A life spanned over three centuries

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ruth Jensen Hamilton's roots remained in Alta throughout a glorious 109-year-life

Ruth Jensen Hamilton's life has expanded through three centuries. She has experienced the world of invention and of Depression, space travel and computers. At the age of 108, the 1916 Alta High School graduate, who now resides in Florida, still finds life rewarding.

"I'm living proof that it pays to get old," she commented after a huge birthday bash when she reached the century mark. "I've never had so much fun in my life. You don't think anything like this will ever happen to you. I remember my mother watching me when I was young and so active and asking, 'what is ever going to become of Ruth?'"

And oh, where to begin?

She has traveled across the world and has taken part in adventures fit for the cinema screen. But Alta is where her heart has and will always remain. In fact, she has told Red and Margie Hoferman whom she has become great friends with, that she lays in bed at night and rather than counting sheep, she travels up and down the Main Street she grew up with and in her mind names each business. The nightly trip back to Alta is comforting and puts her right to sleep.

Ruth is the daughter of Peter and Hulda Jensen. She and her parents and brother Lloyd, a year older than herself, lived on Main Street. Peter was a wagon maker and in later years in Alta, constructed wooden tanks and hog feeders.

She typed her story - 480 pages, in fact - to memorialize her years. Two copies of the "book" were made - one is located in the Iowa Women's Archives and one is located at the Alta Public Library. It is a phenomenal piece of work and serves as a wonderful history book.

Her brother also gained fame as a microbiologist and received the Pasteur Award in 1954 where he was among Noble Prize winners at the presentation made in Chicago.

Ruth was one of the eight members of the last class to graduate from the high school located in the white wooden structure south of the existing high school building. She was also the captain of the high school girls basketball team. With no gym, games were played outside in the fall. "How we hated Aurelia," she commented. And the rivalry continues!

Ruth has always loved learning and sharing that love for learning as a school teacher (to this day, there are several former students that keep in contact with her.)

She graduated from Iowa State Teachers College - now the University of Northern Iowa. The course was whizzed through in only a few months to fill the many teaching positions.

"I can truthfully say that never in my teaching years did I wait for Friday's or dislike Mondays," she commented.

She met Carter Hamilton in 1920, a medical student at the University of Iowa and a pitcher for the semi-pro Sunshine team.

When he was scouted to become a part of the Cleveland Indians, he asked Ruth to marry him, though back in those years, marriage and teachers were not connected. Besides, she pointed out, the $110 a month salary was too good to give up.

The two lovebirds had a whim and flew off to Des Moines to get married in April of '21, skipping a day of school to do so. Just like nothing had happened, she returned the next day with her lovely $15 band on a chain around her neck.

She commented that the children became "suspicious" as she touched the ring to remind her of her new husband who was away.

She later confessed to the school board president what she had done. After discussing the matter with the other members, it was decided to delete the "must be single" clause from her contract and gave her $25 a month raise to boot.

"We can't afford to lose a good and dedicated teacher like you," he told her.

With the game of baseball only 50 years ago, her husband went on to help the Indians win the pennant and then the championship.

Carter's medical career took precedence and he became a country doctor, making calls at any hour of the night. She recalled one exciting day in the life of the country doctor when she tagged along to check out a gangster murder in the Davenport area.

"A Capone murder in our always dull area, was something never to be forgotten," she commented.

Amidst the Depression years, the couple moved on to Boston where Carter became a part of the then new radiology department at Brigham Hospital.

Ruth wanted to help out with the household income and landed a job at a seafood restaurant that was owned by Rose Kennedy's brother. The place was a buzz when the Kennedy's came in for supper, all the children quite young. She also recalls being a bit "snobby" to the family as they completed their meal.

She missed teaching and enrolled in the Miller Teaching System which were vocabulary classes. The classes led her to become a radio broadcaster and well-known lecturer. She eventually traveled to Hollywood where she taught starlets - including Bette Davis - the rights and wrongs of speaking.

"All I knew about that state were movies, horse racing and oranges," she said.

The couple adopted a son, whom was named Peter, in 1934. Not long after, she decided to travel to Europe to learn more about her parents' home countries of Denmark and Sweden.

It was during the years when Hitler's power was rising. Little was known about the man in America but while in Europe, she learned about him.

She asked about Hitler on the train (through Germany). The streets were filled with truck-loaded young soldiers and she was warned often, "Be careful. There are spies everywhere."

She stopped with a group at Hitler's Chancellery in Berlin and she couldn't help but wonder if she would get out alive.

"I was amongst the crowd watching Hitler's car and saw everyone chanting, 'Heil Hitler.' I saw a huge, fat man in a fancy military uniform bedecked with medals and ribbons. Also, I saw his double and triple chins hanging over his stiff military collar - a monster so ugly. Women were adoring him. I saw one woman fainting because she was so excited to see her hero."

Ruth became involved in the League of Women Voters. In 1928 she cast her first vote for President Hoover. Politics was with her forever after that.

In 1940, living in New Hampshire, she was the first woman to be elected to the House of Representatives. She was 66.

"There I was on the ballot with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. What a beautiful ballot!"

She has lived in the nursing home for a few years and is in great health. She doesn't much care for the atmosphere.

"There are too many old people here," she told the Hofermans.

Oh, Ruth, you just continue to stay young at heart!

Carter died many years ago and their son Peter died last year (2005). Ruth has made it clear when she does pass on, she wants to be laid to rest in the Scandinavian Cemetery near Alta, where her parents are. But that won't be for a while yet.

Still keeping her humor she commented, "I recently sent a fax to St. Peter to ask when I might be called. He waited a couple days before faxing me back. When he finally replied he said he had no space, that I'd have to wait a couple more years. So I'm here for awhile longer."

What a life she has led and she is convinced she is not finished yet.

"I've got more adventures ahead of me. I believe everyday is an adventure, an opportunity to do something positive."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: