Bio: Downing Girls Celebrate (Longevity - 2017)
Contact: Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon
Surnames: Downing, Berg, Robertson, Hollingsworth, Geiger
----Source: Clark County Press (Neillsville, Clark Co., WI) 4/05/2017
Downing Girls Celebrate (Longevity – 1 April 2017)
By Todd Schmidt
Shown in this photo (circa 1949) from left are Ruth Downing, mother Rena Downing, Doris “Joyce” Downing Hollingsworth, and Iris Downing. (Contributed Photo)
Family stories were buzzing around Care and Rehab-Neillsville, Saturday during a 100th birthday party for Ruth (Downing) Robertson, the aunt of Becky Berg of Neillsville.
The party also celebrated the longevity of two of Ruth’s sisters, Doris “Joyce” (Downing) Hollingsworth, 85, and Iris Marie (Downing) Geiger, 93, who is Berg’s mother. Iris is currently a resident of Care and Rehab-Neillsville, while Ruth lives in Altoona and Joyce resides in Georgetown, IL.
The Downing girls are the daughters of Rena and Everett Downing. Rena and Everett divorced, and the children were raised by their single mother.
Rena managed a filling station in Olivet, IL. She met her second husband, Ernest, one day as he was purchasing fuel.
“They fell in love, and he asked Joyce’s permission to get married,” Ruth recalled.
Rena and Ernest moved to a farm, where she lived until age 93. She sewed hundreds of green shirts and blazers for the WACS Army Corps.
When Ruth was little, she helped her mother clean the church next door in Central Park.
“My job was dusting the folding chairs,” Ruth said. “We kids would often go to church barefooted, but the congregation didn’t seem to mind.
“Early on, when mom would be at work, I would have to take care of the kids. Iris was a baby and it was hard putting on her diaper. I was only age 6 at the time.”
A unique family history book offers a snapshot of each Downing girl.
Ruth was born Feb. 2, 1917 in Central Park, IL. She lived with her mother and siblings until she was 10 and then went to live with her aunt until she married at 20.
She has loved art since she was a little girl, having sold nearly 100 paintings before she even had an art lesson.
She was married to John until his death in 1975 and they had three children; Sheryl, Sharon, and Debra. She has nine grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren, two adopted from China and Guatemala.
Ruth started college as a freshman at age 52, and taught art and sewing for 9 years. She married again at age 60 and enjoyed traveling and dancing. She has left a legacy because many of her paintings were sold or given to friends and family in various states.
Ruth has always seen life through an artist’s eye and kept active and very much engaged in life. Maybe that’s why she just celebrated her 100th birthday.
Doris “Joyce” was born Jan. 14, 1932, in Quaker, IN. She married her high school sweetheart, Joel Hollingsworth, and they raised four children, Joy, Jill, Jim, and Jay. She has 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Joyce has been a member of the Vermillion Grove Friends Church since childhood. She had a long career in education as a kindergarten teacher, and after retiring from Public schools, was head mistress of a school for Native American children in Alabama.
She and Joel were involved in mission work that Joyce continued after Joel’s death in 1991. She volunteered at orphanages in Jamaica, Haiti, Grenada, and Romania. She also made trips to Israel, where she took classes at the American University. She has said that she wants to be buried in her “I Climbed Masada” T-Shirt. She has also made two visits to Kenya, Africa, where she worked with local leaders of the Friends Yearly Meeting.
Iris was born Apr. 13, 1923, in Danville, IL. She is the mother of seven, the grandmother of 27, great-grandmother of 29, great-great-grandmother of seven, and great-great-great-grandmother of two.
Iris spent the majority of her adult life in the Chicago area. Her diverse professional life included waitressing at the famous Drake Hotel in Chicago where she met many celebrities and learned silver service in the 1940s.
She also worked in a factory as a chief inspector, restaurant hostess, jewelry salesperson and lastly, in her eighties, in a hospital gift shop. A Roman Catholic, she rarely missed going to mass.
When Iris was 39, she was attempting to get food orders from three men at the Drake Hotel. One of the men kept looking at the juke box, and she told him, she had work to do.
He asked her if her boss could plug his records on the juke box. The songs were “Mystery Train” and “You’re Right, I’m Left, She’s Gone.”
The man, Elvis Presley, signed his name on the top of a blank order ticket. A week later, he appeared for the first time on the Ed Sullivan Show.
“Mom saw him on the show and ran to the hotel laundry to see if her apron was still there,” her daughter said. “She put the order ticket in her apron pocket. One of her grandsons now has that order ticket tucked away in a bank safety deposit box.”
Ruth now lives at the Country Terrace assisted living facility in Altoona. She is slowed down quite a bit by macular degeneration, but her memory is still “sharp as a tack.”
She said there are a few reasons why she has lived such a long life.
“I always tried to live right, although I always have eaten everything I wanted,” she said. “I weighed 115 pounds for many years.”
Ruth credits her wonderful family for their support, including her husband, John, who was insistent that she attend college. Into her 80s, she did many watercolor paintings of farm scenes, landscapes, and modern abstract themes.
Ruth also had a 100th birthday party at Country Terrace on Groundhog Day. The highlight was her new 92-year-old boyfriend George’s rendition of “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.”
She said George sends her flowers several times per week, and that she, and Joyce still have good conversations on the telephone.
“It has all just kept me going over the years,” she smiled.
The Downing girls share a sentimental moment Satruday during a 100th birthday party at Care and Rehab-Neillsville. Shown from left, Ruth (Downing) Robertson, 100, Doris “Joyce” (Downing) Hollingsworth, 85, and Iris Marie (Downing) Geiger, 93, who is a resident of Care and Rehab-Neillsville. (Photo by Todd Schmidt/Clark County Press)
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