Midge Ruff celebrated her 107th birthday in style.
Mildred A. Ruff lived it up for her 100th birthday — the Mayflower retirement community resident celebrated with about 50 friends and family members.
She never expected, though, the Mayflower to throw her a party with double that number for her 107th birthday.
“It’s all been just fabulous,” Ruff said. “I never thought or even dreamed of anything like this. Who would even dream of it?”
More than 100 Mayflower residents filled the Standish Center on June 22 to surprise Ruff with a birthday celebration complete with a coronation, piano music and a tenor opera singer to serenade the crowd.
A Life Well Lived
Ruff has a special status among the Mayflower residents. At 107, she is the oldest current resident of the community.
“It’s strange,” Ruff said. “All of a sudden, I’m the oldest person here. How did I get here?”
With that status comes prestige. While a great number of those Mayflower residents waited in line to congratulate Ruff and wish her a happy birthday, an equally large number approached her with a common question: What exactly does she do to stay in such good health at such a late age? She’s amused by the those seeking counsel but wishes she had a better answer.
“I don’t have a secret (to my age),” Ruff said. “If I did, I’d sell it.”
She drinks water and takes walks but doesn’t go out of her way to stay healthy. Ruff eats what she likes and said she likes to eat almost everything — beef, quail and pheasant, especially. To Ruff, her longevity is simply a matter of genes. Her mother lived to be 97, and her grandfather on her father’s side lived to be 95.
By all measures, Ruff has fit a lot of living into her 107 years in the world. She was born and raised in Princeton, Indiana — she says her first memory is spitting up grape juice onto her white dress in her parent’s bathroom when she was just 2 or 3 years old. She went to school at Georgetown for two years and married Leon Ruff, a department director for mines and minerals for a coal operators association, in 1936. They lived in Illinois for many years, excluding a two-year stint in New Orleans during World War Two, before moving to Florida to be closer to family in 1979. Ruff didn’t have kids herself but was one of six children and taught elementary school for two decades. Her husband died in 1989, marking a new chapter in her life.
“I had a friend call me, her name was Ruth,” Ruff said. “Her husband had just died. She said, ‘Midge, I think it’s time we traveled.’”
The pair kicked off a whirlwind tour with a Baltic cruise across Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Poland and other European countries. Ruff and Ruth managed two to three trips to various countries each year — from visiting a still-recovering Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union to treading on Antarctic glaciers — for a decade. Ruth died and Ruff joined the Mayflower community soon after, although she still wishes she had time for a trip to China.
Queen of Cards
The retired folks at the Mayflower use many terms to describe Ruff. Some say she’s tough as nails, some say she’s quick as a whip, and others say she’s sharp as can be.
There’s one description, though, that everyone agrees on — Ruff is a card shark.
“She’s 107, she’s sharp as a tack, and she knows every single card in everyone’s hand,” said her friend Sandy Gigliotti. “She’s amazing.”
In the 10-plus years Ruff has spent living at the Mayflower, she has cultivated a reputation as a merciless Bridge player. She’s had decades to hone her skills, too: Ruff began playing in high school and became truly committed to the game during the Great Depression.
“Our big entertainment was to play bridge — it didn’t cost any money,” Ruff said. “That was a horrible time — imagine going to the bank and not being able to get your money because they were just closed.”
She makes sure to play a few times each week and makes it a priority to stay engaged at the center. If retirement means you have the time to do anything, Ruff reasons she should do everything. Peggy Moore, Ruff’s niece who flew down from Colorado for her birthday, jokes Ruff has to pencil her into her busy schedule.
Beyond the cake, the sash and the celebration, Ruff’s friends had another gift for her. For her 105th birthday, Mayflower residents had come up with 105 different adjectives describing their friend. For her 107th, they were asked again to come with new terms.
By the end of the party, the community had a new word for Ruff — miraculous.
Ruff is an avid opera fan — she used to have season tickets — and the Mayflower community pulled out all the stops for the big day. John Stephen Murray, an opera tenor, serenaded Ruff with various love songs from various opera pieces.
(The songs) are uplifting; there’s a rise in compassion and overall happiness and love,” Murray said. “They’re geared toward being happy at the onsight of love. The feelings evoked by it are that of general happiness.”