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FROM READERS: The story of 'remarkable' Ruth Welliver

Wednesday, July 10, 2013 | 10:00 a.m. CDT
Ruth Welliver will be celebrating her 96th birthday on July 11.

Nancy Rogers lives in Columbia with her mother Melania, four rabbits (Oreo, Oreo Too, Dot and Dart) and two cats (Kitty Cat and Frannie). She is a friend of the Welliver family, who wanted to tell Ruth's story because she has found it is often overlooked. "I think she is inspiring, especially to people who have lost someone they love," Nancy said. "I think her story will be comforting to readers."

Remarkable Ruth

“Is anybody home?”

Tom Rogers walks in the front door of Ruth and Warren Welliver’s home, drops down into his favorite chair and hoists his feet up onto the ottoman.

“Hey Ruthie, what’s for dinner? I’m hungry!”

“Picadillo,” a female voice replies from the kitchen.

“What in the world is that?”

“It s a Cuban dish my mother made when we lived in Key West. It’s got onions, green peppers, garlic, olive oil, ground beef, tomatoes, raisins and capers.”

“Oh boy, with all that in there how can it not be good?”

Indeed, it was good. Growing up in Key West, Florida, “God’s country,” Ruth Rose was born to Ruth Camille and Harry Charles Galey on July 11, 1917. Her grandfather, a blonde Cuban named Manuel Ayala had married an Englishwoman, Minnie Atcheson. The Galey’s home was nestled in a lush, tropical “Garden of Eden” where avocado, banana and sour orange trees flourished.

Ruth’s father, one of a handful of doctors in Key West, owned a ten-bed hospital complete with a delivery room and an operating room. People often called in the middle of the night asking for Dr. Galey. If her mother answered the phone she told the caller,

“Take two aspirins and call the doctor in the morning.”

“Remember dear, I am the doctor,” Dr. Galey gently admonished his wife.

Before going to work Dr. Galey often took his daughter for a ride in the pony cart — with a basket, of course – pulled by her Shetland pony, Emma.

But Ruth Rose was unlikely to grow up a spoiled only child with Ruth Camille for a mother.

“Stand up straight, Ruth Rose.”

At a party her mother admonished,

“Don’t just stand there, Ruth Rose. Mingle.”

She wasn’t allowed to help in the kitchen.

“You’re too slow, Ruth Rose.”

But Ruth Rose was allowed to pick fruits and vegetables off the trees in the Galey’s garden: avocados, bananas and sour oranges which her mother used liberally in the family’s meals, preparing authentic Cuban dishes like Picadillo.

Ruth attended Catholic schools, graduating salutatorian from Mary Immaculate Convent High School. She went on to Mary Ballwin College in Staunton, Virginia, where she majored in Spanish and Psychology.

While at Mary Ballwin, Ruth attended a graduation ceremony at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. The graduates flung their caps high in the air and Ruthie presented her date with his graduation ring during the traditional “Ring Dance.”

This brush with the Navy was prophetic. She returned home after graduation and landed a job first with the US Government, then with the US Navy.

One day, while working in the naval office in Key West, she ran into a tall, good looking lieutenant walking down the hallway. Their eyes met.

That evening she got a call from her friend Mills Thornton, who turned out to be a friend of the good-looking lieutenant.

“There’s a fellow who’d like a date with you.”

Her first date with Lieutenant Warren"Chink" Welliver was dinner at the squadron. He was an aviator who flew PBYs. He was engaged to a gal in his hometown of Butler, Missouri. Warren called his fiancee shortly after he met Ruth:

“I’m in love with another girl,” he confessed.

Three months after their first date, on Christmas Day, 1942, Warren Dee Welliver married Ruth Rose Galey at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Key West, Florida.

Lieutenant Welliver’s naval assignments took the newlyweds to Elizabeth City, North Carolina, Norfolk and Ocean City Virginia.

A daughter, Gale, short for Galey, Ruth’s maiden name, and a daughter, Carla were born.

