Ruth Schultz can’t help but smile as she sits in her kitchen table holding a black cardboard scrapbook of photos from her first motorcycle day trip. The snapshots show her decked out in a black leather jacket, a matching motorcycle helmet, a white shirt and slacks she wore for curling, the closest thing she could find to jeans.
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Ruth Schultz at her kitchen table with a scrapbook from her first motorcycle ride in 2015. She plans many more in the future.
The photo book is from a motorcycle ride in the fall of 2015, with her nephew leading the group. Schultz was one of four people with three motorcycles. She rode on the back of one.
What makes this remarkable? Ruth Schultz was 95-years-old at the time. The title of the book reads, “The Harley Grandma.” That was the first of several rides she’s taken and when the weather warms up, she plans to hop back on again.
Schultz, now 96, doesn’t think there’s anything all that extraordinary about her riding on a motorcycle, which she associates with a sense of freedom. “I felt like a queen,” Schultz said, smiling proudly, the sunlight shining on her from a kitchen window where she often spends time watching birds and squirrels. “My bowling group found out about it and they all congratulated me. One of them said ‘how did you get your leg over that bike?’ ‘Well, you just put it up and put it over,’” she says matter-of-factly.
It’s the latest venture for a woman who never gave up being on the move. Schultz still bowls in a Monday group, she still golfs in the summer months, and she curled into her 80s.
A life of activity
Staying active for Schultz has been a lifelong endeavor. In high school played basketball and softball with the Catholic Youth Services. She and her late husband, Paul, were members of the Wausau Country Club for much of their marriage, and Schultz, who still golfs there during the summer, has now been a member for more than 70 years.
Schultz is no slouch at golf— she’s hit two holes-in-one during her time as a member. “I almost own the place,” Schultz jokes. “It’s a sport where you’re outside for two hours, getting fresh air and walking.”
Only in the last few years did she start taking a cart — even into her 90s Schultz says she preferred to traverse the course on foot, the same mode of transportation she used to get around as a teenager.
She also spent 40 years as a member of the Wausau Curling Club. She only quit playing around 2000, shortly after turning 80, because several of her team members no longer curled and she didn’t want to go through the trouble of putting together another team. Before that, she ignored pleas from family members to drop the sport amid safety concerns over walking on ice.
Schultz dismissed those concerns, demonstrating at her kitchen table how you learn to walk with your weight balanced to keep from falling on the ice. “Still, accidents happen,” Schultz says. Yet if the team had continued, it’s possible she might still be curling today.
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Ruth Schultz bowls during her Monday league at Day’s Bowl-a-Dome. Bowling is one of the many activities she uses to keep active.
She also bowls every Monday at Day’s Bowl-a-Dome in an early afternoon league. Schultz moves like a woman several decades younger, throwing her bowling ball with surprising grace.
“She’s an inspiration to me,” says team member Dale Danielewicz, 67. His third season with the league, he was pretty amazed to learn she was in her 90s. “I didn’t think it was possible. She always has a smile on her face. She is very young for her age.”
It’s not just athletic activities that have kept Schultz moving. Schultz still maintains her own home, keeps her bird feeders full, and does chores around the house. She even got on the ladder to clean the roof until just recently, when relatives insisted on taking care of that for her.
Schultz is doing exactly the right things to keep vibrant into one’s twilight years, says Melissa Stockwell, Life Enrichment Supervisor at Mount View Care Center.
With baby boomers aging and the numbers of elderly people expected to rise, there’s a trend toward trying to keep seniors in their own homes as long as possible. That helps reduce nursing and assisted living facility populations but it also benefits the seniors themselves, Stockwell says. According to the Marathon County Life Report, seniors 65 and older are expected to make up nearly a quarter of Marathon County’s population by 2030, sharply up from the 12-15% they represent today.
Keeping active is also important for socialization, Stockwell says. It’s easy for seniors to become isolated at home, Stockwell says, and being active can mean a reason to get out of the house, and important part of combating that isolation. Mount View Care Center does its best to provide that socialization for its residents to ensure they continue to have an enriched life, Stockwell says. “[Schultz] is living life to the fullest,” she says. “I hope I’m doing that when I am 96.”
Staying active is smart because exercise can benefit more than just the physical, says Evalyn Michira, Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist at Aspirus Wausau Hospital. Physical activity improves brain function. “It also helps with stress reduction, and helps with balance,” Michira says. “That way as we grow, our functionality doesn’t decline.”
