A Tribute to My Mother-in-Law

Ruth Brunner Lees

Obituary for Ruth A. Brunner Lees

Ruth A. (Brunner) Lees, 98, formerly of North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania died Thursday, June 20, 2019, in Mount Vernon, IL. She was born March 17, 1921 in West Newton, a daughter of the late Walter and Minnie Louise (Huber) Brunner and was also preceded in death by her husband Earl Lees, and siblings Rosella “Posey” Fulmer and Warren H. Brunner. Ruth graduated from Westmoreland Hospital School of Nursing in 1943 and served in the Army Nursing Corps during WWII serving as a Lieutenant. She worked as a private duty nurse after the war. She was active with her late husband in the 9th Infantry Division Reunion Group and was a Red Cross volunteer for over 45 years. Ruth was a professing Christian and humble follower of Jesus Christ. She demonstrated her faith in daily practical help to those around her. She was a member of a local church wherever she lived. She will be best remembered for her selfless service to others. She is survived by her sons David E. Lees and his wife Linda and William D. Lees and his wife Debra; her grandchildren Rebecca (Byron) Jones, Matthew (Lindsay) Lees, Rachel (Fernando) Navarro, and Jessica (Shane) Cox; nine great grandchildren; also nieces and nephews. Friends will be received from 9:30 to 11 a.m. Wednesday at the William Snyder Funeral Home, 521 Main Street, Irwin, 724-863-1200, where a funeral service will follow at 11 a.m. with Rev. Terry Schmelvenbach officiating. Interment will follow in Union Cemetery, North Huntingdon. For online condolences please visit www.snyderfuneralservices.com.

My husband and I are grateful we both had such wonderful parents who then became wonderful in-laws! Both Ruth and Earl Lees were two very special people with timeless and interesting backgrounds. So while I am highlighting Ruth, much of this is about Earl as well. Her two siblings were also remarkable. We are talking about the Greatest Generation!

I couldn’t have asked for a more gracious mother in law! As you can see, she had a special birthday, born on St. Patricks day in West Newton, Pennsylvania. She did not appreciate sharing her birthday with St. Pat 😏. She passed away 98 years later in Mount Vernon, Illinois. A lot happened between her birth and death. While we are all most proud of her service during World War II, her family knows there is so much more to her long life. She never asked for anything. She was so humble it shames us as we think about it – and she was like this until her last breath. So whenever I see the troubles so many young people are experiencing these days from the broken home syndrome, I think of both my mother in law AND father in law! Talk about sad childhoods, but how they both became two of the finest people I’ve known ….

Her early childhood was full of happy memories for Ruth – of her mother that is. On the other hand, she recalls her mother did all the hard work around the dairy farm, milking the cows and tending to all the household duties while raising three children. She died at the age of 49 in 1931 according to Ancestry.comEarl on the other hand, never really knew his mom as she died when he was a toddler.

When their mother died, Ruth was 10 years old, her little sister Rosella (Posey) was nine and their brother Warren was 12. According to Ruth and Posey, their father decided he couldn’t raise three children by himself after their mother’s death, so he abandoned them.

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To the left, standing, Warren, Ruth, Posey and behind them, cousins.

However, Warren had a different memory. He claimed their dad needed to move to find work. He tried to take the three children with him but their mother’s sisters wouldn’t let him. And then Ruth also seemed to believe her father contributed to her mothers early passing because she worked so hard taking care of the farm, milking all the cows, and running the household. She remembers he tended to drink alcohol instead of “working.” So maybe not such good childhood memories after all. One thing we know for sure, these three children developed endurance in their trials, strong character and they all had the hope of salvation:

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love.” Romans 5:3-5

The children’s maternal aunts got together and selected the one single aunt – Rosella Huber (Ruth’s little sister’s namesake) to take responsibility for them. She worked full time for the railroad and lived in a small apartment a town away. She had inherited a farm house – without the farm. She thought that would be a better place for the children to live since their family farm was lost after their mother’s passing. She would bring them supplies on the weekends (or every other weekend), but in essence, the three children raised themselves! One memory Ruth shared was how they ate dandelion soup….Another memory she shared was at the gravesite – the “preacher” as she called him, told her she needed to surrender her life to Jesus because that was her only hope! She didn’t share many other memories but her life was consumed with sadness over her mother’s death and bitterness from the abandonment by her father.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

1939 Ruth Brunner High School Graduation Picture

When you think about their lives, Jesus definitely had His hand on them! They faithfully attended school and all three became productive members of society. You can read in the links to her siblings obituaries by clicking on their names above. The two sisters were more like twins, never far apart. Early on, they decided to be nurses. So Ruth waited one year for her sister to graduate from high school, then they went to nursing school together. Their Aunt Rosella lent them their tuition – which was paid back.

