News From Terre Haute, Indiana


November 14, 2013


Nov. 7, 1918, was a few days before the war to end all wars actually ended. It was 95 years ago. The last veteran who fought in that war has passed away. The growth America took after that war also has passed away and so did Prohibition, ending the sale of alcoholic drinks and giving birth to what became known as “organized crime.”

I went to a birthday party on a recent weekend celebrating my mother-in-law’s 95th birthday. As I sat there listening to those gathered in small talk and wishing good wishes on the lady celebrating her birthday, my God, the things she has witnessed.

The gasoline combustion engine became the mover of people, equipment and supplies. The horse that had that job has been put aside mostly for pleasure. The airplane, which had proved its military worth in the Great War, has grown to rocketry and has transported us to the moon. My mother-in-law married, had children and worked, I’m sure not giving much thought to the facts that she would see much of the greatest history the world has ever known in her lifetime. The atomic bomb, the entire country aglow with electricity and driving coast to coast without a single stoplight, and that’s only the surface being scratched in a 95-year lifetime of ordinary events while being a witness to earth-shattering events.  

Immediate family members gathered to wish Ethel Williams Ruark a happy birthday weren’t thinking about 95 years being a witness to history, but how nice she looked and how she remembered nearly everybody without hesitation … she now suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Sometimes it reacts in the human body very quickly, and with Ethel, it has been a rather slow progression.

I can remember very few people with whom I helped celebrate 95 years. In fact, they seemed so ancient at the time I almost never thought about it. And now, just a few decades away from that age, it comes easier to my mind.

Ethel was cheery, and enjoyed pieces of two cakes (lemon and chocolate) and especially the good wishes of all present, including grandchildren and her sons and daughter.

She was a rock for her family and her home was a place of cheer and refuge when it was needed. Now, she is in a local nursing facility, but the memories of all those gathered were the reasons for all of the good wishes. For this writer, it was a look back and, perhaps, a look into the future.  

Ronn Mott, a longtime radio personality in Terre Haute, writes commentaries for the Tribune-Star. His pieces are published online Tuesday and Thursday on, and in the print and online editions on Saturday.

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