Friday, May 8, 2015

Oh Laus! - Remembering Ruth Harriet Gearen Ryder

Ruth Harriet Gearen about 18-20 yrs.
How I loved my grandmother!  I always considered her one of my best friends.  As I wrote here in the Long Since Dispersed post about my grandfather, Frank T. Ryder, I spent a very great deal of time with my grandparents and always begged to spend even more time with them.

Since my grandmother Ruth lived for twenty years after her husband who died in 1957, I was able to spend even more time with her. There are simple, sweet memories of those times.  It was very painful to communicate with her in her last years because of the strokes she suffered after 1975 and I now wish that I had the skills to be a better friend to her then.

I knew my family well but did not know much about their lives before their life with me and my immediate and extended family. That would have been very interesting, so now I spend time trying to learn more about them. Despite all the time I spent with her, I cannot remember many conversations. One I do remember was an afternoon out with her doing errands. She asked me what I looked at first when I met someone. I told her truthfully I hadn't really thought about it and she told me for her it was  their eyes. She didn't elaborate about what it meant to her but she lived in a time when personal contact was everything. That was the basis of her first impression.

But she was not really a simple person.  She had faced many challenges and many disappointments, raised her seven children safely through the Depression, moved her family between and within two cities probably 10 times, faced the terrifying early death of her husband which left her with a very small income for the rest of her life, faced the crushing heartache of her daughter Bernie's early death and many other crises, as every family does.  She remained steady, cheerful and loving.

America was changing rapidly in the 60's, and in her 70's then, she had lived through many different eras.  I spent a great deal of time with her even then, visiting, taking her grocery and birthday card shopping and running errands, picking up birthday cookies to deliver.   Forty years before smart phones, my mother and aunts were in touch with her regularly but not daily as we have been with our parents who lived to advanced ages.  Many of the things Ruth valued and wanted to cook and sew seemed quaint then but those are precious memories now.

All precious memories except the Emeraude!  She had a number of colognes and perfumes on her dressing table but her favorite seemed to be Emeraude.  I remember my reaction to it clearly.  In fairness to her and the fragrance, I visited this website:  Yesterdays Fragrances - 1921 Emeraude by Coty  It was a popular fragrance among women her age and yet my sister Peggy and I would run the other way when she picked it up!

Ruth, probably 1950's
Ruth Harriet Gearen was born August 15, 1892, in Sioux City, Iowa, the second daughter and fifth child of James Edward Gearen and Dora Virginia Curtis Gearen.  It is not entirely clear when his father Patrick arrived in the United States or how they moved gradually west to Iowa. Their two oldest sons John Florence (1883) and William Edward (1886) were born in Chicago, Illinois but Marie (1888) was born in Iowa.  According to the City Directories for Sioux City, James was a plumber in a family-owned plumbing business that bore the name of his brother John F. (J. F. Gearen Plumbing) in Sioux City. Catherine was "at home" and, unfortunately, I have no successful research about her.

To-date, I have not located proof of Ruth's birth or baptism, but the Iowa and federal censuses, the SSDI (Social Security Death Index) and her headstone list this birth date and it is the one she used. Ruth was my maternal grandmother, mother of my mother Mary Virginia Ryder Wilmes.  Ruth died September 13, 1978, at the Mercy Care Center in Omaha, several years after her first severe stroke in approximately 1975.  

James Edward and Dora Curtis Gearen
Her Parents.  The picture at left of her parents is a copy of a copy but original framed portraits were included in my mother's family history collection which I acquired when my father died in 2013. James was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1859 to an Irish immigrant couple, Patrick J. Gearen and Catherine Crowley both from County Cork, who very likely fled aftermath of the Irish famine. County Cork and Cork City were among the hardest hit famine communities in all of Ireland.

They were married in Chicago on December 20, 1882, and a copy of their license was forwarded to me by a newly found cousin. It is an important document but it is a fuzzy copy and I will work to get a clearer version to post.

