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Centenarian celebrations: Local women celebrate milestone birthdays in grand style

By: Jim Erickson

110-year-old Dorothy Hunter [left] is greeted at her birthday party by fellow Meramec Bluffs residents Frank and Gladys Noble.

Two birthday parties were held in West County in recent weeks. In many respects, they were similar to other such events – flowers, cake, cards from well-wishers attending and plenty of smiles to go around.

What made these birthday parties unique were the guests of honor. Both Dorothy “Dot” Hunter and Ruth Stewart have reached that point when jotting down their respective birthday numbers requires three digits. Even more special is that both have been doing that for a number of years.

Dot celebrated her 110th birthday at the Meramec Bluffs Senior Living Community, where she has lived independently for 14 years. Trailing close behind, Ruth observed her 109th at Friendship Village in Chesterfield, her home for the past 23 years.

After checking in all the places they know to look, Meramec Bluffs staff members think Dot may be the oldest living resident of St. Louis County, having been born in the South County area in 1907. Similarly, Ruth is believed to be the oldest living native St. Louisan, with her birth year of 1908.

Both women clearly recognize that they have seen and experienced almost unbelievable changes and events during their lives.

Dot was a schoolteacher, first working with sixth-graders in the Normandy School District and then for the rest of her career teaching third grade at Kirkwood’s Robinson Elementary.

She especially enjoyed teaching math. “Kids often had trouble with math and I enjoyed working with them on those problems,” she recalled.

Ruth Stewart

Ruth Stewart

Asked what she considers the biggest change in her lifetime, she thought for a number of seconds before her single-word response: “Television.”

In addition to other Meramec Bluffs residents, staff members and relatives attending the July 31 party, Dot’s well-wishers also included three firefighter-paramedics from the Valley Park Fire Protection District.

Scott Pacino, one of the guests at Dot’s birthday celebration, clearly remembers when and how he and Dot struck up a business relationship. She walked into the auto dealership where he was a salesman.

The year was 2003, and Dot was 96, or close to it. The car-buying visit included a test drive in the vehicle she liked and ultimately purchased.

“I had no idea she was 96,” Pacino said. “I thought maybe she was in her early to mid-70s, but definitely not 96.”

Dot has been a widow since her husband, Harry, died years ago, and her closest relatives now are nieces and nephews, some preceded by “great” or “great-great.”

Chesterfield Mayor Bob Nation with 109-year-old Ruth Stewart

Chesterfield Mayor Bob Nation with 109-year-old Ruth Stewart

Ruth’s parents were immigrants from Germany and Poland, but she was born and raised here. She recalls the days when streetcars were running and her home was without electricity.

A music lover virtually all her life, Ruth started piano lessons while in elementary school. After graduating from high school, she worked as a pianist for a St. Louis precision dance group that later moved to New York, where they quickly became known nationwide as the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes.

Ruth continued with her music here, playing for a dance studio, at the Fox Theater and as part of a local band. Music has remained an important part of her life. She credits that passion as a key factor in her longevity. In fact, she entertained at her own party by giving an impromptu piano concert.

Also a widow for many years, Ruth has no children or immediate family members still living, although St. Louis-born actor Scott Bakula is a great-nephew.

Among those attending the celebration of Ruth’s July 15 birthday was Chesterfield Mayor Bob Nation, who presented her with a city proclamation naming that day in her honor.

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