Jon's Jottings: You lived a long and good life, GrandmaMy grandmother came up a little short of a goal to become the oldest Iowan. Ruth Kelly died Oct. 28 at age 111 years, one month and eight days.
Ruth Kelly Sept. 20, 1898, – Oct. 28, 2009
My grandmother came up a little short of a goal to become the oldest Iowan.
Ruth Kelly died Oct. 28 at age 111 years, one month and eight days. She finished third in the running for the oldest person in the state behind two women, 114 and 112.
Even though she lived a long time, there is a sense of loss among the family members now that she is gone. She was our living connection to the 1890s, the twentieth century and beyond. When you stop to realize she lived every minute of the last century and all the innovations, inventions, advances and declines that occurred in that 100 year span, it is quite amazing.
She was there in the horse and buggy days and when the automobile took over as the major means of transportation. She lived through the first airplane flights and moon landings; transitions from telegraphs to telephones; silent movies to talkies, radios then television and on up through the dawn of the computer age.
I have never known anybody before who lived to be 111 and I was always kind of proud to be her relative as she continued to collect birthdays.
After each visit to see here on her birthday in Buffalo Center, Iowa, people would ask me how old she was and I answered 100, then 101, 102,103,104 and so on and so forth.
We got used to the fact she might live forever, no matter how impractical that seemed, but every year she pushed the envelope until it finally came to an end.
Even one of my cousins refused to believe she died of old age. She blamed it on a virus grandma contracted.
With her competitive nature, she probably would have been a little miffed at not becoming the oldest person in the state, but third place in Iowa is very respectable, I am told.
Her obituary story ran in the Estherville (Iowa) Daily News. The reporter had done some extra research that determined she was the 49th oldest person in the world. With the world population just under 6.8 billion people last week, that’s a very respectable finish.
She started to get regular publicity on her 100th birthday in the weekly Buffalo Center Tribune. Front page stuff with her picture in color and all. The big hit was when she took her first motorcycle ride on her 105th birthday. A local boy with a sidecar on his bike gave her a ride around the neighborhood.
She enjoyed the recognition and on her 110th birthday in 2008, she made the Mason City (Iowa) Globe Gazette in a story based on the fact she voted in the first election in which women were allowed to go to the polls.
She was born in Illinois, lived all over Iowa and for a time, she said, her family moved out west to Oregon. “We moved around a lot,” she told me.
She was married on New Year’s Eve, 1917 in the midst of World War I. She and my grandfather moved to Elmore, Minn., in 1932 where she raised four children. It was also the hometown of former Vice-President Walter “Fritz” Mondale, who went to high school with an uncle of mine. Ruth was always very proud to mention she knew him personally.
And he remembered her. On an occasion when the vice-president returned to Elmore for a special ceremony honoring him, he got out of a car he was riding in during a parade, went over to the crowd lining the street and hugged my grandmother. That was a very special moment for her.
Her memorial ceremony was held in a funeral home on the main street of Swea City, Iowa, one of the little dusty crossroad towns with a large elevator by the railroad tracks, a couple of cafes, a food store and a bank. The town may seem to an outsider as one step away from extinction on a quiet Monday afternoon. But, the wealth is in the country side all around where acres and acres, indeed square miles, of corn and soy beans grow in some of the richest farmland in America along the Iowa-Minnesota border.
Under a locust tree alongside her husband who died 40 years ago she was laid to rest in a cemetery a mile north of town in the middle of the rich farmland on a sunny, cool early November afternoon. There were 15 mourners, 14 of them relatives.
In close proximity were the graves of my great-grandparents, a great uncle and great aunt and an uncle I never knew, her second son who only lived from 1927-1932.
It was all and all a very nice ceremony for a very senior citizen.
You lived a long and good life, grandma, and it was fascinating to know you.