'It’s been a good life'

Ruth Downing celebrates her 100th birthday


When I first walked into Ruth Downing’s house, one of the first things that she said to me was that she did not know why a story was being written about her.

She celebrated her 100th birthday on May 7, but there had been many people in Seward who that had celebrated that milestone recently.

While that was partially true, the decision to write about her was more because of the life she has lived so far. 

From remembering when her house got electricity at 12 years old, to working through World War II and being there to enjoy life with her four daughters, 10 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren, Downing has seen it all. 

On May 26, Downing had a birthday party in Bee with all of the members of her family.

“When everybody came into the party on Sunday, I thought ‘how am I going to greet each person that comes in?” Downing said. “Each (member of my family) was carrying a carnation, and they came up individually, and greeted me and had something to say about what they remembered doing with me, and it was wonderful.”

Bee holds a special place in Downing’s memory, though as she and her husband lived just west of there for the majority of their 62-year marriage. 

“We lived on a farm just west of Bee for 56 years and then in 2003 we bought a home in Seward and then he passed away in 2006,” Downing said.

Before they moved to their farm, she lived in Texas with her husband working for the Red Cross during World War II

“It was an interesting life, sometimes good and sometimes sad,” Downing said. 

Nebraska living was not new to her when she moved to a farm with her husband, as she was born in Goehner and grew up there with her family.

“In those days, you lived on a farm, of course my dad farmed with horses, but it’s so different now,” Downing said.

Later in life, Downing spent 20 years working for the Seward County Independent, and discussed how different it was back when she was there and when she was growing up.

“I remember when the paper was 10 cents a week, and we had little paper vendor things out on the street and in some of the stores where people could buy their paper,” Downing said. 

While she said it was an interesting job, the work is not what she misses. 

“I miss the people more than I miss the actual work, the people that come in and the people that you work with,” she said.

She noted that over time, the changes that she has experienced in her 100 years of life have astounded her. She said that the most important things she's seen change in her life are transportation, telephones, going to the moon and electricity. 

“It’s the electrical things that just amaze me because when I was a girl, we didn’t have electricity, we had kerosene lamps and no refrigeration,” Downing said. 

Despite all of the advancements she has seen in her life, one of the most significant parts of her life remains her family and friends.

“My mom has so many amazing friends who she cherishes deeply,” said Downing’s daughter, Susie Nuttelman. “Neighbors who love to visit with her and check in on her, friends who meet with her every Tuesday afternoon, friends who come over for supper every Saturday, friends at the Senior Center where she often goes for lunch, and so many friends throughout the community who love to stop by for a chat.”

Above all of that, though, her faith remains the most important to her according to her close friend, Juanita Hill. 

“Her faith is very important to her, and second in line would be her family,” Hill said.

Even after retiring and the passing of her husband, Downing manages to keep herself busy. One way she does so is by collecting cardinal decorations.

“I love cardinals, I just have cardinals all over,” she said. “I started collecting cardinals after my husband died and so I just keep adding.”

Even through all the places she’s been, the hardships she's faced, and the experiences she has had, she still looks forward to what is to come.

“It’s been a good life,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of things going on and I just wonder what the future holds for all of us. And time will tell.”