Ruth's mother was Dora Virginia Curtis Gearen who was possibly born in Virginia in February 22, 1864 (the date February 22 is known only because it is listed in Ruth's Birthday book and her note "birthday anniversary" probably indicates that might be the date but it is not certain). There are not enough records located to-date to confirm very much about Dora, including the date of her relocation to Chicago from the Virginia home of her parents in Lexington, Virginia at the time of the 1870 Federal Census, or her family's religion.  The census of 1870 names her parents John Wesley (a "tinner") and Harriet Edmonds Curtis but other than a set of military documents about her father, who was for a short time a Confederate soldier discharged early for health reasons, I have not yet successfully completed enough research about them. The Confederate service records for John Wesley Curtis were located on

James and Patrick Gearen died in Sioux City within one day of each other - January 27th and January 28th, 1923.  The story was noted on January 29th, 1923 in the Nebraska Business Journal with the headline "Pals During Their Life Succumb On Same Day".  Patrick was quite elderly in 1923, perhaps born about 1836, but I asked once about why James died so early and my aunt Katy Ryder Finnegan told me he had been suffering from pernicious anemia for some time before his death.  It would be necessary to search for a death certificate in Sioux City to confirm that.

Education.  The 1940 federal census includes "highest educational level achieved" information for each person listed.  The enumerator noted that Ruth had reached the second year of high school and that Frank had completed one year (I have not researched this any further).  We don't often think of women working during the early years of the twentieth century but Ruth had a career for at least 5 years.  The 1915 Iowa Census entry for Ruth, then aged 23, indicates that she was a stenographer. The 1920 federal census also shows her as a stenographer at a "packing plant". Almost certainly that was the Cudahy plant in Sioux City where both Ruth's older brother "Fleury" or "Florry" (John Florence) Gearen and her future husband Frank T. Ryder also worked.

Friends.  Apart from her immediate family, I know almost nothing else of her life before my life with all of them. There is an address book (discussed later) with names of women unfamiliar to me. One future project will be to research the names:  Mrs. Mabel Meyer, Mrs. Gunnar Nelson, Irene Kellogg, Mrs. Catherine Follis, Mrs. Helen Nothnagel (the only name familiar to me), Mrs. George Wissing, Mrs. Kenneth Keane, Mrs. Kate Brennan.  Almost all of them show addresses from Sioux City, Iowa, and I suppose they were childhood friends or married names of relatives.

Ruth and Frank with Ann and Jack Walsh
Marriage.   I cannot be certain that this is the wedding picture of Frank and Ruth, but it is very likely that it was close to that time if not. The other couple in the picture is Ann and her husband Jack Walsh.  Ann remained a very close friend of Ruth's for all of their lives.

Marriage Recorded by Archdiocese
The Archivist of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sioux City, Iowa has an index which notes their wedding date at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Sioux City, Iowa on June 29, 1921 (fourth from the bottom, marked by yellow x).  It appears that there are no digitized marriage record pictures and I have not yet visited the governnent offices in Sioux City to search the records.  An index entry is available through Family at Iowa, County Marriages, 1838-1934.  (Frank's full name at his baptism and marriage according to additional Archdiocesan records was Thomas Francis although he used Frank Thomas Ryder personally and professionally and his headstone also shows Frank T. Ryder).

Her Catholic Faith.  Ruth was a woman of great faith, born in a time of significant growth in the Catholic community in Sioux City, according to to Cathedral of the Epiphany, Diocese of Sioux City History  She was devoted the the Blessed Virgin Mary, to the Rosary, to many saints, and to her brother, the Right Reverend Monsignor Percival Patrick ("Perc") Gearen, who became the pastor of St. Cecelia's Catholic Church in Algona, Kossuth County, Iowa, five years her junior (1897-1970).

Her Family.  She was devoted to every member of her immediate family - four sisters and five brothers in these pictures.  I love the picture of Ruth and her sisters because of their dresses.  They are all drop-waisted and much shorter than their earlier photos.  Marie's headdress suggests early 1920's "Flapper" style! Before seeing this, I would never have imagined my grandmother as a Flapper! There are several other photos of the Gearen siblings grouped together like this, so they gathered often.   A separate blog post will describe the information available for her siblings.

Ruth, Mimi (Marie), their mother Dora, Marge, Grace, Babe (Lucille)

Leo Wilson, Gearens and Frank Ryder

Oh, Laus!   (Pronounced LAWS") It is no surprise, then, that her favorite expression of exasperation was one which might have been associated with Catholicism.  "Oh, Laus!"  Problems with baking, cleaning, ironing, family, television, shopping, her husband Frank calling out for her  - "Oh, Laus!"  I have always assumed that this expression was something liturgical or scriptural.  I went looking for a source and while there is nothing direct, there are some possibilities.  

First, there is the Latin translation of "Laus Deo" or Praise the Lord as defined in

Our Lady of Laus and Benoite Rencurel
Our Lady of Laus.  There is also the story of a Marian apparation (an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary to a living person) to a simple shepardess named Benoite Rencurel at Saint Etienne-le-Laus, France, at the foot of the Alps, sixty miles from Grenoble, over the years 1664-1718 (approved by the Vatican in 2008, a story I had not heard).  The Catholic Encyclopedia at Who is Our Lady of Laus? describes the story at length.  This dictionary, dating to approximately 1910, states:  "At the heart of the message given to Benoite is a conversion of souls which aims to bring full reconciliation with oneself, with others, and with God."

