Town gem turns 102

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Ruby Wright always has liked taking drives.

Up to age 99, she regularly drove elderly Hayden women on scenic tours to Browns Park and Baggs, Wyo.

So it's no surprise that jaunts in the car to see wildflowers and the changing leaves still highlight Wright's daily routine.

"Grandma likes her car rides," granddaughter and caregiver Nancy Muhme said.

Getting out and enjoying the outdoors is important to Wright, who celebrated her 102nd birthday Monday and credits activities such as walking, gardening, dancing and -- of course -- driving to her long life.

"I have always been athletic," said Wright, who looks forward to modified versions of her favorite activities.

"Buggy rides" in her wheelchair on nice evenings have taken the place of the daily walks around Hayden that Wright rarely missed until she was about 99, Nancy Muhme and her husband, Roger Muhme, said.

And though hobbies such as tap dancing and square dancing are no longer possible for Wright, memories of those times are as nearby as the colorful roses she spent decades planting around her Hayden home.

"You used to cut up a pretty good rug, huh Grandma," Muhme said, remembering when her grandmother coached Muhme to do the Charleston.

Wright, dressed for the day in a red ruffled shirt and green pants, smiled and chuckled in response.

Born in 1902 in Iola, Kan., Ruby Alda Carns spent the summer of 1916 traveling by covered wagon with her family to Denver. The next spring, the family headed to Craig where, as Wright's granddaughter Amber Muhme described in a school essay, the streets were packed dirt, the sidewalks were wooden and there were log poles for tying horses.

The family filed for a homestead site north of Craig later, moving to homestead in Browns Park where life was very hard, Amber Muhme wrote.

Within the first year, the family's crops failed, and they ran out of food. They moved back to Craig where Ruby cleaned hotel rooms, waited tables and nursed her mother back to health during the influenza epidemic of 1920.

Ruby married Frank Wright, whom she met in Tow Creek between Milner and Hayden, and they married in 1930. About 35 years later, the couple moved to Hayden where they built the home on Lincoln Avenue where Ruby still lives. Frank Wright died in 1976.

During their life together, Frank and Ruby Wright had three daughters, Juanita Erickson who lives in Grand Junction, and Marie Heidel and Laura Watts -- Nancy Muhme's mother -- who are deceased.

Ruby Wright has 10 grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren and 12 great-great-grandchildren, including 6-year-old Bryan Muhme, who joked with his grandmother about her age.

"Were the dinosaurs around back then?" he asked while bouncing on the couch in her living room.

Ruby Wright, who speaks slowly and thoughtfully, just giggled at her grandson's question. Her sense of humor is one aspect of Ruby Wright's personality that has made her life not only long, but also happy, Nancy Muhme said.

"She likes to have fun and she always has jokes to tell," she said. "She enjoys life and is always ready with a smile."

Though Ruby Wright worked most of her life in the home, during World War II she assembled airplane engines at a Lockheed plant in California. She loved pointing out that she put the engines in the planes that flew overhead, Nancy Muhme said.

Ruby Wright also worked as a cook at what was then the Whiteman-Gaylord School. One of her family's favorite stories is when the school ran out of baking powder and she had to use sour dough powder in the biscuits.

One day, after much whining from the students about the sour dough, Ruby Wright called the biscuits "beer biscuits" without changing the recipe.

"They thought they were the best biscuits ever," Roger Muhme said.

Nancy Muhme lives with her grandmother, and the rest of the Muhme family lives about a block away, spending much of their time with Ruby Wright, which she is grateful for, she said.

"Nancy has kept me out of the nursing home," she said.

In addition to car rides, she enjoys hearing Nancy Muhme read books by Ruby Wright's favorite author, Zane Grey.

She also looks forward to sitting on the porch and watching birds and deer.

Trips to Craig to attend church and to get her hair done are other favorite parts of her weekly agenda.

Ruby Wright stays healthy by eating nutritious foods, though she likes her potato chips, orange sticks and crÃme de mints, her family said.

Though there may be some fame involved with being a centenarian, that doesn't change how it feels to be more than 100 years old, Ruby Wright said.

"I don't feel like a celebrity. ... I feel old," she said.

-- To reach Tamera Manzanares, call 871-4204 or e-mail tmanzanares@steamboatpilot.com.

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