Sunday, April 30, 2000

Senior leads life of leading


At age 95, exercising body, mind

By Allen Howard
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        They gasped, grunted and moaned as Ruth Davenport barked out orders in her morning exercise class for seniors at St. Paul Lutheran Village retirement center in Madisonville.

[photo] Ruth Davenport
(Enquirer photo)
        “Put your shoulder blades together and wriggle your upper body from side to side,” Mrs. Davenport said. “Now twirl your feet, using the heel and then the toe.”

        Mrs. Davenport, 95, was teaching a group of seniors how to exercise. Her classes are three days a week, with each session lasting 30 minutes.

        “It helps to keep my circulation going,” said Wilma Young, 79. “I have been coming to the classes regularly for three or four years. It helps me to get out and walk a lot.”

        John Baur, 80, and his wife, Ruth, 81, enjoy the exercise and the social atmosphere.

        “It is a lot of friendship and it makes us take better care of ourselves,” Mr. Baur said.

        Mrs. Davenport said the exercises are not too strenuous and are geared to help seniors, some with bad hearts and poor circulation.

        They imitated a swimming motion, rocking a baby, mopping a floor, stretching their arms and legs. They start while sitting in a circle and tossing a small bag to each other while calling their names.

        “We start with this because it helps to sharpen their reflexes,” Mrs. Davenport said.

        At her age, Mrs. Davenport believes that exercise is as important to seniors as the food they eat. And she insists on the right kind of exercise and the right kind of food, she said.

        But teaching exercise is a small part of her active lifestyle. She exercises her mind with church and civic activities. She is a member of New Prospect Baptist Church in Over-the-Rhine, where she serves as mother of the church.

        “Teaching is something I have wanted to do all my life, but I wasn't able to go to school to get the education,” she said.

        She did get her high school diploma by attending night school at the old East Night School. She still wears the class ring.

        Mrs. Davenport worked 30 years cleaning at the former Shillito's department store downtown.

        “Your life is what you do and how you do it,” she said.

        And hers has been filled with doing something. She has written plays, based on biblical parables. Her most widely known play was The Parable of The Ten Virgins,which has been shown throughout local churches, using actors from her church.

        She has taught Sunday school and conducted class sessions for the Baptist Training Union, at state district and national conventions. She has directed Easter, Christmas, children's and women's day programs at her church.

        Born in Hogansville, Ga., she came to Cincinnati in 1941 with her family. She has one daughter, Mary Carter of Kennedy Heights.

        Mrs. Davenport loves to talk about riding in a horse-drawn buggy and a wagon.

        “Riding in a buggy was kind of a step up in class from a wagon,” she said.

        But she didn't like her first ride in a car, which she thinks was a Model T Ford.

        “I wasn't used to something you couldn't yell at and make it stop. With a horse, you could say "giddup' or "whoa' and it would go or stop,” she said.

        She said she has witnessed all kinds of social and economic changes, wars and saw the world progress from racial segregation to close to racial harmony.

        She gives private advice, but she said she doesn't just give it, she demonstrates it. She still makes all her clothes, walks about 2 miles to do her shopping and she grows her own vegetables in a little garden at the center.

        “I get up about 8 o'clock, eat a light breakfast, a light lunch and a pretty heavy dinner. I eat lots of vegetables,” she said.

        In all her years, she clings to the one piece of knowledge she believes is responsible for her longevity.

        “Stay active. Keep doing something. Believe in yourself and trust in God,” she said. PHOTO: MICHAEL E. KEATING Ruth Davenport leads an exercise program at St. Paul Lutheran Village. At age 95, she leads an active life and encourages other seniors to do the same.

       



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