In addition to structured exercise, even things such as working in a garden or going for a long walk can be beneficial. “If you love dancing, dancing helps,” Michira says. “Water aerobics, golfing, tai chi — anything that keeps us physically active.”
Fortunately, many people in the baby boomer generation and younger are more focused on physical activity than in the past, and that should help people maintain health into later ages, Michira says.
Lessons from the Great Depression
Ruth Schultz was born in 1920, during one of America’s greatest periods of prosperity. That changed in the decade that followed, as the stock market crash of 1929 brought about one of the biggest eras of economic depression this country ever faced.
With the Great Depression came lessons about simplicity, community and frugality, which were never lost on Schultz.
“Things were more family centered,” Schultz says about Wausau. “You knew everybody too, they communicated more. Now it’s don’t talk to this person or that person. I hardly ever talk to my neighbors, they have too many irons in the fire.”
Schultz had three sisters and a brother, and cemented her tomboy status early on. She loved playing basketball and softball as a teenager. Without smartphones and “games on the TV,” as she calls them, she would ride bicycles with her friends into downtown, gather on Third Street and chat with friends. Or, they would gather in the neighborhood around her Prospect Avenue home and play games. “You walked everywhere,” Schultz says. Schultz and her friends would walk from the southeast side to Marathon Park, skate all night, then walk all the way home.
Life was simple. Sundays were reserved for chicken dinners, and she walked a mile to school and back twice each day (she regularly ate lunch at home), regardless of the snowy weather. Meals were always home-cooked; Schultz didn’t eat at a restaurant until on a date with her future husband when she was 17 years old.
Those lessons carried on into her married life. She and her husband, Paul, who worked at Wausau Paper’s Brokaw mill, bought a house and paid it off within four and a half years, sending any extra money they had toward the principal until the debt was retired. The idea of paying interest endlessly was unfathomable to her; debt was something to be avoided as much as possible.
“That’s the whole problem ruining this nation,” Schultz says. “When people put everything on their credit card they’re not thinking about how much debt they’re paying interest on. To me, if you don’t have the money for an article, you don’t need it.”
A charitable mind
Schultz spent her life managing money carefully and living within her means, but that hasn’t stopped her from being charity minded. Schultz didn’t want to disclose the amount of her donations to area organizations, but they are significant. The bar at the Curling Center, for example, is named after the couple in honor of their support.
She also donated significant amounts to the Boy Scouts Samoset Council, which helped fund a new STEM program within the organization for both boy and girl scouts. Those programs would have been tough to create without Ruth’s help, says Samoset Council STEM Executive Amanda Flannery.
Schultz set up an endowment for maintenance of the dining hall at Camp Tesomas (the destination of one of her motorcycle trips, by the way) north of Rhinelander and funded the Samoset Council’s purchase of a mobile laboratory.
Flannery says she finds Schultz personally inspiring. The fact that she still keeps so active into her latter years has made an impression on Flannery. “She still lives on her own and has a very positive outlook on life even though she has lost a lot of friends and family in recent years,” Flannery says. “She cares deeply about our community’s future generation and wants to do everything she can to help them develop into outstanding adults. And she has the foresight to see that this lies in technology and the sciences.”
Schultz says the Scouts organization is important because it teaches respect and self-reliance; something she feels is in more demand than ever these days. “The scouts always interested me because I think you have to teach these kids when they’re young and get them interested in something other than drugs and playing these games on the TV and stuff like that.”
Schultz was married 65 years to her husband, with whom she traveled all over the country and into Canada. She and Paul never had children themselves, but Schultz now has 35 nieces and nephews she loves spending time with. She says she never felt like she didn’t have a large family to enjoy. Paul died ten years ago, but she still lives in the couple’s home near Wausau East High School.
What’s her secret? She hasn’t stopped doing the things she has always enjoyed. It just doesn’t occur to her not to.
And obviously she’s game for new adventures. Schultz doesn’t hesitate a second when asked if she intends to continue riding motorcycles. “Oh yes,” she says, nodding with enthusiasm. Her nephew and other relatives are safe riders and she never had much fear of the large machines, not even on the first ride around the Wausau East parking lot.
Rest assured, she will still find herself on the golf course when the weather clears and, at some point, on the back of motorcycle, donning leather jacket and boots, feeling free, feeling like a queen.