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Celebrating a century: Ruth Vander Wilt has 100th birthday party

Ruth Vander Wilt hasn't been one to dwell on her age – but now that she's turning 100, her family is making a pretty big deal about it.

"I never thought much about my age and how old I was getting," said Ruth, who has lived at Newton Presbyterian Manor for about 10 years.

In June, Ruth's family gathered for a big 100th birthday party in Newton – including a granddaughter and great-grandchildren who traveled all the way from New Zealand to celebrate with her. Her granddaughter Whitney Wallace anticipated they would have about 75 guests join the fun.

"I'm just thrilled that so many of my relatives and friends are remembering me with cards and visits," Ruth said.

Ruth Gertsma was born June 7, 1917, on her family's 80-acre farm in Jasper County, Iowa. She had one younger brother. She didn't have many farm chores because, she said, her parents very self-sufficient, but sometimes Ruth would get up to milk the cows because she wanted to. As a high school student, she drove a horse and buggy to school with two neighbor girls. It wasn't common for everyone to attend high school at that time, she said.

Although Ruth wanted to be a nurse, she took her father's advice and got a teaching degree, at Iowa State Teachers College. She taught in country schools until she married Orval Vander Wilt -- on June 7, 1939, Ruth's 22nd birthday. They didn't pick the date because it was her birthday, necessarily. "It seemed like a good time to get married in the summertime," she said.

Ruth and Orval raised five children, and she later went to work in school kitchens, baking cinnamon rolls, buns and homemade pizza. In 1980, the couple had officially retired, but they moved to Pella, Iowa, to help take care of residents at a nursing home. Ruth said they enjoyed a strong shared faith and their church was at the center of their lives.

Ruth and Orval lived in Iowa all of their married life – 51 years, until Orval died in 1990. Ruth moved to Hillsboro, Kansas, in 1993.

Ruth's granddaughter, Whitney Wallace, said she has always been a big letter writer and that she enjoyed receiving so many cards for her milestone birthday. Even if her grandmother never considered whether she would live to be 100, Whitney said, "we grandchildren always knew she would. She's a lively one."

Happy birthday and best wishes to Ruth!

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