Soon after graduation, World War II broke out. Ruth and Posey both signed up! Initially, they were going to be sent to different areas, but Ruth insisted they be assigned together. And they were. We made a 90th Birthday Photo book for Ruth’s birthday. Here is one page showing her time in England:

1945 RuthLees WWII

After the war, Ruth and Posey returned to their hometown area. They continued their calling as nurses. Eventually, Ruth became a nursing supervisor and did a lot of training of new nurses. She and Posey remained in touch with their nursing class cohort up until most had passed, with Posey being one to pass at the youngest age.

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Date unknown of Ruth, left, and Posey as Nurses.

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A 1970s classmates reunion. Ruth center, Posey to her left, Dorothy Zumbro and an unknown other classmate.

Posey met her future husband – then they fixed Ruth up with his best friend, Earl Lees. After their marriages, they built their homes on the same street. Or rather Posey’s husband built them as he was a contractor. Ruth had her two children first (my husband and his brother, David), then Posey had a baby girl, named after Ruth.

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Ruth and Earl’s wedding picture, May 10, 1947.

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Ruth and Earl knew how to take vacations! They started by visiting relatives in Miami for their honeymoon.

The two sisters lives continued to be intertwined. They were active in their church. Ruth and Posey started out working in the nursery and as their children grew older, took on other responsibilities. Ruth eventually became the “Superintendent” of the Sunday School. Earl became an Elder. They all were very community minded and every one knew how kind and generous they were. Pretty much living the Mayberry lifestyle – which they deserved after such an impoverished childhood. The siblings became responsible adults and wonderful parents – in spite of the fact they virtually had no parental role models after their mother’s passing.

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1970’s picture of David, Ruth, Aunt Rosella and Earl in front of Earl and Ruth’s lovely two story brick home.

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Our parents, my dad and mom to the left, with our daughter in Virginia Beach

One of Ruth and Earl’s legacies was how well they managed their money and they were known for their generosity. Earl worked at Westinghouse, in the factory. Not the best paying job but enough for Ruth to stay home as they learned how to make ends meet. They had their home paid for before they had children just for that reason. When Bill was 8 and his brother was 10, they started delivering papers. And both boys continued to develop a good work ethic while learning about managing their money. They bought a small camper and enjoyed taking it on trips. Ruth and Earl traveled yearly to Earl’s US Army 9th Infantry reunions. When the boys were young, they began traveling to the New Jersey Shore (Long Beach Island) for weekly vacations. They also came to visit us and David and Linda, especially as each grandchild was born. They attended all of their grandchildren’s high school and college graduations. They were very family oriented. Click on the picture slide show below to see a number of graduations and two weddings:

 

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Then tragedy struck when Posey’s husband died when their daughter was eight years old. However this tragedy only brought the two sisters closer! Posey and her daughter then ate dinner with the Lees every night. Eventually, Posey went on with her education so she could become a school nurse –  a better paying job with better hours for a widowed working mother. While Posey went to school and worked, Ruth took care of her namesake niece, called Ruth Ann to distinguish them.

Ruth kept her skills up by becoming a volunteer with the Red Cross. And then for about 18 months, the workers went on strike at Westinghouse. Ruth stepped right in with her eager spirit and went to work as a Private Duty nurse to keep the family income stable.  She continued to work as a private duty nurse once the boys were older.

They had a beautiful yard (it made the local news) and a huge garden. They shared their vegetables with the neighbors, while Ruth did lots of canning. Both boys were pretty much spoiled – they both wore very nice clothes and each had a car in high school. Although “spoiled” they were required to contribute to work around the home. Both boys remember being wakened at 3 am to help their dad shovel the snow off their driveway so he could go to work! Bill began to dream of moving south, very south from these times….

Bill’s older brother, David enlisted in the Navy during the Vietnam was because his draft number was 2 and he know he would be going.  After enlisting he was stationed in Jacksonville, Florida. Bill on the other hand had a very high draft number. But he didn’t have much motivation to figure out what to do with the rest of his life. He remembered clearly how his mom pretty much jerked him out of bed one day soon after he graduated. Then she literally hauled him to Vale Tech, a technical training school for mechanics and auto body work.  It seemed like a good idea since his college prep courses in high school never gave him the desire to go to college. Eighteen months later, Bill was certified and had a job. And then David invited him to come see him in Jacksonville and Bill’s love affair with Florida began. He moved there – which was a dream come true. (Eventually, he married me and that dashed his dreams until 35 years later when we finally move to Florida.)

