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Good to Know: Centenarian puts down roots with love

Master gardener Ruthie Squire, 101, began potting plants

Master gardener Ruthie Squire, 101, began potting plants when she learned no one would be offering them at the annual church bazaar. Over the years, Ruthie has honed her skills as a gardener and created a living legacy in her own yard and in those of family and friends. Credit: TNS/Lauren Ritchie

This story of love started 101 years ago. That’s when Ruthie Squire was born.

It is the love of one creation of God for other living things, specifically green things.

“It was inborn in me,” said Ruthie, a master gardener emeritus who lives in the Eustis, Florida, home she and her husband built nearly 70 years ago, surrounded by the plants she rooted and tended. “It just bloomed from my family — they loved it and so did I.”

And so over the years, Ruthie honed her skills as a gardener and created a living legacy in her own yard and in those of family and friends.

As she aged and her health became more fragile, all that rooting and stooping and toting slowed and finally stopped at 96. Ruthie — she prefers that over Ruth because it’s “a little closer, a little more loving” to her ear — became another of Lake County’s typical seniors.

“For five years, I was someone who sat and looked at television and looked outside and went to church every Sunday,” she said.

Then came the unthinkable. Her church, St. Thomas Episcopal in Eustis, was planning its annual fall bazaar for charities when Ruthie learned that no one would be selling plants this year.

“I just lost it. How in the world can they not have a flower booth? We’ve had it all these years,” she said. “I actually got mad. I’m going to do it.”

Clear the decks! When Ruthie decides to do something, it’s going to get done.

So since the Fourth of July, Ruthie’s oldest son Bobby Sams, along with her caretaker, have been helping her root cuttings of plants in oasis or soil, water them and coax them into health and beauty.

Of course, Ruthie can’t stand for hours to work on this project, so she sits in her chair in her garage in front of a table where everything is assembled, mosquito spray at the ready.

She had potted about 150 plants by the fall since she decided television was a bore and her church needed her.

“It’s hard to keep up with the present. You don’t read as much, you don’t understand what they’re saying on the television.

“Things get lost, and things get lost very fast. Pretty soon, you think, ‘I’m losing it, and I don’t want to.’ You’re losing your friends. You don’t have the stamina and body to do what you want to do.

“After you get over that frustration, then you’re OK.”

Then, you can begin potting with a purpose.

Ruthie’s life has always involved putting down roots, and the biggest taproot of all has been her life in the church, as a girl in the 1920s growing up in Clemson, South Carolina, as a student at Winthrop College, now Winthrop University, and as a young wife in September 1942.

Ruthie was expecting her son Bobby, now 76, when her first husband, Robert Sams, a pilot, was shot down over New Guinea just three months from their wedding.

After his death, she moved back to her parents with her baby. Several years later, she met another serviceman when he came to go to the movies with Ruthie’s former roommate and the roommate’s boyfriend. The second time, the trio coaxed Ruthie to go to the pictures with them, and the relationship bloomed from there. He wrote from the war on the European front, and the couple married when the war ended.

They settled in Leesburg, where her husband, Edward Squire, was involved in marketing citrus. They had a son, also Edward, and in 1950 built the home where Ruthie still lives. The same year, she joined the Camellia Garden Club of Eustis, where she remains a member today.

As Ruthie was finishing up her potting in fall, she was a sight to behold in her garage. She had perfectly curled and coiffed hair, a natural blush to her cheeks, swirly silver earrings, a carefully ironed sky-blue top that matched her eyes and a smile showing from her lips brushed with just a hint of pink lipstick.

She pointed out the colorful plants she’d been creating.

“This one here, it’s called devil’s backbone. That’s a good thing to take to the church,” she said mischievously. “And that one — it’s small crotons. It’s the first one I ever made.”

After last year's fall bazaar, Ruthie plans to start early this year to get a fresh batch potted. She’s not going to get caught on the Fourth of July again — just after her 102nd birthday — with only a few months to get it all done.

“When I started this, I thought I had all the time in world,” Ruthie said wistfully, acknowledging that she was wrong. “It’s not work when you like it. I couldn’t wait to get out here the other day. And can you believe it? I was a sitter. I sat. I read.”

For more stories about retirement, visit newsday.com/Act2.

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