Friday, January 20, 2023

Ruth Wheeler Fortner, Centenarian

Children born today
have a fifty-fifty chance
of living to 100.
~William Greider

Recently I was in touch with some kinfolk in Indiana who updated me on a relative by the name of Ruth Wheeler Fortner. Most of us here on the West Coast are probably not familiar with Ruth who is a second cousin of mine. Ruth's Grandfather was Thomas Davis (1872-1955) who was a brother of my Great Grandfather James Brooks Davis (1870-1928). Ruth has lived in Spencer, Indiana most of her life. Spencer is where my Grandmother Bura Davis Shepard was born in 1896 and where many of our Davis ancestors were settled for several generations. Cousin Ruth turned 100 years old last month on December 5. 

Nola Gower in 2004 on her 100th Birthday
with daughter Maida Gower Shepard 
The few times I have been to Spencer, Indiana, I visited Ruth. She was always very welcoming and glad to visit with relatives from near or far away. On more than one occasion she was gracious enough to be my guide to a local cemetery -- the New Union Church Cemetery -- where numerous Davis ancestors of ours are buried.

It is always uplifting to hear of relatives who make it to the century mark. It has not happened very often among members of our larger family. One of the more recent centenarians among us was my Grandmother Nola Shannon Gower (1903-2004). Grandma Gower was from a family of folks who lived to advanced years. Her mother Finetta Dearien Shannon (1861-1960) died just 3 months short of her 100th birthday. Her older daughter, my mother Maida Gower Shepard, will turn 99 years old later this year! 

Ruth Fortner and me in Indiana, 2011

I was surprised to learn recently from Wikipedia that there are about 100,000 centenarians alive today in the U.S. That is one in every 3,000 people.

As I looked through our family tree, I could only find a handful of relatives who reached the 100 year mark. But even that handful is a good sign that we have some "longevity genes" in our DNA. As far as I know, Ruth Fortner is the only living centenarian in our larger family today. There may be others. And if so, I hope you will let me know. I would be glad to hear about them and honor them in The Shepard's Crook.

Here is a list of those in our family tree who lived to be at least 100 years old:

Lawrence Davis 1898-1999 (brother of my Grandmother Bura Davis Shepard)
Loudilla Jackson Davis 1904-2006 (Lawrence's wife)
Marjorie Davis 1907-2008 (Lawrence's sister)
Nola Shannon Gower 1903-2004 (my Gower Grandmother)
Ruth Wheeler 1922-

It is interesting to note that this list includes a married couple: Lawrence Davis and his wife Loudilla Jackson. They were married for 69 years! For most of those 69 years they lived in Beaver County, Oklahoma. There must have been something exceptional and good about their life together that enabled each of them both to hit the century mark. It speaks well of our Davis ancestors that their number includes these three centenarians, Lawrence, Loudilla and Marjorie.

Regarding my Grandmother Nola Shannon Gower, she lived a healthy, wholesome life. She was always generous and loving, seldom complained, and leaned on her faith to help her through tough times. She lived to be 101 years old, despite the fact that she (a non-smoker herself) lived in the same house with a heavy smoking husband for 53 years. It is no surprise then that Grandma Gower outlived Grandpa Gower by 30 years.

None of us knows exactly how long we will each live. But we all do hope to live long meaningful lives. If we live wholesome and healthy, we too might join the ranks of the centenarians among us.

Best wishes to centenarian cousin Ruth Wheeler Fortner of Spencer, Indiana!
- - -
Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)