The Temperance Pledge.  I cannot say where Ruth acquired the expression "Oh Laus!" - maybe at a Catholic school, through instruction at her parish church, from her brother or somewhere else.  But we know from oral family tradition that she had taken a temperance pledge when she received the Sacrament of Confirmation as a teenager. The Iowa section of  The Church in Iowa, 1910 (the Diocese of Dubuque, of which Sioux City was a part until 1902) states that the Bishop was "an enthusiastic advocate of temperance and many temperance societies had been formed across the state".  She had followed the exhortations of her religious leaders on temperance and it is possible that "Oh, Laus" was a common or her own personal use of this story of Our Lady of Laus.  She was faithful to the temperance pledge all her life except when her son-in-law Bob Wear, Sr., would mischievously make her a Creme de Menthe on ice after an occasional dinner without telling her - and she didn't refuse it!

She remained faithful to the rosary, as well, and recited it daily.  As she was older, she would "say her prayers" in the early afternoon, remarkably, often kneeling in front of a living room chair to pray and recite the rosary.  I recall many visits to her at Cornish Heights Apartments in the early 70's and finding her in prayer (and I waited until she was finished!) or at her other afternoon past-time - the daily soap opera dating from April 2, 1956, As The World Turns.  She was a devoted fan of Lawrence Welk, as well.

After her marriage, Ruth, like her mother, was also "at home".  She baked, and cooked, and kept house.  And then, she cooked some more.

Doughnuts and Breakfast.  To the right of the kitchen stove was a coffee can. Perhaps two.  One had bacon grease and the other lard. The lard was an essential ingredient for doughnuts in the early days (also pies, I think). Three varieties - cake donuts, plain, powdered sugar or sugar-cinnamon combination. Crispy, crunchy, warm, fresh from the small round cast iron pot never too far from the stove. There were doughnut dunkers in her family, especially Frank and his oldest son Jim.  And, of course, the breakfast meats were quite good quality because they came directly from the Cudahy "packing house" where her husband was the "Chief Master Mechanic".  Bacon, sausage, Canadian bacon. Ruth was very fond of buttermilk and she continued to drink it even into the 70's for lunch, for example, with some cottage cheese and tomato slices.
Fried Mush.  There were also pancakes considered unusual today - buckwheat pancakes - one of my mother's favorites - but they were not favorites of her daughters.  And, there was fried "mush", Mother's most favorite. Water, salt, corn meal and butter.  Mixed, poured into a loaf pan, refrigerated overnight, then sliced and fried to very crisp exteriors, buttered and served with syrup.  Some modern cooks attribute the popularity of fried mush to the availability of inexpensive corn meal during the Depression years. Probably true, but it is also possible Ruth's own mother's southern roots influenced her cooking.

Shirred Eggs. When all of her family except Bernie and Tommy were married and living in their own homes, there were grumblings about the three different menus she prepared daily for Frank, Bernie and Tommy. There is only one clear memory of an item that was different for one of them. Bernie's choice for breakfast was "shirred" eggs - scrambled eggs prepared in a double boiler. Actually, most recipes for shirred eggs available online today seem to involve baking the eggs in a water bath but I have clear memory of the double boiler.

Recipes.  The first Christmas after my mother Mary died, in  2000, my sister Laura made copies of her recipe book.  I found recipes that are clearly associated with Ruth.  The date that each recipe was created is not known so it may be that ingredients and baking techniques have changed over time, making the precise directions shown here less successful today. In some cases, the recipe directions seem incomplete but they are offered here as the only ones found.

Here is the recipe as written out by her daughter Kathleen Ann Ryder Finnegan, who also loved "Mush":

1 cup Quaker yellow corn meal
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold water
3 cups boiling water

Combine corn meal, salt and the cold water.  Gradually pour into boiling water, stirring constantly. Return to boil, stirring constantly.  Reduce heat; cover.  Continue cooking over low heat about 5 minutes.  Slice and fry in Crisco or oil . 

