On Wednesday, Kathryn Ruzzo marked another historic event in her life. She turned 100.
Her birthday party, complete with family and carrot cake – a favorite, was an induction into a small, but growing, group of people in the United States.
The number of Americans living beyond their 100th birthday has increased nearly 44 percent since the turn of the century, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
And while still a small number, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, better medical care and healthier lifestyles have helped to boost the U.S. centenarians' ranks to 72,197 in 2014. The overwhelming majority of those centenarians are women.
But where Ruzzo has most of them beat is that she is still able to live in her own home and gets around quite well. For most of her female counterparts, the most common living arrangement was residing in a nursing home, the Census Bureau reports.
A petite woman with bright eyes and white hair, Ruzzo is full of stories.
“When you live 100 years, you have a lot of history,” she says, while sitting in her Fort Wayne home.
Ruzzo was born Nov. 8, 1917, and grew up in Upper Sandusky, Ohio. She has lived in Fort Wayne the last 14 years.
Her family lovingly calls her “Toots,” which is a nickname her father gave her. Ruzzo says he liked the comic strip “Toots and Casper,” and thought the name was funny. The strip debuted one year after she was born.
Ruzzo is the last of her siblings – two sisters and two brothers – who have all passed away. She has three children, a son who lives in Seattle and a daughter who lives in Washington. Another son died of cancer.
Ruzzo met her husband, Eddie, after her older sister had a date with him. Ruzzo was a sophomore in college and her sister brought him home. The relationship didn't work out. But two years later, Eddie ran into the sister again and asked whether she thought her “kid sister” would go on a date with him. She did. They started dating in November and by January they were married. That was in 1941.
Eddie served in the Army during World War II and later became a probate judge in Ohio, where he served for 35 years. He passed away in 1996. Ruzzo retired in 1979 after 22 years of teaching in the Marion Public School System in Ohio.
Ruzzo recalls how she and her husband loved to dance. That's what they did for their first date, going to a dance hall at Lake Erie. She has seen Bing Crosby, Perry Como and Cab Calloway. “That was really modern music in those days,” she says.
A different time
Listening to Ruzzo's stories is like flipping through the pages of a history book.
The family got their first car when she was 7. It was a Model T touring car, she says, with no windows and no heat. There was a crank in the front that was used to get it started.
She remembers the ice man, who would come around the neighborhood to deliver ice to homes because no one had freezers. The children would sit on the porch with a napkin or towel and the ice man would chip off a piece of the ice and give it to them to lick.
Ruzzo lived through the Great Depression, remarking that “everyone was poor then,” she says. “Nobody had money.” One of her memories from that time was people standing on the corner selling government-supplied apples for 10 cents in order to make money.
Ruzzo's father never lost his job during that time, she says. He worked for the railroad as a telegrapher. It was his work that enabled Ruzzo to see her first plane flying overhead when she was 6.
Her father learned that Wiley Post, an American aviator, was going to fly over Ohio during his effort to be the first pilot to fly solo around the world. Ruzzo's father figured out that Post would be over Upper Sandusky about noon. She says everyone went outside to see. “It was the first plane I ever saw,” Ruzzo says.
However, the first plane ride she ever took was in 1935 when a boy she was dating took her on a ride in a two-passenger plane.
Ruzzo has voted in every presidential election since Franklin D. Roosevelt. She remembers Kennedy's assassination. The first telephones, which had a crank on the wall, and how she had to walk everywhere because there were no buses or taxis.
These days, Ruzzo gets around quite well. She has family that takes her places and she walks around her home and out to get the mail. She does have to use a cane because her knees bother her and she suffers from macular degeneration, but other than that she feels great.
She spends her time quilting. She has two sewing machines in her home, and her work is displayed across the back of her couch.
When asked what she plans to do now that she is 100, Ruzzo just smiles and says, “Bother people.”
Ruzzo doesn't have any secret to living so long. But she does point out that she still has a baby tooth that never fell out, opening her mouth to show a visitor.
She laughs when told that having a baby tooth just means she's still young.