“What do you like about Warren?” a friend asked Ruth.

“He's tall, dark and handsome,” Ruth replied. “He makes me laugh.”

“I make beautiful girls,” Warren quipped, looking proudly at his daughters.

At the end of World War 11, the Wellivers moved to Columbia, Missouri. Warren had begun his law degree at MU prior to the war. He was told it would be better if he didn’t work while he was in law school.

“I have a family to support,” Warren argued.

He finished law school – and worked.

The Wellivers were greeted by the “Welcome Wagon,” an organization that oriented new-comers to Columbia. Ruth joined King’s Daughters, where she eventually became Vice President of the Missouri Chapter. She served on the Morning Guild and Service Guild of Calvary Episcopal Church. Ruth made so many needlepoint cushions it soon became difficult to take communion without kneeling on one of her cushions! She was loyal to her Alma Mater, Mary Ballwin College, serving on the Board of the Alumnae Association.

She and Warren made friends quickly, joined bridge club, and hosted lunch parties before Mizzou football and basketball games. The Brownlees, Listers, Bowlings, Becketts and Leroy Millers joined them to cheer on the Tigers! The Wellivers lived in several apartments until they were able to build their dream house, a French provincial-style home, on Bingham Road.

Ruth loved to cook. Favorite dishes were sour-cream noodle bake, veal champagne flambé (a recipe Warren annexed because he liked lighting a flame for the flambé!) and lemon-lime salad. But her passion was for the Cuban recipes she had watched her mother make when she was growing up, especially Picadillo with key-lime pie for dessert. If the fish for her Cuban recipe wasn’t available in Columbia her mother sent her a frozen shipment straight from Key West. Dale Spencer wrote an article in “The Missourian” about one of Ruth’s dinner parties at which she served fried turtle, flown in to Columbia that day fresh from “God’s country.”

Warren practiced law for several years; then became a state senator. On January 9, 1979, he became a judge on the Missouri Supreme Court, appointed by Governor Walkin’ Joe Teasdale. During the swearing-in ceremony Ruth was handed the judicial robe. At 5’1 she could barely reach up to drape the voluminous garment around her 6’1” husband’s shoulders.

The trio of good-looking Welliver daughters (“I make beautiful girls;” Warren’s proud refrain) made their mark in Columbia. Gale, the eldest, was quiet and shy; not a joiner. She was always rescuing mice, parakeets, turtles, rabbits and chipmunks, to name a few of her critters. Carla, the middle daughter, was a beauty and a heart-throb: an adventurous teenager who kept her parents awake at night. Christy, the youngest, was a leader and champion of the underdog from the time she was a little girl. She also had a penchant for jumping off cliffs!

Gale, Carla and Christy attended Hickman High School, then the University of Missouri in Columbia, where they graduated with degrees in library science.

“Why library science?” a friend asked Ruth.

“Because Dick Brownlee told them it was the best major for getting a job.”

Indeed, all three Welliver girls worked as librarians during the early years of their careers.

When Christy was in her mid 30’s she told her parents that she felt tingling and numbness in her hands and legs. After hearing this complaint for several weeks her parents made an appointment for her with a doctor.

“I’m sure it’s nothing,” Christy said.

Dr. Asher had tears in his eyes when he told the family that Christy had Multiple Sclerosis (MS).

“It was the only time I ever saw Warren cry,” Ruth recalls.

Christy’s MS progressed slowly in the early years of the disease. Meanwhile, Ruth started having difficulty with her vision. Everything she looked at seemed to shimmer. An eye exam revealed that she had Macular Degeneration. Her days of reading, watching television, driving, doing needle point and playing bridge, were coming to a close. Eventually her visual world would consist only of white light and shadow.

Carla had married and moved to Jupiter, Florida. She wrote two cookbooks, one entitled, "A Family Affair," having inherited her mother’s passion for cooking.

