Two days from now, Lord willing, Ruth Hubbard Snell will notch her 105th birthday.
The Wilson County native, who resides at Hearthside Assisted Living in Lebanon, loves plants and cats and has no regrets of giving up her driver’s license just before she turned 100.
Of hitting the century mark, which she did in 2013, Ruth says, “There’s good points, and there’s bad points. I can’t get around like I used to. I was taking a stroll around the hallway earlier, and a woman asked me, ‘You taking a walk this morning?’ And I said, ‘No, I can’t walk. All I can do is stroll.’
“My health is pretty good for my age. I have a hard time standing up. I can use that walker, but this wheelchair is my transportation. I fell and broke a leg. That’s what put me here.”
To put her timeline in perspective, it’s mindboggling to realize that she came into this world 376 days after the sinking of the Titanic and two years before Babe Ruth hit his first Major League home run. Beginning with Woodrow Wilson, she has lived through the administrations of 18 American presidents.
In 1942, at the age of 29, she knocked off the No. 1 item atop her bucket list.
“All my adult life, I dreamed about San Francisco. As soon as I got old enough to do my own thinking, I went,” the centenarian said about the city she believes to be the most interesting of all.
She made her grand debut as Frances Ruth Hubbard in the tiny community of Gladeville.
“I was born on a Monday morning, April 21, 1913,” said the firstborn child of Joe and Julia Hester Hubbard. “The doctors carried black bags, and at the time, all the children thought the babies were brought in that little black bag.”
As for one of her earliest memories, she recollected, “My brother and I had these pet pigs that ran over us all the time. They were a little bigger than we were.
“Our father had a good farm and raised all the vegetables we could eat and grew feed for the mules, cows, chickens and pigs. It seemed like a hard life, but I think it was better than getting out there and working for the public. You can at least do it the way you want to.”
Just before her seventh birthday, Ruth’s mother died “from one of those empty-gun accidents.” An aunt and uncle took her youngest sister, Alice, to raise, while Ruth, her father and siblings Joe Jr. and Elizabeth moved in with an aunt who lived in Murfreesboro.
A year later they came back to Gladeville, and their Aunt Cindy came to help care for them. Aunt Cindy also taught at Gladeville School, so Ruth and her siblings rode with her to the schoolhouse in a buggy pulled by a mare.
In 1924, the Hubbard clan took the train to Texas, where Mr. Hubbard worked on a ranch, and the children attended a country school called Dog Neck. They returned to Tennessee in 1926, and Ruth completed her first 10 grades at Gladeville School. The family then moved to Lebanon, and Ruth graduated from Lebanon High School in 1931.
With the Great Depression kicking in, she got a job with DuPont in Old Hickory making 24 cents an hour.
“At that time that was good money. We were working with rayon thread pulling it on spindles. They called it reeling. Of course, it was monotonous,” she said, noting that she rented a room in the Rayon City Hotel and for the first time in her life enjoyed the luxuries of hot and cold running water and indoor plumbing.
It was in Old Hickory that she made the acquaintance of Leonard Snell, who was 10 years her senior.
“I liked him, but he drank, and he gambled, and he was a ladies’ man, and I was an ignorant country girl. I was afraid of him, you might say,” Ruth said.
In 1942, Ruth traveled to Chicago where she lived for several months with an aunt and worked as a waitress, saving her money. Then she took the Super Chief to the big city of her dreams. There she, her cousin and a friend bought a restaurant, the Home Café, two blocks away from Golden Gate Park.
“Have you ever been to San Francisco?” she asked.
“It’s very hilly. Just like this,” said Ruth, as she held her hand up in the air at a 45-degree angle. “Most of the streets had sidewalks with steps.”
In the meantime, Leonard Snell, whom she had not seen in five or six years, reentered her life.
“He was working in Guam. He ran into one of my friends and asked where he could get in touch with me, and she gave him the address,” said Ruth. “We corresponded for about a year. When he came back to the United States, we got married.
“I wasn’t thinking about marrying him because he drank, and he liked the women, and he liked too many things I didn’t like. He said, ‘I’m gonna quit.’ I said, ‘Well, how do I know you will?’ He said, ‘I’m telling you,’ and he proved to me he would do it.”
They tied the knot Oct. 4, 1948, in Reno, Nevada, and Leonard returned to Guam. It took Ruth several months before she also found employment in Guam, but she had to tell a lie, saying that she was not married to get there. Keeping their marriage a secret, they swapped vows a second time Nov. 10, 1949, in Guam.
When the couple returned to the U.S., they bought a Chevy and drove cross country back to Tennessee, living in Murfreesboro a few months before heading down to Florida, where they eventually settled in Orlando.
“We built a home there, and Leonard built a shop. He was a woodworker and made furniture,” said Ruth, as she pointed to a small teakwood desk and a table in her room that holds her computer and keyboard. Both were crafted by Leonard.
The couple made numerous trips back to Tennessee and also took vacations across the U.S. in an RV. At the age of 60, Ruth decided it was time to get her driver’s license.
“I wanted to drive a car,” she said. “I don’t know many women who drive a car well as her husband thinks she should. I was driving one time and hit a curb. Leonard said, ‘Didn’t you see that curb?’ I told him, ‘Well, how do you think I hit it if I didn’t see it?’
“I quit driving when I was 99. I thought to myself, ‘I’ve got no business being on the road,’ so I sent my license in.”
In the Sunshine State, Ruth worked at landscape nursery. “I loved it better than any work I ever did. I love plants,” she said.
She points to a small, thriving white flower in her room, an orchid, and noted that she kept an orchid growing in her home for 20 years.
On Nov. 1, 1991, Leonard gave up the ghost after suffering from breathing difficulties and congestive heart failure. Ruth moved to Lebanon in August 1992 and lived in her own house, next door to her nephew, Terry Hubbard.
On her 100th birthday, she rode with Hubbard on the back of his Harley-Davidson motorcycle to her party, which was held at the Wilson County Fairgrounds.
“It was nothing I had ever done before and never intend to do again,” she confessed. “I felt like a frog on a lily pad surrounded by snakes, alligators, big blue herons and turtles. On a motorcycle, people pass too close to you.”
Hubbard described his aunt’s personality, saying, “She’s very interesting because she’s done a lot of things and been a lot of places. She’s very knowledgeable, very delightful, kind and caring. She’s always been full of joy. She’s eccentric and has had a good, full life.”
Ruth moved to Hearthside about four years ago. Previously, she had been a member of the Hickory Ridge Church of Christ. Over her lifetime, she taught Bible classes for 40 years, from children’s classes to ladies’ Bible classes.
She keeps her Bible nearby on the table beside her computer, which she has not used since a storm knocked it out of commission. She does use a cell phone and continues to crochet as she has knitted caps, which she gives away, for years. She also enjoys working crossword puzzles and playing bingo.
As for television, she said, “I have to watch it. I can’t hear it. Fox News Channel is my favorite.”
Reflecting on nearly 105 years of living, that’s exactly 38,325 days come Saturday, Ruth says, “I would love to go back and do it all over again, and there wouldn’t be a lot of changes. It would be nice to fix the mistakes. The sickness I could do without, but most of my life I was happy. I’ve had a good life. I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything.”