Alice Ruter, one of the State of Iowa’s oldest citizens, died peacefully on December 27, 2017 at the age of 106, 8 months, and 18 days. A native of Wellsburg, she was under hospice care in the Long Term Care Unit of Grundy County Memorial Hospital, with family members at her bedside.
Visitation will held at the Wellsburg Reformed Church at 1 p.m. on Sunday, December 31. At the 2 p.m. funeral service, The Rev. Mark Andersen will officiate; Troyce Fisher will read Alice’s favorite poem; Allan Ruter will deliver the eulogy; and Douglas Lindaman will offer family gratitude. Burial will be in the Wellsburg Reformed Church cemetery.
Alice was born on April 9, 1911, the eleventh child of Eike and Trientje Luppen Ruter, on their farm east and south of Wellsburg. She was educated first at Shiloh #6 country school, then at Wellsburg High School, where she was graduated in the Class of 1930. She promptly enrolled for a twelve-week teaching certification program at Ellsworth College in Iowa Falls.
Back in Grundy County, Alice taught at six different rural schools including Colfax #4, German Center, Palermo #4, Pine Creek, Shiloh #3, and Shiloh #4. She recalled earning $45 a month as her starting salary, and her responsibilities included cleaning the premises daily and keeping the wood stove burning for heat—besides, of course, actual teaching. Her instinctive frugality enabled her to save funds for a 1700-mile summer roadtrip with her youngest sister, Hilda, and two other friends to the 1939 World’s Fair in San Francisco.
She eventually renewed her certificate at Iowa State Teacher’s College, now the University of Northern Iowa, but left her career in 1946, just after World War 2 had ended. Returning to her family’s farm as “domestic engineer,” as she termed it, she and her brother Eike first cared for their parents and then beloved Aunt Hilke (Helen) Ruter for 15 years while farming there until 1979, when Alice and Eike moved to Wellsburg.
After Eike’s death in 1984, Alice remained active in her home until 2013, when she moved to the Grand JiVante nursing home in Ackley shortly after her first-ever overnight stay in a hospital, at age 102. In 2015 she transferred to assisted living at Arlington Place in Grundy Center, and then entered the Long Term Care Unit at Grundy County Memorial Hospital late in August, 2017.
On April 13, 1941, Alice made confession of her faith at the Wellsburg Reformed Church, where she taught Sunday School for 32 years and was a longtime member of the Guild for Christian Service. For the enormous extended clan of Eike and Trientje Ruter, she served as unelected CEO, coordinating and presiding over her family’s Christmas night gatherings which began in 1936 and have continued each year since. On Christmas night of 2017, nieces, nephews, in-laws, and friends gathered in her room to sing carols.
While church and family centered her public life, her home revealed her robust private life—stamp and coin collections, crossword and Sudoku puzzle books always on the kitchen table, and 444 vases from across the world prominently displayed in a living room cabinet. She also worked ceaselessly as a scrapbooker of many topics—including one that, improbably, featured the published stories and images of famous people who, somehow, looked like or otherwise reminded her of folks she knew back home.
Like most of her family, Alice was a lover of words. Always curious and candid, she treasured lively conversations and knew whom to trust for them. She cherished cards and letters received, and responded faithfully, typically with a turn of phrase to capture the time of year, the weather, or her mood. Over the years at her family’s Christmas parties, she coined the phrase “just-a-gift” to denote side gifts given not because a name had been drawn but, instead, out of personal preference. When explaining her morning cosmetic ritual to a hospice social worker, she snickered, “A little powder and a little paint make you look like what you ain’t!” Her room at Arlington Place featured numerous quotations, prayers, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “A Psalm of Life.” And, of course, there was her favorite saying which she framed and wrote and repeated tirelessly: “Keep looking up!”
In her later years, Alice realized and relished the rewards of longevity. In 2005, she was named Grand Marshall of the Wellsburg Daze Parade. At a 2013 special ceremony and dinner in Ames, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad commended her as a centenarian. Shortly thereafter, she reflected on two enduring memories from her youth: spotting an airplane flying in the skies above her farm home for the first time, and seeing a zeppelin.
In June of 2016 she met her Grundy County birthday twin, Elsie Kopel of Reinbeck, after they had discovered each other in the birthdays section of The Waterloo Courier. Weeks later, The Courier published a big front-page feature on Alice and Elsie that left just a single column for what was, apparently, deemed the lesser news of the day—the first woman nominated as American presidential candidate by a major political party. Most recently, at her 106th birthday celebration last spring, she posed jauntily in front of a nephew’s Harley Davidson motorcycle.
Alice was the last surviving grandchild of Hemme Ruter (1832-1914), who arrived in the 1860s among the first wave of Ostfriesen immigrants to Grundy County and, by 1894, established his family’s homestead through a deed conveyed by George Wells, the founder of Wellsburg. The descendants of Hemme and Gepka Droste Ruter, his wife, and their ten children have subsequently spread throughout the Midwest and beyond.
Besides her parents, Alice was preceded in death by her siblings and their spouses, in family birth order: Herman (Etta Stoehr); Fred (Anna Terfehn); Peter (Fannie Murra); Lena (Mrs. Johannes) Heinrich; Gepka; Jessie (Mrs. Ebe) Finke; Gertie (Mrs. Henry) Riekens; Grace (Mrs. John) Meyer; Emma (Mrs. Roy) de Neui; Eike; John (Hattie Naber); Edith (Mrs. George) Beck; and Hilda (Mrs. Delbert) Lindaman. Of her thirteen brothers and sisters, one died in infancy and one other before the age of 70; three in their 70s, four in their 80s, and three in their 90s. In 2015 Alice’s sole remaining sibling, Emma, died also at 106.
Without children of her own, Alice remained a devoted and attentive aunt and great-aunt until her very end. Preceding her in death were nephews Elmer Ruter, Eugene Ruter, and Leland Heinrich; nephews-in-law Irwin Abels, Kerwin Strasser, and C. Robert White; and niece-in-law Irene (Knock) Ruter.
Left to remember her are these nephews, nieces, and nieces-in-law and their descendants, totaling more than 106: Andeline (Mrs. Irwin) Abels, of Grundy Center; Thelma (Mrs. Eugene) Ruter, of Wellsburg; Phyllis (Mrs. C. Robert) White, of Cedar Rapids; Erma (Mrs. Duane) Meyer, of Marshalltown; Bernice (Mrs. Leland) Heinrich, of Wellsburg; Rhoda (Mrs. Kerwin) Strasser, of Lennox, South Dakota; Robert (Phyllis) Beck, of Cummings; Gerald (Jeanie) Meyer, of Aplington; Colleen (Mrs. Dennis) Lynch, of Fort Dodge; Troyce Fisher (Deb Groath), of Clear Lake; Nadene (Mrs. Ken) Van Hauen, of rural Grundy Center; Douglas (Rosie) Lindaman, of Ackley; and Curtis Beck (Linda Main), of Des Moines.
Memorial gifts may be given to the Wellsburg Reformed Church, Cedar Valley Hospice, or Arlington Place.