By Pamela Dozois

Contributing Writer

Sitting with Ruth Seeley as she skillfully uses her smart phone, it’s hard to believe that she will be 100 years old on Jan. 10.

Born in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 1919, Seeley entered the world at the end of World War I. It was also the beginning of Prohibition and the year women first gained the right to vote. The League of Nations was formed, and Congress approved Daylight-Saving Time. It also saw the invention of the first pop-up toaster and the first rotary dial telephone.

She has adapted with aplomb to all those changes and many more.

Seeley began volunteering as a Red Coat usher at Solvang Theaterfest when she was 80 years old, in 1999. 

“I pass out the programs at the entrance,” she said. “I love to talk to the people when they come in, and I’ve gotten to know many theater patrons over the years. It’s been a nice experience working with all the people at Theaterfest and seeing all the plays. I hope to be back there this summer.

“I love the theater and I see all the plays for free because I work there. Over the past 20 years I’ve seen many great theatrical performances. My favorite from last season was “Mamma Mia’,” she added. “Sometimes I see the play many times, but it’s still great. I love theater and watching all the wonderful actors perform. I just have to remember to go up and down the stairs very carefully.”

“Leo was such a good man and was absolutely good to me all his life,” Ruth Seeley said. “I’ve had the best, so I was never interested in dating after he passed away.”

Seeley came to live in Ballard with her daughter, Linda Preston, in 1990. She had been living in Santa Barbara since 1963.

“My husband Leo and I moved to Santa Barbara in 1963. We bought a nursing home from my mother and my aunt. We came for a visit from Minnesota and they talked us into buying it,” Seeley said. “They said ‘Why don’t you just pack up and move here to California?’ and so we did. We operated the Santa Barbara Sanitarium and Rest Home for 25 years. It had an excellent reputation because it was one of the only nursing homes that was family owned and operated. The building is now the Braille Institute in Santa Barbara.”

“I had invited my mother to come and live with me after my father died in 1984,” Preston said, “but being very independent, she decided to live on her own. One day she called to say that all of her friends had died and asked if the invitation to come and live with me was still open.”

At the time Preston owned a store in Solvang called the Country Boutique, so her mother came to work with her at the store, and also did some sewing for Pearls of Provence.

“I learned how to sew when I was 7 years old,” she said while stroking her little rescue dog, Chimi, who sat quietly on her lap while her other dog, Tika, slept at her feet. “I don’t do much sewing now, as my hands have a little arthritis. He’s getting older too, just like me,” she said, looking at Chimi.

She has four children, Jay, who is 75; David, 70; Linda, 65; and Karen, 60. She also has eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

She and her husband were married for almost 50 years.

“I like to say I lived with Leo for two years before we got married,” Seeley said impishly. “My mother took in boarders and Leo was one of them. I wasn’t supposed to be dating the boarders, so Leo and I just stayed home together. He helped me do the dishes, and my chores. He helped me pack the lunches for the boarders, and he would stand and watch me starch and iron the shirts for the boarders. We talked and got to know each other and fell in love and got married. We used to love to dance. My husband and I would go to the auditorium in Grand Rapids where a new band was playing every month. I love big band music and we would dance our feet off. This was in 1938.”

“He was such a good man and was absolutely good to me all his life,” Seeley said. “I’ve had the best, so I was never interested in dating after he passed away.”

 “Leo was always doing good things for people,” she continued. “He started the Optimist Club in our area and was an advocate for the rights of children with mental health issues.

“Our second son, David, contracted spinal meningitis when he was 10 weeks old. The doctors told us we may as well put him in a home and forget about him. My husband flatly refused, saying, “Absolutely not – he’s our son and we’re keeping him. Then our third child, Linda, was born with a congenital heart defect and had to be operated on when she was 5. Our first son Jay was born two years before my husband was discharged from the Army in WWII. He never saw his first son until he was over 2 years old. I just thank the good Lord for giving me such a good husband. He was always there for us, day and night, without fail,” she said.

“Leo organized teachers to start a school for the mentally handicapped and worked at mainstreaming the students when they graduated. He fought to eliminate the use of the word ‘retarded’ and instead used the term ‘mentally handicapped’,” she continued.

 “All of this seems like such a long time ago,” she said wistfully.

For her 99th birthday, Seeley was given a cruise through the Panama Canal. She had taken this cruise previously with her husband on the original Love Boat and wanted to relive that experience.  Unfortunately, she fell and broke her leg and spent her birthday in surgery.

“I told her that if she got better, I’d take her on another cruise. We just returned from a 28-day cruise to French Polynesia, where we visited many islands and had a fantastic time,” said Preston. “It was the first time we crossed the International Date Line and the equator. Everyone partied, including ‘grandma,’ as they called her.”

“I was crowned ‘Miss Emerald Princess’ and was given a tiara and a sash. Everyone on board was so nice to me. I had a wonderful time,” Seeley said.

Her next planned cruise is to Alaska.

She believes she knows the reasons for her longevity.

“I do water aerobics two or three times a week and I think that’s what keeps me going. Getting up and doing something and exercising is the best thing to do to keep you young. I never smoked or drank alcohol. I eat proper foods, which I think is important, and I eat very little salt or sugar.

“The most important thing is, I work hard and keep going,” she said.

There will be a party to celebrate her 100th birthday from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 12, at Theaterfest. In lieu of any presents, Seeley would prefer donations to the Solvang Festival Theatre at

“I don’t know whether I deserve all this fuss. People are so nice to me,” Seeley said. “Turning 100 seems normal to me – it’s just another birthday.”