Not one but two Rifle residents prepare to celebrate their 100th birthdays
Over the next five days, Rifle residents Ruth Brittain and Robert Harper will each be celebrating a major milestone in anyone’s life: their 100th birthday.
Brittain, born on Nov. 30, 1920 in New York, lives at the E. Dene Moore Care Center. Harper, born on Dec. 2, 1920 in Pennsylvania, lives right next door at the Colorado Veterans Community Living Center.
According to those closest to them, both are quite excited to reach a century’s worth living through some of the most monumental events in modern-day history.
“In fact, I think I started hearing about it over a year ago,” said Care Center activities director Paul Rice of Brittain, who hasn’t been shy in telling people about her big day. “It’s quite an accomplishment.”
Sharon Harper, Robert’s daughter-in-law, said the veterans home resident isn’t usually big on birthdays. This time, however, it’s a bit different.
“He’s called two or three times over the last few days, ‘Do you have a calendar?’” Sharon said of her father-in-law. “‘Dec. 2’s coming.’”
While both centenarians will be celebrating their birthdays a bit differently this year due to Covid-19 restrictions, each will still have quite the ceremonies to look forward to.
For Brittain, chances are friends and family will visit her through her room window on Nov. 30, said Rice. For Robert Harper, members of the Rifle Police Department and Colorado River Fire Rescue as well Emmanuel Lutheran Church plan to drive by the Veterans home, honking their horns and flashing their lights, a little after 11:30 a.m. Nov. 29.
“I think we’re happy to be part of this celebration and we appreciate Mrs. Sharon Harper for inviting us to take part in this special event,” said Rifle Police Chief Tommy Klein. “It’s important because he’s 100 years old. That’s quite an accomplishment.”
“In addition,” Klein added, “he’s a veteran.”
She’s seen a lot. She’s done a lot.
According to a Grand River Health news release, it was around the Great Depression when Ruth Brittain’s father, a locomotive engineer for the BR&P Railroad, was killed in an accident. This left her mother to raise five children by herself.
Once Brittain turned 18, she took off from home and headed west. She’d eventually take up a job as a switchboard operator for Disney Studio. In fact, during this time Brittain got to speak with Walt Disney, the release states.
From there, Brittain would spend some time on the Las Vegas strip, working the Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel & Casino – the oldest remaining hotel and casino on Las Vegas Boulevard. It was shortly after moving back to Burbank that she fell in love with the man of her dreams, John Brittan.
Together, the two had three children, 10 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.
“Ruth’s earliest memories included starting school, and she always believed education and proper etiquette were the secrets to success,” the release reads. “That, and walking! Ruth knew every bus schedule and managed to live 100 years without ever having driven a car. Her favorite memory of all, she said, was the end of World War II. And she hoped she’d never see the third.”
Nowadays, Brittain spends her time keeping her mind active, said Rice. She engages in conversation whenever she can and she still to this day remains politically in tune. In fact, according to Rice, she paid close attention to the recent presidential election.
“She’s a salt of the earth kind of gal,” he said.
And, even at her age, she enjoys the occasional libation.
“She enjoys her evening cocktail from time to time,” Rice said. “If I make it to 100, I hope somebody’s feeding me a cocktail.”
Rice said it’s important to celebrate Brittain’s milestone because while the Covid-19 pandemic is new to mostly everyone, Brittain’s vast experiences in life have prepared her for the worst. And she still made it this far.
Giving her thoughts on the new age, Brittain brought up technology.
“The computer world has ruined us,” she said in the release. “Go outside, enjoy nature and leave it as you found it.”
Before Covid-19, Sharon Harper and her husband Bruce would visit him at least 2-3 times a week at the Colorado Veterans Community Living Center.“Now, with the Covid, he’s kind of locked up and we can’t go visit him,” Sharon said. “I was supposed to visit him the Friday before the election before someone had come down with Covid over there at the VA.”
For Robert, this was a bad break. Sharon said her father-in-law is usually always doing something active.
“He really misses going to church,” she said. “That used to be his only out per se, ‘til Covid hit.”
When the liturgical music played, Robert, a former violinist, would even act like he was playing along while sitting in the pew.
Raised in Pennsylvania, Harper spent the majority of his life selling advertising space for television station. This was right after he served in the U.S. Army.
“Not for very long, but he was in the Army,” Sharon said. “I don’t know the whole story on why he got out. But he only has one eye now, so I’m assuming it has something to do with that. I would ask but he never told me the story about that.”
During this time, he’d marry the first love of his life, Marion. Robert spent 52 years of his life married to Marion. The two would eventually adopt two children, Bruce and Bonnie. Beyond them, Robert’s family tree would comprise seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Marion eventually passed on and, aftering retiring to Florida, Robert would then marry his second wife, Winnie. After 12 years of marriage, Winnie also passed on.
And, between 12-13 years ago, Robert moved to Garfield County to be closer with family, Sharon said. Maintaining his active ways, however, Robert started a newspaper, Rifle House News, during his residency at the Rifle Senior Center.
He reported, he edited, he snapped pictures, Sharon said.
From there, Robert took up his current residence at the VA home.
“He was not happy,” Sharon said. “He lived in senior housing and thought he could take care of himself and absolutely could not anymore. Shortly after he got to the VA, he fell and broke his hip. So he’s in a wheelchair now.”
Still, Robert finds time to enjoy the finer things in life – especially reading constantly and enjoying ice-cream with every meal.
“He couldn’t tell what else he had for lunch but he knows he had ice-cream,” Sharon said. “When we first went to the VA, he was 6 feet tall and weighed 123 pounds. He’s put on some weight… I’m thinking from the ice cream.”
Sharon was asked how Robert’s made it this far in life.
“Orneriness, stubbornness,” she said. “He is a very very stubborn man.”
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