Growing up in St. Louis as a tomboy, watching Charles A. Lindbergh “buzz” St. Louis upon returning from his successful trans-Atlantic flight and being a pastor’s wife for 26 years in the same church are some of life’s highlights for Ruth Franz, who observes her 100th birthday on Aug. 31.
“The Lord has been good to me,” Ruth says, in summing up her long, fruitful life and attributing it to “heredity.” After all, her mother and paternal grandfather both lived 99 years. Then there was her great-aunt. She lived to be 109.
“I have had a good, happy life and lots of blessings and good things,” the spunky woman says. “I won’t tell you the bad things,” she says in jest, just like she did when asked where she met her husband of 59 years. Her reply: “I got my husband out of mail order.”
Sitting in a wheelchair in the White Oaks Assisted Living Center at The Groves in Independence, the witty, soon-to-be centenarian says she met John Franz while working in the mail order department at Montgomery Ward & Co. in 1933.
But for 19-year-old Ruth, also known as “Ruthie,” it wasn’t love at first sight. At first, she refused date offers from the never-say-no pursuer, saying she didn’t think she would like him.
“I won’t tell you what I thought,” she says with a chuckle, as she continues telling her love story as though it had just happened. “But anyway, one day after about four months, he said, ‘Come over to the window. I want to show you something.’”
What she saw was a cream-colored 1932 Plymouth convertible with blue fenders. John had purchased it the night before.
“Can I take you home tonight?” Ruth recalls John asking her as they admired the flashy car.
“And that was the beginning of the end,” Ruth says, when she accepted the ride home.
With daughters Joan George, Janis Rowland and Nancy Bowers listening intently, Ruth recalls having a good time driving to Shawnee, Kansas, in the one-seat car with John and his mother.
Says Ruth: “That was in September (1933) when I went to Shawnee with him, and the next April he sold that Plymouth to buy my (engagement) ring.”
Ruth and John were married on Christmas Day in 1934 and became parents for the first time in 1935 with the birth of Joan. Then came sisters Janis and Nancy.
Born in St. Louis on Aug. 31, 1914, Ruth – the second oldest of four siblings – was dubbed “Jim” by her father because she was a tomboy, and proud of it.
“I was always the tomboy in this family,” she quips with a twinkle in her eyes, crediting her mother for the athletic prowess she inherited.
But let’s not forget Ruth’s older brother, George, and his friends. They also helped hone Ruth’s athleticism by teaching her to play baseball, football, ice skate and bowl, as well as to “run, run, run and be a tomboy,” says daughter Joan.
Ruth, though, was more than a tomboy.
“She was an excellent seamstress and made coats and all kind of things for us (children),” says daughter Nancy, recalling she recently found some old clothes her mother had made for her dolls that matched a coat she had.
When Nancy was going to get married, she recalls her mother telling her something that really angered her at the time: “She was going to make a dress to wear at the wedding, and I didn’t want her to wear a homemade dress to my wedding,” Nancy recalls.
But when Nancy came home from work, she couldn’t believe what she saw: “A real pretty dress that (Ruth) had made, and it didn’t look homemade at all.”
And the best thing of all, she wore it to the wedding.
As Ruth reminisced about her life, she recalls moving from St. Louis to the northeast area of Kansas City in 1936 and graduating from Northeast High School as a 16-year-old.
Yes, the Great Depression did have an effect on Ruth’s family, forcing her father and older brother to seek employment in California. At one time, Ruth was the only family member working.
“And what did I make?” she asks. “Nineteen cents an hour.”
Despite hard times, Ruth found happiness and fulfillment in Job’s Daughter. After going “through the line,” she became the Honored Queen of Bethel No. 7 in 1932 .
But what brought her the most satisfaction and happiness was all the wonderful years she spent as the wife of a Southern Baptist pastor, in addition to being at Linwood Boulevard Baptist in Kansas City for a total of 26 years.
Along with all the happy remembrances, come the disappointments. And Ruth had her share. Like not finishing college at Central Missouri in Warrensburg.
What happened was this: “They asked me to sub in a sewing class in the high school in Warrensburg. And in that class were some kids who had gone to school with my daughters. And I came out of that (experience) saying, ‘I don’t want to be a high school home ec teacher.’”
And she didn’t. Ruth dropped out of the last two semesters and never finished college.
Though her achievements are numerous, the 10 years she spent at Midwestern Baptist Seminary in Kansas City as an assistant librarian was perhaps her greatest achievement.
Why? “I didn’t have a library degree; I was a home ec major.”
Ruth will celebrate her long-awaited birthday with family members and friends at a reception and card shower on Sunday, Aug. 31, at The Groves, followed by a family dinner at the Buckner home of Nancy Sanders, where a full house is expected. The family requests well-wishers to send cards with memories and notes on them to: Ruth Franz, 1515 W. White Oak, Apt. 37, Independence, Mo. 64050.
Happy Birthday, Ruth!
Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.