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Ruth Wells, mother-in-law of State Sen. LaValle

Ruth Wells, who worked in the war effort while her husband was a prisoner in Germany in World War II and later served as bookkeeper for his contracting business, has died at the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook. She was 98.

Wells died Aug. 19 after spending the last four years at the nursing home as her health declined.

“We used to call her Ruthie the Riveter because she used to tighten nuts on the planes,” recalled her daughter Penny Wells LaValle, Suffolk County’s director of Real Property. Later, when she chauffeured LaValle and her sister, Rosemary, to dance, jazz band and team practices in upstate Peekskill, “we called it Ruthie’s taxi.”

LaValle, who is married to State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), said her mother always was involved with her Catholic faith, loved to travel and always reached out to friends and others she encountered. “She was just so giving. Her arms were always outstretched for hugs and kisses. And she always had the gift of gab,” she said.

LaValle also recalled that her mother would take all the plants that nuns kept in classrooms at their parochial school and rehabilitate them over the summer.

“Dad would load up all the plants in his truck and she would keep them on the porch and bring them back because she had a green thumb,” LaValle said. She said her mother also helped out at an orphanage run by the sisters.

Born in the Bronx, Wells was one of two children in her family who attended public school. After high school, she met and married William R. Wells shortly before he went overseas in 1943 with the U.S. Army. He was wounded and recaptured several times, when he tried to escape from prison camps.

When her husband returned from the war, Wells worked for a time as a telephone operator. But when they had children, she stayed home, helping her husband, a carpenter, by keeping books for his contracting business.

“Sometimes, she was bad cop to daddy’s good cop to make sure the money came in,” LaValle said. Her husband died at age 51 of a heart attack after two decades of marriage.

Wells loved to travel, taking her two daughters on a cross-country car trip while they were still youngsters. She later traveled frequently to Mexico with a suitcase loaded with goods from home, visiting her daughter Rosemary, who lived there for 17 years. “Nothing stopped her; she was a brave little soul,” LaValle said.

After her husband died, LaValle said she moved to upstate Fishkill, where she continued to live a “hardy life” on her own until she was 88, keeping her pets and her gardens in her mobile home. With her two cats in tow, Wells later moved into her daughter and son-in law’s Port Jefferson home in 2008.

Survivors include LaValle, her sister Rosemary Tejada of San Mateo, Calif; one grandson, three step-grandsons and one step-granddaughter.

While Wells was cremated earlier, a service will be held Saturday at Bryant Funeral Home in Setauket from 3 to 5 p.m. In lieu of flowers, contributions can also be made to BestFriends.org, a pet rescue organization.

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