Posey remarried after Ruth Ann was married. Everyone was so happy for her as she married a friend and widower in their neighborhood. Eventually, in 1989, they decided to start spending their winters in Florida. They found a place in Sebring. They were snowbirds for a few years. Then decided to move to Sebring full time. Posey now was a grandmother to an adorable baby grand daughter. Then another tragedy hit.

Earl Lees had been cancer free for five years. He had colon cancer and they thought they got it all – it is the easiest cancer to remove. But soon after his five year window, he was diagnosed with lung cancer – which took his life two years later. This was the same winter Posey moved to Florida. I couldn’t imagine how Ruth would manage without Posey. But again, the Lord had His hand on her!

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Late 1980s. The three siblings and spouses. Front row, Ruth, Posey, Mary Brunner. Behind Ruth, Earl, Norman Fulmer (second husband) and brother, Warren Brunner.

Eventually, Bill and I moved to Sebring, Florida. And this was where our Lord was able to really minister to her for our 10 years together there. We were blessed to be able to spend so much time with her and Bill’s favorite and really, only Aunt! They were good friends as she helped him get through high school since he didn’t take homework seriously! Sadly, our first year there was Posey’s last year of life. We were so glad we were there to help her husband and Ruth in her final stages of life. It was such a sad time. Ruth had always had a battle with mild depression and this was a very hard battle. I’m grateful she agreed to attend church with us and then she was able to attend many wonderful church functions and activities. Ruth made some dear friends there.

And then in Ruth’s final years, Bill’s brother and his wife brought her into their home and they cared for her for over five years. Ruth adored both of her sons and said her two daughter-in-laws were the daughters she never had. Linda and I were so privileged to be able to love and care for her! She gladly attended church with David and Linda, attended many great functions and developed some dear friendships. She was so blessed during the years she was able to be active.

But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31

All four of us took her on a number of trips. We kept her involved in her grandchildren’s lives and eventually, she was blessed with nine great grandchildren!

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12/13/14 Ruth with six of her nine grand children at her grandson’s wedding. Two of her grand daughters were pregnant with two, then her grandson gave her the ninth one two years later.

When she did Private Duty nursing and of course, during WWII, she became all to familiar with end of life issues. She frequently said she did not want to end her life in a nursing home or to linger in her death. She “joked” with us, she’d put a plastic bag over her head. OK, that’s not really something to joke about but it was fresh in our minds as she lingered in her death. It was so very sad to see her decline. She had always been a VERY generous person. And she loved to help others. In her last few years, she lost the ability to communicate. She seemed to know David and Linda until the end, although there were times she would mix David and Bill up when we came to visit. And I think at one time, she though Bill was her only grandson, Matt! What a compliment but still so sad. The last time Bill and I visited her, she didn’t know him. It was heart breaking.

Is it right to pray for someone’s passing? We knew her wishes were to never end up in the condition she ended up in. But at the same time, we know and understand God had a plan for her life until her last breath. We still wonder about His plans. But we know our one prayer was for her to not die alone. And God granted that prayer as David was at her side in her last hours of her death with Linda arriving within her last few minutes. They both are nurses and both continued to work – so it was so very hard on them.

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Many of Ruth’s family members at the Funeral Home: Left front: Nephew Jim and wife Judy, Brunner; niece Diane Gelet; niece Ruth Ann Hoak; Daughter-in-law Linda; Judy Brunner (wife of Tom), Cousin Lynne Weber; me, the other daughter-in-law; our daughter, Jessica and her youngest son, Bryce and Bill. Left rear: Grandson Matthew; son David; oldest granddaughter, Rebecca; nephew Tom; Howard Weber, husband of Lynne. Grand daughter Rachel and her family were visiting family in Mexico. She was able to listen to the service via FaceTime!

Mom

This was one of Ruth’s last pictures taken for her church directory. To me, she is just radiating the peace of God. She was in her mid 90s. She looked this beautiful and peaceful at her viewing. This is how I want to remember her. She’s in no more pain and she is enjoying heaven with Jesus!

 Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”                                                                                                                                             John 14:1-4

One thought on “A Tribute to My Mother-in-Law

  1. Reblogged this on Follow the Tumble Lees! and commented:

    My blogging has slowed down since we’ve settled down. But I still have so much I want to share – and this one has taken me a few months to finalize! My mother-in-law was such a huge blessing to her family. She was so humble, she never would have wanted us to share her life story. But it is an important one and for the sake of her grandchildren and great grandchildren, her story needs to be told and re-told!

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