Bravery, humility: Ruth Patty, 103, fondly recalls life experiences


Jan Turner, left, sits with her mother Ruth Patty, age 103. Jan takes cares of her mother at her home in Greenfield. Ruth Patty has a varied and full life as she shares her stories of serving in World War II, living on a farm and raising her family.

Tom Russo | Daily Reporter

GREENFIELD – These days she can be found under a cozy blanket and a cat with a good book, but Ruth Patty has quite a few stories to tell from her 103 years of life.

Born in 1918, she’s survived two global pandemics, raised two children as a farmer’s wife, worked as an x-ray technician, and even served in the U.S. Army during World War II.

The stories of her life have unfolded before her daughter, Jan Turner, over the last two years.

Patty now lives in Turner’s Greenfield home. The COVID-19 pandemic led Turner to bring her mom home, and Turner has been moved with gratitude by learning more about her mom these past two years than she has in her entire lifetime.

“It’s been wonderful, really wonderful,” Turner said. “She thinks she’s been a total burden but she’s not. It’s such a gift.”

With a touch of wit and a warm smile, Patty can recall the days when life wasn’t so easy. She was born and raised in the small town of Newaygo in West Michigan in the year of the Spanish influenza, and she even remembers her grandparents visiting with a horse and buggy. Her father died when she was 14 years old, so her mother worked, and Patty found solitude in books and learning.

Graduating high school as valedictorian, Patty took on random jobs, from picking cherries to being a clerk in a store. Work was hard to find during the Great Depression, she said. When war broke out, she felt a strong sense to join in 1943.

“I don’t know. It just seemed like I needed to do something,” Patty said. “Just sitting there in that little town working didn’t seem like enough. I needed to do something.”

She was sent to basic training in Daytona Beach, Fla. and recalls being overwhelmed at the thought of leaving her hometown and family behind.

She was among approximately 150,000 American women who served in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) during World War II, according to an online brochure from the U.S. Army. Members of the WAC were the first women other than nurses to serve within the ranks of the Army.

Patty went on to serve in several states; she learned the skills of x-ray technician, was a recruiter, and even helped veterans returning from war recover from their injuries.

“I was part of the motor pool, and we had these elongated cars. They’d carry about nine people, and we’d take them on sight-seeing tours when they got back there for rehab,” she said. “I enjoyed meeting the guys. They were really nice. Some of them had been badly burned. It was an experience.”

Learning the war was over was bittersweet because she knew that chapter of her life was over and she’d return to Michigan and leave her Army friends behind.

She became an X-ray technician in a hospital, but one friend she’d made didn’t want to say goodbye. Joe Patty, who she had met in the Army in North Carolina, wrote letters and soon proposed marriage. He brought her to his Windsor, Indiana farm in 1947.

The couple raised two children, Jan Turner and Steve Patty, and went on to have five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. With 68 years of marriage, Turner said her parents were a strong match, and Patty recalls the years on the farm fondly. Raising hogs, cows and crops, her driving experience in the Army came in handy as she helped with the tractors. They’d often have friends and family over for meals or a game of croquet.

“I was always glad to have company, always glad to cook for them. I didn’t mind that at all,” she said. “We had a big house and plenty of room.”

The couple remained active even after their retirement, golfing, bowling and square dancing together. Patty even rode a bicycle up until the age of 95. Joe Patty passed away in 2014 at nearly 98 years old.

Turner, who professionally followed in her mom’s footsteps and became an X-ray technician, said her mom was living in a Muncie nursing home when visitation limitations due to the pandemic led her to want to bring her mom to her Greenfield home.

Turner said she admires her mom for her humility, and for always staying grounded in times of uncertainty. She’s been enjoying looking at old photo albums from her family’s history, and seeing pictures of her mom’s years during the war. She often comments on how brave her mom was to leave her small town behind to serve her country.

But Patty just shrugs.

“It’s just an ordinary life,” she says.