At age 99, Ruth Burnfield still has a few surprises left in her.
She recently was enjoying an afternoon with her granddaughter, Melissa Mace, who was working on Ruth’s memoirs in celebration of her upcoming 100th birthday in November. When Melissa posed the question to her grandma — “If there is one thing you could do, that you have never done, what would it be?” — Ruth answered without hesitation.
“Ride a horse.”
The answer caught Melissa by surprise. Her grandmother grew up on a farm in Auglaize County and lives on a farm near Spencerville today, yet she has never ridden a horse?
And she wants to ride one at age 99?
“We had horses on the farm, but they were plow horses, not the kind you ride,” Ruth explained later. “As a little girl, it’s just something I always wanted to do.”
If riding a horse was item No. 1 in grandma’s bucket list, then a determined Melissa was going to make it happen. From her home in Chicago, where she teaches high school, Melissa began scouring the Internet and making phone calls. Then her sister, Vicki Stevens of Van Wert, sent her a newspaper article about the Equestrian Therapy program at Fassett Farm near Cridersville. Soon Melissa was in contact with its executive director, Michele Andrews-Sabol.
When Andrews-Sabol heard the request, like Melissa, she was determined to make it happen.
“Over the years we’ve worked with children as young as 18 months and adults with all kinds of disabilities, but providing a ride for a 99-year-old grandmother, I can honestly say that was going to be a first,” Andrews-Sabol said with a laugh.
Wednesday, Aug. 21, was D-Day.
Melissa wanted to keep her plan a surprise, so she first took her grandmother to a church luncheon for the United Church of Christ in Spencerville. Afterward, she headed over to Fassett Farm.
“I just knew something was up when she started driving out in the country,” Ruth said.
Her suspicions were confirmed when they arrived at Fassett Farm and there was Karen Workman, Ruth’s daughter and Melissa’s mother.
“The look in mom’s eye as she began to figure out what was about to happen was something I’ll never forget,” said Karen.
Ruth walked into the office with only the assistance of a cane. She was fitted with a safety helmet, and with the help from instructors Nancy Kuck and Allison Enyeart, was put on a hoist and onto the saddle of a horse named Mocha. For nearly 20 minutes, Ruth rode around the arena with the excitement of a school girl, a little afraid she might fall, but thrilled with every step the horse would take.
“It was bouncier than I thought it would be. I thought it would be smoother,” Ruth said.
Andrews-Sabol was taken aback by the day.
“It was so heart-warming to share our program with such an amazing woman,” Andrews-Sabol said.
An amazing woman, indeed, who has led an amazing life.
Ruth was one of seven children — five girls and two boys — of Fred and Magdalena Lutterbeck. They spoke German in their home and Ruth didn’t begin to speak English until she entered the first grade. The family farmed 80 acres.
“We had fruit trees, a large garden, dairy cows, sheep, pigs, chickens. … We had the works,” Ruth said. “Everyone had their jobs to do. I would milk cows before going to school, shock wheat and corn, plow and haul manure. Dad made boys out of us girls.”
In 1939, Ruth married the love of her life, J. Frederick Burnfeld, whom she met through 4-H. They were married 65 years when he died in 2004. They emphasized to their three children the value of hard work, how to be frugal, and the importance of faith and family.
Ruth was a quick learner.
She seldom purchased something that she could make herself. She would grind her own wheat to make bread, winning several blue ribbons at the Allen County Fair. She also made her own soap. She was an excellent seamstress and was known for her wedding dresses, baptismal gowns and quilts.
“The girls never had a store-bought dress until they were in high school,” Ruth said.
She worked in a medical office for 32 years, but is not one to run to the drugstore every time she has an ache or pain.
“I don’t take over-the-counter medicines. I never did,” she said. “Sometimes you just have to forget about the pain and work it off. The answer does not always come in a pill.”
Michele Andrews-Sabol was right.
Ruth Burnfield is an amazing person.
PARTING SHOT: Be careful about thinking you have great job security. It also may mean no one else wants your job.
Jim Krumel is the editor of The Lima News. Contact him at 567-242-0391.