With the exception of living in Georgia for about a year, Ruth has lived her entire life within two miles of where she was born. Though her world is geographically small, it is a world full of loving family and friends. Her life is not a testament to wealth and fame, but more of a statement riches procured by faith in God and hard work. Anyone raised on a working farm during the Great Depression or who has worked in weaving rooms of textile mills knows Ruth has worked hard from the very beginning.
Her father, Ashley Ownby, was married twice and between two wives, he fathered 16 children. Ruth was the 10th child overall and the second by her mother, Ethel Wheeler Ownby.
“They said I squalled two or three days,” she said.
Mary joked that her sister probably didn’t stop squalling until she got her way.
Her father ran a sawmill and always kept cattle on the 406-acre farm on Trewhitt Road. It wasn’t easy for the family during the Great Depression. But, the home place was in a good location just above Cohutta Creek and the land kept them fed.
“The well-water was limey. You couldn’t put soap in it, not to wash clothes, but my mother had rain barrels to catch water and if we had dry weather, we went down to the Cohutta Creek just below our house and carried water to the house to wash,” she said. “During the depression we had a hard time making a living. We lived off what we made.”
Ruth graduated from grammar school and eventually earned a GED to complete high school. The kids walked about three miles to school unless it rained and the branches got up, then they couldn’t go.
“We kids, we liked it when it rained,” she chuckled.
Ruth was never married for no other reason than “with that many children in the family there had to be one that was contrary. I was the contrary one.”
But, since there were six siblings younger than she, there was no shortage of kids for her to mother even if they were brothers and sisters.
“My mother didn’t have a baby bed, stroller, high chair or nothing,” she said. “When we weren’t there to help her, she tied the kids to a chair, but I had to help her with the kids. I told my younger brother that I carried him on my hip until his feet dragged the ground.”
At 30, she began taking care of her parents after they gave her land for a house. After the house was built in 1951, she moved the family into it.
“The home place, insulation wasn’t even thought of when it was built. The ceilings were high. It was an old cold house with air conditioning in the wintertime and heat in the summer,” she said. “My mother was sick, so I built my house and moved her in it where it would be warmer.”
Ruth finally sold the house more than 50 years later when she moved in with Mary in 2007. Mary was widowed by the death of her husband in 2003.
Ruth’s adult life began when she moved to Georgia at the age of 18 to work in the textile with two uncles. A year later, the Georgia mill ran out of work and during the lull, Ruth returned home. Within a week, she went to work at Hardwick Woolen Mill. For most of the next 33 1/2 years Ruth operated a warp dresser — a machine used to make large spools of thread that were placed on looms where the weavers crossed it. She worked for Hardwick, then Peerless and finally for Burlington on Peerless Road.
“It was hot. When I first went in there they didn’t have air conditioning. Air conditioning wasn’t thought of but after Burlington bought it out and moved out on Peerless Road we had air conditioning,” she said. “I don’t know how many years I worked for Hardwick.”
After the woolen mills closed, she went to work at American Uniforms.
“Mary put all her life in at American Uniforms, but I didn’t like it,” she said. “You want to beat your brains out trying to make a living, you did there. I went onto Duracell to build batteries. I liked there a whole lot better and stayed there.”
Although they worked hard growing up, all 16 of the kids were loved. Their father though, was strict about where they went and with whom they associated.
Ruth’s church life began at the age of 12 when she was saved during revival at Macedonia Baptist Church. She was baptized “Preacher Sam Melton” in Wildwood Lake.
“They said we ought to be baptized after we were saved,” she said.
But, there was no church in her community until one summer when a neighbor’s relative from Clinton, Tenn., built a brush arbor. The arbor eventually grew into Goodwill Baptist Church.
“We worshipped in the brush arbor that summer and then we got to meeting in an old house and then they finally built a church in ‘34 or 35,” she said. “It wasn’t ordained until ‘35 and we had a church to go to then. Before they built the church, we didn’t go to church very often.”
Church life is the most important part of Ruth’s life and she still looks forward to worshipping and fellowshipping with other believers on Sunday just as she did so many years ago when Goodwill Baptist Church was the centerpiece of social activity. After she turned 18, Ruth joined the workforce, bought a piano and took lessons. Although she never considered herself “a piano player,” Ruth played well enough to substitute at Goodwill Baptist Church in the absence of the regular pianist.
“Of course, I never was a piano player, but I could play a little bit. It was a small church,” she explained, meaning that sometimes in small churches, members are sometimes have to fill roles whether they are qualified or not. “I never could play real good, but I could play well enough to get through a song.”
After internal strife though, she left Goodwill — an action she never thought would happen and moved her membership to Westwood Baptist Church until she began attending Waterville Baptist Church with Mary.
Ruth said nowadays she tries to keep herself occupied with hobbies that includes genealogy, quilting and play “Spider” on the computer.
“When I wake up in the night and can’t sleep, I come in here and play ‘Spiders,’” she said.