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Ruth French—A Centenarian on April 4, 2017


While coming from a family of many nonagenarians, Ruth French is the first to reach 100 years-old. Her mother, born in 1879, reached 96 and Ruth’s two grandmothers and a grandfather, all born in the first half of the 1800s, reached their 90s. So Ruth suspected that she was in life for the long-haul. She was right!

Ruth was born on April 4, 1917 in Rock Island, Illinois, to Dr. Charles Fredrick Freytag and Marion Beatty Freytag. Unusual in that day, Marion was 38 when she gave birth to her first and only child.  When Ruth was five-years-old, they moved to Hollywood, California where Dr. Freytag re-established his family medical practice. They built a classic southern-California home among the orange groves that still dotted Hollywood. One incentive for Ruth’s family’s decision to move to California was a tornado that leveled all the houses only a block from their house in Rock Island.


In Latin class at Hollywood High School, Ruth met her future husband, William French, because they were seated alphabetically with French next to Freytag. Bill French’s father was a journalist in the Hollywood movie industry, which was flourishing as movies provided an escape during the Great Depression.  Electric street cars were still abundant in Los Angeles and Mother recalls the treat of taking public transportation to the end of the line for a five-cent ice cream cone.

Following graduation in 1934, Ruth and Bill commuted together from Hollywood to University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where they both completed pre-med science courses.  After earning their bachelor degrees, Bill went to University of Southern California (USC) Medical School and Ruth headed north for graduate school in nutrition at UC Berkeley. They were married in 1941, a couple of years before they would be apart again during World War II.

In 1943, having completed medical school, Bill entered the US Army as a medical doctor and soon was on the front lines of a tank battalion in Germany. When his ambulance was attacked when retrieving injured troops, Bill survived and later received a Purple Heart.  During these years, Ruth worked at Los Angeles County Hospital as a dietician.

Ruth came to Ventura when Bill did his residency at Ventura County Hospital after the war.  In 1948, he established his medical practice in Fillmore, 20 miles inland from Ventura, because they needed a doctor.  Ruth often worked with Bill at the office, including developing x-ray films in the evenings, keeping the books, and assisting with patients. She was an invaluable part of the practice.

Bill passed away in 2003, at the age of 88. Ruth’s three daughters, who often visit her at The Palms, are:  Penelope, who lives in Fair Lawn, New Jersey; Cathy, who lives near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Susan, who lives in St. Helena, in northern California.  Ruth has seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Classical music has always enriched Ruth’s life, and she and Bill enjoyed season tickets to symphonies and concerts at the Music Center in Los Angeles.  She continues to listen to her collection of classical CDs at The Palms. Ruth’s daughters savor old memories of their mother playing the grand piano (the same one that she played in childhood) when they were lying in bed at night and in the mornings.  Works by Debussy, Chopin, Beethoven and Grieg were a few of Ruth’s favorites.

Ruth and Bill also played bridge with friends all through their marriage, which Ruth enjoys at The Palms whenever enough players can be found. 

Throughout her life, Ruth has been an avid reader and stays up-to-date on world affairs at The Palms by reading the Wall Street Journal and Economist magazine. Ruth especially enjoys books on natural history and anthropology, as well as mysteries. She repeatedly encouraged her young daughters to look up information in the Encyclopedia Britannica and other resources, if conversations brought up questions, and Ruth continues to increase her own knowledge, progressing from books to her computer and the internet in her 80s and 90s. She has also kept in contact with her far-flung family by email. 

Beginning with trips to Europe in the 1950s---including a Triumph car rally through many countries in 1958—Ruth and Bill traveled extensively, so she is always interested in the world-wide adventures of her daughters and grandchildren. The walls of her apartment at The Palms are covered with U.S. and world maps, interspersed with family photos. In the late 1940s, Ruth learned to fly their Cessna plane and soloed out of Santa Paula airport.

San Francisco has long been one of her favorite cities and, known to have a sweet tooth, she preferred chocolate sodas and pastries at the City of Paris while encouraging her kids to eat a healthy lunch. (Aren’t parents allowed to do that?)  At home, she often made dark chocolate fudge on Sunday afternoons.

Always an enthusiastic birdwatcher, Ruth continues to enjoy birds at The Palms and keeps birdfeeders outside her window filled with thistle seed for finches. For decades at her Fillmore home, she’s fed hummingbirds and orioles, and has gone through a few thousand pounds of wild birdseed for her covey of quail. Her daughters anticipate refilling the feeders for her ornithology enjoyment for years to come. 




Written by Susan French in collaboration with Penny French Kaplan and Cathy French Chaparro. April 11, 2017

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