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Former Gahanna teacher celebrates 100th birthday

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JOSHUA A. BICKEL/THISWEEKNEWS
Centenarian Ruth Earl poses for a portrait during her 100th birthday party Sunday, June 23 at Mifflin Presbyterian Church in Gahanna.
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Celebrating her 100th birthday this month, Gahanna native Ruth Earl said she hasn't experienced everything life has to offer but she has enjoyed everything she has tried.

"I've had a good life," she said. "I've visited every state except Alaska. I never thought I'd make it to 100, but I'm glad I did. I have many wonderful friends."

Earl celebrated the milestone with family and friends Sunday, June 23 at Mifflin Presbyterian Church in Gahanna. She's proud of being the longest-serving member of the church at 123 Granville St., having first attended services there when she was 10.

The former Gahanna third-grade teacher turned 100 on June 14, but she wanted to make sure she reached the mark before scheduling the celebration.

Nephew Don Earl said his aunt, who never married, lived independently until a year ago when a fall left her in a wheelchair. She has also lost her vision, but her mind is sharp, he added.

"She's living at Manor Care in Westerville," Earl added. "She's so well-loved there. It's unbelievable."

Earl grew up on her parents' farm on McCutcheon Road with two sisters and three brothers, all of whom lived to be in their 90s.

After graduating in 1930 from a one-building Gahanna Lincoln High School, Earl attended Capital University and received a degree in education.

She taught elementary education for almost 11 years in Gahanna, until a surge of patriotism filled her heart after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Earl joined the military and completed instruction in high-speed Army radio operating in 1943. She was assigned to the 8th Air Force Division in Kansas City, where she learned Morse code. She worked as a radio operator, translating messages sent by code.

Earl worked in England, communicating with pilots on their missions over Germany. She said the busiest day for the operators was D-Day -- June 6, 1944. Although most of the operators talking to the pilots had no idea what was happening, she said, the high ranking officials did. In a way, Earl said, she felt like she went down with the pilots who didn't arrive safely back at the base.

After almost three years in the service, Earl moved to Denver, Colo., for a job with the Veteran's Administration. She later took the opportunity to move to Hawaii, where she lived 35 years while working at the Hickam Air Force Base.

"I loved Hawaii," she said.

Her former hairdresser and friend in Hawaii sent her leis to add to the birthday celebration Sunday.

"She can't see them but she can smell them," said Charles Poth, a great-nephew. "Whenever she visited from Hawaii, she had leis."

Many of Earl's relatives visited while she lived in Hawaii, and her great-nephews always looked forward to her holiday packages.

"Her Christmas gifts were always wonderful," Poth said. "It was something she picked out or made herself from the islands. As a child, you never knew what you'd get. She covered cigar boxes in beautiful Polynesian fabric. She also sent Hawaiian Christmas stockings. They're 3-D with plastic skirts. They go up every year."

Great-nephew Greg Poth said he also looked forward to Earl's gifts.

"When we were kids, we always anticipated she would send a box," he said. "It had all kinds of this Hawaiian stuff that kids love."

History lessons are what great-great niece Jessica Poth, 22, of Ann Arbor, Mich., appreciates about Earl.

"Every year at Easter she would have trivia history," she said. "A lot of things I didn't know. It was trivia about presidents and movies. After a big lunch, we'd sit around and she'd ask us questions. We all won in the game, and we'd get chocolates."

Niece Ruth Ellen Poth said Earl was always there for her.

"We visited her several times in Hawaii," she said. "My husband and I celebrated our 40th anniversary there. Ruth liked to eat. Her letters were about restaurants and what she had to eat. I was young enough to look up to her. She was a school teacher and I was a school teacher. She was always special in my life."

Don Earl said an Honor Flight to the memorials in Washington, D.C., marked one of his aunt's special memories on Sept. 12, 2009.

"High school teacher Tom Gregory was my guardian, and he made sure I saw everything," Earl said. "It was a lot to cover in a day. I met Bob and Elizabeth Dole. I enjoyed it."

Charles Poth describes Earl as energetic, vivacious, fun to be with and having a good sense of humor.

She also has a fondness for giraffes. Miniatures of the African animal filled her former apartment.

"She taught me not to be afraid and to take risks in life," Poth said. "She said to enjoy everything you do and don't regret it."

Earl told ThisWeek that it's important to keep an optimistic outlook.

When asked the keys to longevity, she said, "When I was younger, I used to say I didn't take a lot of pills.

"And I prayed a lot."

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