This is the recipe for her Banana Bread as recorded by my mother:

2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup soft shortening
2 eggs
Stir in:  3 tablespoons sour milk (probably buttermilk?)
1 cup mashed bananas
2 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (baking) soda
1/2 teaspoon salt 

Blend in 1/2 cup nuts
Let stand 1 hour before baking at 350 degrees for 50 minutes

Here is a recipe from my mother's collection labeled Grandma's Devils Food Cake (but I am not certain if it is Ruth's or her mother Dora's):

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1 stick of margarine, put in cup and fill with boiling water
2 eggs
1 cup flour
1 cup buttermilk
Stir flour with 1 teaspoon (baking) soda and 1/4 teaspoon (cream of) tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Add in order above.  Bake 350 degrees until done.

And finally, this is Ruth's recipe for my sister Peggy's favorite cookie - the Refrigerator Cookies (previously called the Ice Box Cookie):

1 cup shortening
1 teaspoon salt 
1 cup white sugar and 1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
3 cups sifted flour
1/2 teaspoon (baking) soda
1 cup nuts
1 teaspoon vanilla

Roll in 2 rolls and chill several hours
Slice.  Bake on greased cookie sheets.  375 degrees. 

Cookies For Your Birthday
Cookies for your birthday.  Whenever possible, she made cookies as birthday gifts for every grandchild. She kept careful records of the birth dates of her grandchildren in a Birthday Book (which will be attached in full to a future post). My favorite was chocolate chip cookies made according to the back of the Nestle's Chocolate Chip bag, as I recall. Each child's cookies' gift was a small wax-paper lined coffee can (like this more modern Folgers can) - there were no special wrappings but love!  

Housekeeper.  Besides baking, she was a great housekeeper.  Each day of the week had a task,  Monday was wash day. Tuesday was ironing day, and so on. Fabrics were 100% cotton and everything was ironed.  At their Rockbrook Blvd. house, there was a basement laundry room and I remember her ironing there on a "mangle" she used to iron shirts, sheets, pillow cases, underwear. Most of the vintage mangles shown online have rollers like an old fashioned washing machine but my recollection is that it was similar to the steam presses of modern dry cleaners with a top raised by a long horizontal bar.  It is likely that her husband made or had the device made for her. There was no residential air conditioning at that time and summer ironing was and perhaps it was intended to speed her work.  I do remember (because I did it often in my own family) that each item was sprinkled to moisten it, then rolled and kept cool in a refrigerator until time to iron it.   

A Goebel-Hummel Figurine
Hummels.  Perhaps Ruth decided quickly that one way to keep a pre-schooler busy was to create a job for her.  My jobs were emptying the wastebaskets around the house daily and, if there for the weekly cleaning day, dusting the figurines. The clearest memories were "Hummel" figurines (see the Goebel-Hummel-Collectibles Guide). She received them as gifts for special occasions and as they were special, each had to be dusted with care. There are several remaining in the collections of family members, this one is in my sister Laura Wilmes Ramirez's living room.  

1970's Sewing Box
Sewing.  Most women of Ruth's generation had good if not great sewing skills.  I cannot recall her completing full womens' pattern sewing as my mother and her sister Bernie often did, but she was a good cross-stitcher and mender. These are the contents of her sewing box from the 1970's:  needles, measuring tapes, scissors, wooden spool threads, iron-on denim patches snaps, hooks and eyes, binding tapes, and needle-pointed pin cushion. I know that she continued to cross-stitch through all of the 70's, even with arthritis in her hands and after her first stroke.

Health. Her first stroke followed a terrifying and devastating event in her life, an F4 tornado which struck Omaha on May 6, 1975 (1975 Omaha tornado outbreak).  The apartment complex in which she lived was severely damaged.  Hearing the civil defense sirens, a neighbor living below her walked her down to his garden apartment level and although they were uninjured, the buildings were severely damaged.  Her daughter Frances Ryder Wear's home nearby had almost a total loss and the Wears' Cornish Heights Apartments were heavily damaged. She moved immediately to Whitehall Apartments further west on Dodge Street in Omaha but that Fall she suffered the first of the strokes. She did not really recover from the first so she moved, first to St. Catherine's Nursing Home and later to Bergan Mercy Care Center.

Ruth's Birthdays At-A-Glance Book
Birthdays, anniversaries, dates-of-death.  Dates and mail were very important to Ruth, so important that she even noted the name of her Postman - Milo A. Karnik -  in her Birthdays book  The cards she mailed to each person in her book were purchased at a Hallmark card store before the beginning of the month, handwritten with a fountain ink pen in her beautiful spidery script, then stamped and mailed weekly as the date approached. This is the cover of her book, which was included in my mother's collection of family history.  The full, scanned contents will be a separate Long Since Dispersed post soon.

