By MYRON LOVE
With her 100th birthday approaching, Ruth Gutkin was resigned to a low key affair due to the Covid situation. However, her younger son, Donald, had other ideas – such that the Shaftesbury Retirement Home resident was more than pleasantly surprised by what actually transpired.
The celebration became in Friday, October 9, the day before her actual birthday with a shout out from CTV’s Morning Show.
Then, looking out from her third floor balcony that morning, she saw below the Shaftesbury management in costume with flowers and streamers and a “happy birthday” sign who commenced to sing the birthday song for her.
Following that, as is traditional at the Shaftesbury, she was given a birthday tea party in the hallway – with the grand piano moved in to the hall for the occasion. “It was beautiful,” she says. “It was outstanding. The Shaftesbury staff outdid themselves.”
On her birthday itself, she was greeted by staff in 1950s and ‘60s attire who sat her in a special chair downstairs surrounded by balloons. Two large tables were set up – one with a huge birthday cake and the other with cards and well wishes from The Queen, the PMO, the Premier, the Mayor and other well wishers.
The celebrations ended with a private dinner for the honoree with her two sons, Terry and Donald and their wives, Carole and Belva, in the multipurpose room and an opportunity to connect with her four grandchildren and six great grandchildren via Zoom.
Of her sons, she says proudly that they helped her realize every Jewish mother’s dream. Terry is a lawyer and Donald a dentist.
At 100 years young – and despite having had a hip replaced about a year ago (when she was the oldest Manitoban to ever undergo that surgery) – Ruth Gutkin still looks 25 to 30 years younger than her chronological age – and her mind is little dimmed by age. The former Ruth Moscovitch was born into a family of eight on Argyle Street. She grew up on Boyd and Anderson in the north end and attended Machray School and St. John’s.
Her earliest memory, she says, was having her tonsils out when she was 6.
Her father, Benjamin, had a candy wholesale on Pacific Avenue, she recalls. “He would take some of us kids out on Saturday when he did his rounds,” she recounts. “WE would go to the grocery stores where he would take the orders. Then, we would go to the manufacturers to pick up the candies and, after we kids helped him sort and fill the order, we would deliver them to the stores.
“It was a real treat helping our dad.”
After Grade 11, the young Ruth set about looking for work. “It was the Depression,” she remembers. “You couldn’t get a job for love or money. I pounded the pavement trying to find work as a sales girl. I finally got a job part time at the Belgian Glove and Hosiery store on Portage near Edmonton. I got paid 25 cents an hour.
“We were worked to the bone. We couldn’t sit for a minute.”
Ruth met her husband-to-be, Jack, in 1940, shortly before he enlisted. Fortunately, he came home from the war early due to a medical discharge. The couple married in 1943.
For their honeymoon, they took the train to Kenora. “Jack had been a salesman before the war and Kenora was part of his territory,” Ruth recounts. “We got off the train. I was farputzed (dressed up) and wearing high heels. Jack said the hotel was just a short walk away. It wasn’t so close.”
She also recalls that the newlyweds visited one of the islands. On their way back, the canoe that they were paddling began to take on water.
“We weren’t wearing life jackets,” she says. “While we made it back to shore, I could see the headlines – Honeymooners Drown in Kenora.”
Back in Winnipeg, the young couple moved into a third floor walkup on Burrows and Salter. And while jack went to work for the late Harry Silverberg, Ruth set about raising a family, looking after the home – or rather, homes, as the Gutkins moved several times from Scotia to River Heights and back to West Kildonan – and throwing herself into volunteer work. Over the years, Ruth Gutkin was involved in Bnai Brith – where she was a chapter president, National Council of Jewish Women, Ort and the Rosh Pina Synagogue – and she and Jack co-chaired an Israel Bonds campaign.
Her real passion, she says, was cooking and baking – as well as decorating and entertaining. “I would get up early in the morning with Jack every morning and start baking,” she recalls.
Jack, she adds, made sure that the family went away for yearly vacations and, after he retired, they began spending winters in the southwest and seeing the world. “We had a wonderful time,” she says. “We went on cruises. We went to Hawaii and Florida, to Europe and Israel (many times).”
After Jack’s passing 16 years ago, Ruth continued to travel – including a tour to China when she was 87.
She moved into the Shaftesbury just four years ago after living at the Tuxedo Estates for 40 years.
Ruth credits her longevity to a lifetime of being physically active. As a teen, she says, she skated, swam, played baseball and tennis. “I have always worked out,” she says. “I joined the Rady centre right after it opened. I swam, took aquacize classes and did Zumba.”
“I never expected to live to 90, never mind 100. I guess the Almighty hasn’t decided that it’s my time yet.”