107th birthday deserves a ‘big party’

Jonie Emrick is among the folks looking forward to the celebration of Ruth Hofto’s 107th birthday.

Hofto is a regular at the University Place Senior Center, where Emrick is the director. And Emrick promises that on May 12, Hofto’s birthday, the center will go all out to be sure it is a day to remember.

By all accounts, Hofto is an amazing woman. An artist, she held an art show at the Lakewood public library when she was 97, and she drove until age 98.

Ten years ago, Hofto’s daughter, Jacki Hofto, retired from her job at the University of Texas as a music teacher and moved back to the family home in University Place to help her mother.

Jacki said the family settled in University Place in 1972. Ruth was born in Black Diamond and grew up as a coal miner’s daughter, walking to school every day and showing an aspiration and love for art. That passion was a common thread throughout her life as she worked with mediums including enamels, watercolors and painting.

“At about 6 years old, she wanted to draw and went to the butcher’s shop with her dad, where she showed the butcher a pansy picture she had drawn at school,” said Jacki.

The butcher encouraged Ruth to keep up with her art and gave her some paper so she could keep drawing.

During the Depression, Ruth worked to help support her family. She and her husband, who died in 1999, were married in 1934.

Jacki brings her mother to the senior center each week, usually on Fridays, and a recent visit found Ruth making her way from the car through the door under her own power, using only a walker for support.

Ruth is amazed she will be celebrating her 107th birthday.

“I never thought I would live this long,” said Ruth, who cast her first vote for president for Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Jacki said in addition to being an artist, her mom has always been good at making new friends, and the senior center is a great place for them to gather.

Ruth attributes her long life to good genes and a healthy lifestyle.

“She exercised, didn’t drink or smoke, and always had a lot of interests,” said Jacki.

The University Place Senior Center continues to operate despite the fact that last December its funding ceased when the City Council eliminated the Parks and Recreation Department services from the municipal budget.

Community Connections, a non-profit organization with a passion for the community, stepped in and picked up the tab to keep the center up and running.

Emrick is grateful to have her job and see the center continue to serve the seniors who depend on it for a number of services.

Every Friday, Catholic Community Services serve lunch to the seniors, making that day particularly busy. Fridays also provide an opportunity for seniors to gather for bingo and lunch, and recently they heard the University Place Police chief give a talk about scams targeting seniors.

The center continues to function thanks to generous donations and the support of Community Connections.

Shelia Phillip is on the Board of Directors for Community Connections, which she said is comprised of people with an interest in the community.

Phillip acknowledged taking on the senior center was a big challenge, but she said the community has been very supportive and the program has received several significant donations to help with that effort.

“We were able to sustain some of the programs, the lunch program and foot care doctor, and we are gradually adding more and more programs to the center,” she said.

Emrick, the center’s director, enjoys working with the senior population and loves going all-out for celebrations like the birthday party for Ruth Hofto.

“It is breathtaking to know I have someone in my presence who will be 107 years old. It’s a gift and treasure to know what we (the senior center) are doing is right on point,” said Emrick.

Plans for the big day include a lot of decorations, a “great” birthday cake, and friends to help celebrate, said Emrick.

“We will decorate the whole place like a big party,” she said.



Ruth Hofto celebrated her 107th birthday on May 12 at the University Place Senior Center. (Joan Cronk/for Senior Scene)