In early May, 2003, Carla called her mother from Jupiter Hospital. She had been admitted for a urinary tract infection. She sounded fine. The hospital called the Wellivers the next day. Carla had died during the night of septisemia. Ruth and Warren were devastated. Warren never got over the loss of his daughter.

A few years after Carla died Ruth and Warren were having lunch. Warren had suffered a stroke and was in a wheelchair. But the stroke hadn’t taken away his wicked sense of humor or his penchant for telling jokes. His wife, although legally blind, was nonetheless able to care for him. She still cooked — by feel, touch, and from memory — despite her impaired vision. Ruth had made one of Warren’s favorite meals that day: vegetable soup. Suddenly, during lunch, Warren’s breathing became heavy and labored. His head dropped down on his chest. The tall, dark, handsome Navy lieutenant nicknamed “Chink,” the man who had given her three beautiful daughters and had made her laugh for sixty-five years, was gone.

Now she had Christy to worry about – without her husband by her side.

Christy’s MS had progressed over the years. She used a wheelchair, but drove herself around in a custom-built van. She lived in her own apartment, with caregivers and friends assisting her. She loved listening to jazz, especially at Murry’s, and she was very involved in civic activities, like Ped-Net, an organization she co-founded which proposed a network of paths for the disabled around Columbia. She had dinner at her mother’s home once a week. After dinner she wheeled herself to the front door and waited there until Ruth gave her a kiss. She never left without a kiss good-night from her mother.

One evening in June, 2011, Christy called Ruth and told her she wasn’t feeling well. Ruth noticed that her daughter was slurring her words. She urged her to go to the Emergency Room. Christy didn’t go to the Emergency Room that night. The next morning she did not wake up. She was in a coma. Christy died a month later, on August 9, 2011.

Christy’s death was a huge blow to Ruth. She was stoic, but the loss of her two daughters and her husband was sapping her of her natural buoyancy. She still lived at home, but it was lonely not being able to talk to Christy or see her every week. One night she invited Mel Rogers, Bette Douglass, Mary Hoffman and Punky Donnelly for dinner. It was vintage Ruth cuisine: Caesar salad, sour cream noodle bake and spumoni ice cream with brownies. Amidst oohs and aahs of gustatory appreciation, Bette asserted, “Ruth, I think it is time for you to stop cooking for all of your friends and let someone cook for you.

It was serendipitous. Her daughter Gale was thinking the exact same thing. A cadre of creative caregivers rallied to join Ruth in her home. For the first time in her adult life someone else was cooking for Ruth!

So what is Ruth up to now? She enjoys visits from her daughter Gale, (whom she calls “My Rock”) son-in-law Bill, granddaughter Jordan and great grandson Chase Warren. She loves the songs of Tony Bennett and Michael Buble. Since she can’t see she enjoys listening to books on CD, especially mysteries by Sherlock Holmes or novels by Ernest Hemingway, who also hails from Key West. Instead of cooking for her friends she invites them out for lunch or dinner.

“Ruth, you are so stoic – happy, even. How do you do it after all that you have been through?” a friend asks.

“Sometimes I feel alone; lonely. But everyone has their problems. People lose children every day in the war. I’m not the only one. Christy used to say, “I have a choice. I can be very sad or very happy. When I look at the sunset I imagine there are people waiting on the other side who will ask me, “Where have you been? We’ve been waiting for you.””

It’s not Ruth’s time, yet. But it’s nice to imagine that Christy, Carla and Warren are waiting for her on the other side.

* * *

“Is anybody home?”

Tom Rogers walks in the front door of Ruth and Warren Welliver’s home, drops down into his favorite chair and hoists his feet up onto the ottoman.

“Hey Ruthie, what’s for dinner? I’m hungry!”

“Picadillo!” a voice replies.

July 11 is the groundbreaking ceremony for the Christy Welliver Memorial at Stephens Lake Park at 5:30 p.m. It also happens to be Ruth's 96th birthday.

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.


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