A century of smiles
By Deb Silverthorn
Humor and love, that’s how you get to 100, says Ruth Heidenheimer, who reached that remarkable milestone Aug. 31. The still smiling, laughing, joyful and appreciative Ruth has lived well, lived proud and lived caring, spreading happiness to all she comes in contact with.
“Getting to 100 is just lucky,” said Ruth, a St. Louis native and now a resident at The Legacy Willow Bend. “Maybe it’s living good. Daddy used to give me a quarter from his scrap metal business,” she said. “‘Take care of everyone,’ he taught me. Maybe that’s the wisdom.”
Ruth is the daughter of Isaac and Sarah Deutsch, and the sister of Clara, Harriet, Thelma and her own twin who did not survive birth, all of blessed memory. She made Texas her home in 1952 when she moved to Houston to work in the radiology department at Methodist Hospital.
Two years after arriving in Houston, she was set up on a blind date with Winston Heidenheimer, who, in 1954, became her husband. They were married until his passing 54 years later. “He was always honorable, and such a bright man, who made his own delicious peach ice cream with peaches we’d pick,” Ruth says with a twinkle and a smile. “We were always respectful of each other.”
The couple had one son, Mark, who is an attorney in McKinney, now married to Kathy. Ruth is grandma to Kathy’s daughters Leslie Horn and Lori (Joey) Stewart and great-grandmother of Christopher Stewart and Nolan Horn.
“Mom has always lived with the most positive attitude, she is always thinking of others, she never complains and she is always happy,” said Mark. “Mom has always been good at whatever she does. Bridge, raising a family, being a friend, cooking, volunteering — whatever she’s done, she’s done it well. Mostly, she has a wonderful soul.”
Ruth and Winston spent their married life in Cisco, in West Texas. Winston ran the family’s local Heidenheimer’s Department Store until he retired in 1987. “Dad ran the store and Mom ran the house,” said Mark. Together, the couple enjoyed traveling, domestically and abroad.
Ruth, a cornerstone leader of the Cisco Civic League and organizer of the Cisco Folklife Festival, served on the boards and committees of Abilene’s Contemporary Arts Association, its Community Theatre, Opera Association, Philharmonic Guild and The Grace Museum.
Cisco had no synagogue and only a few Jewish families. The Heidenheimers would make the 100-mile round-trip trek to Abilene each month, and on the holidays to Temple Mizpah.
“Ruth and Winston were always charming and kind and good,” said Cherry Shiflet, a Temple Mizpah member and friend of almost 40 years, who looks forward to a post-pandemic celebration, in Ruth’s honor, in Abilene. “She’s always dresses immaculately, stunning and in a unique style suited right for her.”
Rabbi Murray Berger of Dallas used to make the trips to serve the congregation in Abilene, and sometimes stayed with the Heidenheimers, where he was welcomed with warmth.
“Ruth and Winston always enjoyed the services and were very involved in making the synagogue a special place,” said Rabbi Berger. His wife, Bobbie, remembers staying at the couple’s home over Yom Kippur, where Ruth was always generous and hospitable. “We used to read Torah Friday nights because there weren’t regular Saturday morning services and I recall her having her first-ever aliyah, as we read the Book of Ruth on Shavuot. Her pride and enthusiasm was exciting.”
Ruth celebrated her birthday with FaceTime, lots of cards, flowers and gifts, a video and a scrapbook.
Volunteers Susan Preston, Shelly Guyer, Mimi Kogut, Marilyn Schwartz and Nonie Schwartz have played mah jongg with Ruth for years, a regular two-hour date each Thursday that usually runs into dinner. The women, along with Guyer’s granddaughters Jessie and Samantha Gold, recorded blessings and memories of their friendship, which Preston’s son Hank Nelken produced into a video for Ruth to screen while FaceTiming with the ladies. The quintet also created a paper scrapbook with their messages and delivered it to her.
“Ruth, the ‘Joker Queen,’ tickles us all with her stories and we miss her and ‘our’ other ladies so much,” said Susan, a regular at The Legacy for more than 10 years. “She is witty and sharp and she has the best sense of humor. God willing, we’ll spend her 101st birthday together.”
On her birthday, Ruth had dinner with Mark and Kathy in her monthly visit to their home to connect and share memories. For her, the two weeks of quarantine back at The Legacy is always worth a day with her family. It’s tough to tell if she means her son and daughter-in-law, or their six Maltese pups: Sasha, Sami, Sarah, Sauly, Shana and Simcha.
“I’m just foolish for those doggies,” said the happy recipient, her eyes twinkling during a FaceTime interview. “I can’t say how grateful I am to have these years close to my family. I must have done something right.”
The Legacy has been Ruth’s home sweet home for six years, and she is beloved throughout.
“Ruth is one of the most amazingly sweet Southern women that can tell a funny joke in one sentence and tell you how the cow ate the cabbage in the other,” said Laura Levy, executive director at The Legacy Willow Bend, herself an Abilene native who enjoys swapping stories with her charge. “Ruth is dear to my heart and I feel so fortunate to celebrate her 100th birthday! We love her and wish the coming year to be filled with laughter, witty humor, health and her wonderful smile.”
Looking forward to the future, Ruth is patient. “This time is about adjusting, and you must push the bad memories away and hold on to the good; they are a gift. It’s all part of living.”