The voicemail message is warmly familiar: Ruth hopes you’re doing well, she reminds you to keep smiling, then she launches into a rousing rendition of "Tomorrow" from Annie. If you’re friends with Ruth, you probably got a similar call just a few days ago. And if you live or work at Shillman House, you’re probably friends with Ruth.
“You just have to smile when you think about her,” says Shillman House Group Services Coordinator Lauren Kutz. Like so many other Shillman House staff and residents, she gets a call from Ruth every few days, just to check in. Ever since the stay-at-home advisory, Ruth has made it her mission to spread her positive attitude as far and wide as possible. A sign in her window reads, “If you want to change the world, stay home and love your family.” She makes a point to bring fruit to essential workers on campus. “If I’ve got a banana, why not?” Ruth says. “Everyone needs potassium.”
Ruth does not look, sound, or act 92. Her grandkids think she’s lying about her birth year. She does plank and bridge exercises every day. She says her secret is to smile and “take one day at a time.” She insists that, “You’ve gotta have the attitude of, 'How can I make one other person in my life happy?"
“I love to sing,” Ruth says, “even though I don’t have a great voice.” She’s being modest; a neighbor once heard her singing and asked Ruth to perform outside her window. When she met 2Life’s Geriatric Fitness & Wellness Specialist Danielle Hoover, she wrote a song on the spot called "To My Life, and 2Life." She’s kept performing for her neighbors and 2Life staff, outside windows and over the phone, as long as she thinks it will make someone smile.
“I want everyone to wake up and see who’s around them and know, ‘You’re not alone,’” Ruth says. And it seems to be working. Ask anyone who knows her, and you’ll hear a chorus of, “She makes my day,” and, “She’s a reason to smile.” “She reminds us that when things are hard, there is always hope,” says Lauren. Ruth said it best herself:
“We don’t need negativity. Give me the positivity right away!”