’s funny, the woman who got me up this morning said to me, “Hey, I heard you talking to yourself, saying, ‘Time to take me!’” and I said to her, “Oh, I say that every once in a while!” (laughing) I guess my whole outlook is different than other people. I’m still enjoying life. I wish I could walk and do all the things that I used to, but I can’t, so I’ll sit in the chair and I’ll have to behave. I’m a little on the nutty side!
That’s the end of my interesting life.