You name it, Belva Ruben did it — upholstering furniture, gardening, canning, laying carpet, sewing, working on the farm. She was a good shot too.
“One day when my siblings were outside by the swing set, a raccoon came between them and the house. Mom was concerned because it was a time of day when a raccoon should not be out and about,” said Doris Ruben, the second youngest of Belva’s five children. “She shot and killed the raccoon with a single shot. Mom's resume of what she would attempt and complete was quite varied. She was sort of a renaissance woman.”
Belva is currently the resident who has been at St. Michael’s Assisted Living the longest, 5 years. Her ties to the area go back more than 90 years before that. Belva’s family helped found the Eagle Valley Church, which would later merge with St. John’s United Church of Christ in Fountain City.
Belva graduated from Arcadia High School in 1937 and worked at the Knaub and Wunderlich Grocery and Hardware in downtown Fountain City. Shoppers would often drop off a list, and employees would fill a box of groceries for them to pick up. There were at least three groceries in town at the time, plus a traditional hardware store and an implement dealer.
A model 4-H member, Belva learned to show and judge livestock and developed a keen eye marking pigs for market. She was no slouch with a hammer either.
“She designed and made a pantry. She made a desk that my brother Bill helped her design: The light came on when the writing surface was pulled out. She just was always very creative,” Doris said. “To tell her that she couldn’t do something was only like you’d given her a pep talk to go and try it.”
When Belva’s mother said she’d teach her to sew, Belva was so excited she decided to try it herself and promptly sewed her finger with the treadle sewing machine.
“But that didn’t stop her. She went on to do a lot of beautiful sewing work, and she was a perfectionist,” Doris said. “She always made sure that my sister, Jane, and I had a new outfit to wear for Christmas and Easter. She sewed for all of us, making the older boys cowboy style shirts.”
Belva married Elmer, a local boy from a farm in Bohri’s Valley and a 1934 graduate of Fountain City.
Of course, she made her own wedding dress and wedding cake, plus the dress her attendant wore.
Rubens farmed in the valley for many years and several generations — two sons still live on the family land — and Belva maintained a big garden, something she took a lot of pride and joy in. People would pick her homegrown strawberries at the height of the season, and she enjoyed the opportunity to showcase her hard work.
Elmer passed away in 2008 at the age of 92. When it was time to move to town, Belva chose to live at St. Michael’s knowing she would be close to her three sons and would be living with friends from church and even a former country school classmate. And her mother, uncle and aunt had all lived at St. Michael’s; Elmer had recovered there for a short time as well.
Many of her friends and contemporaries have passed away, but Belva keeps on at age 96. Aides at St. Michael’s comment on her sense of humor. In spite of mild dementia, Belva recognizes her children and acknowledges their visits, even if she doesn’t feel like talking, Doris said, which has been a blessing.
“Mom almost always thanks us for coming,” she said.
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