Special Dinner With Flowers
Opposite Side View
Getting Together.  There were many family gatherings. Sunday dinners were standard for the years before my grandfather died in 1957. Roast chicken, mashed potatoes with white gravy, a vegetable. Homemade Clover rolls. Perhaps some fancy jello mold.  Dessert cake or pie, with ReadiWhip or occasionally homemade ice cream, of course!

The basements of both homes had large spaces that held huge dining tables and chairs for a crowd. These pictures are from a 1949 dinner at 1009 Mercer Blvd., perhaps about the time that Jim and Jeanne Walden Ryder were married or leaving for the Philippines.  Note the multiple platters of fried chicken and mashed potatoes. There is a vacant chair between my aunts Franny and Katy so I think that the picture was probably taken by Katy's husband Jim Finnegan.  The second photo shows two children near Franny, and along with the notation in my mother's handwriting of "1949" on the back, it is definitely that later year.

Birthday Parties.  Individual birthdays were cookie gift days but there was often a monthly celebration for all the grandchildren with birthdays that month.  There soon were so many children that parties were held in city parks, weather permitting - Elmwod Park or Fontanelle Park.  Each was a dynamic event! These photos are of an indoor summer 1955 party.

Rockbrook Summer 1955 (not Oct '55 print date)

Spider Man (Bob Wear, Jr.) and the girls
Of course, we took our treat bags to her house for Halloween. This photo is also at Rockbrook Blvd. and is probably earlier than the birthday party above, perhaps 1953 or 1954.  I remember the desk in the corner and the round table with the bowed legs very well. From top left, Sherry Wilmes, Ruthie Wear, Bob Wear, Jr. masked, Connie Wear, Maureen Finnegan and Peggy Wilmes masked.

My husband and I sat with Katy's lifelong friend Rene Wilfong Garvey and her daughter at the lunch following the funeral my beloved aunt Katy Ryder Finnegan in Omaha on April 10, 2015. In addition to wonderful recollections of their girlhoods, Rene told us that she spent many hours at the Ryder houses with Katy. One of her recollections was that Ruth found her husband Frank very funny and I remember that about all of the Ryders, they loved laughing!  Her daughters gathered at her house or apartment often, cooking, sewing, giving each other permanent waves, caring for their mother.

There was another family party that evening at Julie Wear and Gene Cammarotta's home following Katy's funeral.  More than half of Ruth's 26 grandchildren were there, many of their children, almost a dozen great-great-grandchildren, and several more unborn. Ruth would have been delighted to see them and to hold them and to enter each one into her treasured Birthdays book!  This story is for all of you.  I hope that you will remember that she loved her family deeply, taught them to love each other and would unquestionably loved you.

Notes and Sources
  1. All of the United States Census and state census documents mentioned here were accessed at, a paid genealogy database program.  They are also available online without cost at  I have created an extensive family tree at titled Wilmes_Ryder Family  Tree.  Periodically, access to is available free for very limited periods, especially during holidays such as Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, etc.  I have not yet created an extensive tree at but it is my intention to do so.
  2. The source for the news article about James Gearen and his father Patrick Gearen dying within 24 hours of each other is: The Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln, Nebraska) [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2005.  Original data: The Nebraska State Journal. Lincoln, NE, USA. Database created from microfilm copies of the newspaper. Accessed May 8, 2015.
  3. Reference is made to as the source of the John Wesley Curtis (Ruth's maternal grandfather) Confederate Army documents. is a paid database and is occasionally available free for very limited periods near holidays, especially those with military associations.  Copies of the documents are saved to my tree.
  4. The marriage record information was obtained from the Archdiocese of Sioux City, Iowa, 1812 Jackson Street, Sioux City, Iowa 51105 which has an Archives:. Archives of the Archdiocese of Sioux City, Iowa.  Note that the office has limited office hours on Monday and Tuesday at this time. 712-255-7933.   I obtained the marriage index, as well as a baptismal index record for Frank T. Ryder and his older brother Arthur Benjamin Ryder from the archdiocese in 2014.
  5. Most of the photos and the Birthdays At A Glance book and the sewing box in this post were found in photo albums and a collection retained by my mother, Mary Virginia Ryder Wilmes until her death in 2000 and maintained by my father James A. Wilmes until his death in 2014. In addition to those items in my possession now, I have the framed original prints of Ruth's I have acquired them as we have packed their home in Omaha for sale.  They are all now in my home in Brooklyn, NY.
  6. Most other items are identified as to their current location or owner or linked directly to a website source.