by Mitch Lehman
Certainly the woman who answers the door will take us to meet Ruth Cornell – the San Marino resident who is celebrating her 100th birthday on this beautiful Thursday, March 28 – because this smiling, energetic lady can’t even be close to the century mark.
But when we are offered seats in the comfortable living room it quickly becomes apparent that we have already met the centenarian, as impossible as it may seem.
Centennial Committee chair Liz Kneier actually pauses and looks towards the remainder of our impromptu birthday greeting committee – San Marino Assistant City Manager Lucy Garcia, Recreation Director Julie Anding and this reporter – hoping to receive some indication she is about to present a gift bag to the right person.
She is – against all apparent evidence to the contrary.
“You know, I’m older than you,” ruth Cornell exclaims while glancing in the direction of the city employees. “You didn’t come around until April,” and she takes a justifiable portion of pride while making that statement.
Yes, Ruth Cornell, who turned one hundred years young last Thursday, was on this planet when George Patton the First hosted San Marino’s inaugural city council meeting in the kitchen of his home that is located on a street which now bears the family name. She gratefully accepts a bouquet of colorful balloons, long-sleeved t-shirt and special edition San Marino Centennial throw and appears to take genuine pleasure when we belt out a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday to You.’
Obviously, that song sounds really good when you are hearing it for the hundredth time, no matter the quality of the chorus – something she is quick to point out.
“You know, that’s the worst thing that has ever happened to me,” she says.
“Our singing?” I ask.
“No” and at this point Ruth is overcome with uncontrollable laughter.
“I’ve put my foot in my mouth again,” she declares. “I meant losing my voice,” but none of the visitors agree because hers is like that of an angel.
“But I will say, that – laughter – has been the key to a long life,” Ruth says, again in earnest. “It is so important to have a sense of humor and to take things in stride.”
Ruth has graced the San Marino community since 1941, when she purchased a home on Hilliard Ave. for she and her husband, John, who was in Washington, DC on maneuvers as a member of the United States Navy.
“It was very rare at that time for a woman to be so involved in the purchase of a home and everyone thought I was crazy,” Ruth says.
The family moved to their current location on March 28, 1958 – “my birthday,” Ruth exclaims, “and it rained for one straight week. I’ll never forget that.”
John Cornell, who passed away in 2004, was a Los Angeles Times editor and founder of the Los Angeles Press Club. He had a particular affinity for what Ruth referred to as “the PE” – the Red Car – on which John authored many articles.
Ruth spent time as a docent at the Huntington Library, a local scout leader and Red Cross nurse’s aid. She remains active at San Marino Community Church and pals around with Sue Spence, a display of her excellent taste in people. San Marino Community Church recently held a ceremony in her honor as well, one that certainly included a better quality of singing.
Ruth accompanied us to the door as Sue arrived, almost as if on cue, to usher the pair off to a meeting of the local Rotary Club, where further birthday acknowledgement was certainly on the agenda.
A revelation that brought yet another smile to my face.
I’ve heard that group sing.
Maybe ours wouldn’t be the day’s worst after all.
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