My grandfather’s youngest sister, my great-aunt Ruth, passed away in Des Plaines, Illinois, on 6 January 2019. The following is the obituary that ran in the local newspapers.
Ruth Ufkes was born on a farm east of Basco, Illinois, on August 7, 1931, the daughter of Fred and Tena (Janssen) Ufkes. She graduated from Carthage High School, Carthage College, and received her master’s degree in organ performance from Northwestern University. She was a strong believer in education for women.
Ruth was a music teacher in public schools in the Chicago area from the 1960s until her retirement in the 1980s. She was also a church organist and choir director for her church and was a member of Trinity Lutheran Church in Des Plaines. Music was an integral part of Ruth’s life, but she also enjoyed gardening and cooking—including her raspberry bread. She loved to share her health-conscious recipes and her colorful life experiences with her nieces and nephews. A long-time fitness advocate and attendee at her local aerobics center, she spent her lunch hours at work walking instead of “wasting time in the teacher’s lounge.”
After a visit with Aunt Ruth, one of her young nieces said in a fitting tribute “when I get that age, I want to be just like Aunt Ruth.”
Ruth was preceded in death by her parents; brothers, John, Alvin, LeRoy, and Herb; and two nieces, Connie Neill and Nancy Ufkes. She is survived by nieces and nephews, the families of her deceased brothers, who all will miss their beloved and one-of-a-kind Aunt Ruth.
Sometimes it’s difficult to capture someone in an obituary. But I tried.
In all my fifty years, I’ve never “given a speech” at a funeral. I made an exception for Aunt Ruth. My remarks are not necessarily grammatically correct and what follows are my unedited “speaking notes:”
Those shoes. For years whenever Aunt Ruth came to visit she would wear a pair of sandals that had small tiles all over them. They always seemed rather exotic, but probably were not. She obviously loved them, but for years I was convinced it was the only pair of shoes that she had.
Aunt Ruth taught her mother to drive when Great-grandma Ufkes was 65. I shake my head when I try and wrap my mind around how those driving lessons probably went.
One time when I called Aunt Ruth to thank her for a box of candy that she sent, she told me that she had purchased one for herself. She said “I only eat one a day.” I have a hard time taking Aunt Ruth’s advice. Her cookbook was full of recipes with little salt and her fondness for Paula Deen did not extend to her use of butter.
Aunt Ruth loved to tell stories. Some of them we had heard more than once. But I can still picture her telling a story on my parent’s couch and laughing in all the appropriate places.
Aunt Ruth once said that she didn’t go in the teacher’s lounge at work as it was best to avoid the conversations that often went on there. She’d walk the stairs for exercise instead. While I don’t have stairwells to walk in, avoiding the teacher’s lounge was really good advice.
My daughter Katie said that when she got old she wanted to be like Aunt Ruth. For the most part her father is okay with that. Aunt Ruth was independent, had her wits about her, and as we’d say “no one’s going to pull anything over on Aunt Ruth.”
That reminded me of something Aunt Ruth wrote in one of her books.
Aunt Ruth wrote that one of the things she loved most about owning her own home and no longer living in an apartment was that she could play and practice her piano as often and as loudly as she wanted.
Rest in Peace, Aunt Ruth. Now you can play your piano to your heart’s content.
Aunt Ruth was close to my mother–her oldest niece who was slightly ten years younger than her–and the phone call to her when my mother passed away nearly four years ago was one of the most difficult phone calls I ever had to make.