Dowagiac woman to celebrate 95th birthday with ‘ride-by’ celebration

DOWAGIAC — Dowagiac resident Ruth McDonald will be turning 95 on Sunday, and her church community is making sure it will be a day she will not forget.

The United Methodist Church is planning a “ride-by” parade in front of McDonald’s home at 10:45 a.m. Sunday to celebrate the birthday of their oldest active member.

Jody Crandall, a longtime friend of McDonald’s, coordinated with the church to help celebrate her birthday in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When she turned 90, I planned a cake and coffee event after the church service,” Crandall said. “I was going to do that again this year, but then COVID-19 happened, so she hasn’t been going to church. I talked with the secretary about a new plan, and someone suggested a parade.”

Born Ruth Gard in Vandalia, in 1925, McDonald was one of seven children in the household. She has been a member of the church for more than 60 years and sang with the choir until the age of 90. Due to the pandemic, McDonald has not attended church service in person since March 8.

“I can’t go back,” McDonald said. “I’m not going to take a chance on getting it. I’ve had a list of health problems over the years, so I just can’t risk going back right now.”

According to Crandall, The Dowagiac Fire Department and True’s Towing and Recovery will participate in the parade.

“As the church members leave the church service, they’re going to come through here,” Crandall said. “She thought that was so cool.”

After graduating from Dowagiac Union High School in 1943, McDonald worked for Bendix Corporation, a manufacturing and engineering company based out of South Bend that specialized in making avionics equipment during World War II. She worked there until the war ended in 1945.

“That day, we all walked out into the middle of the street,” McDonald said. “Everyone was celebrating. It was a great day.”

McDonald met her late husband Bob in Vandalia while he was studying there as a Michigan State Forestry Department student. They were married for 54 years before his passing in 2001 at the age of 80.

“The school brought them to Vandalia to learn some skills,” McDonald said. “My girl friend met a fella from that group. She told me that maybe we could convince some of the boys to come dance with us. We gave it a try, and I picked out Bob, and the rest was history.”

McDonald has worn many worker hats over the years, including repairing sewing machines, spending more than 40 years as an election worker and tying bait at Heddon Bait in Dowagiac. She has also been active at the Cass County Council on Aging, and even joined a kazoo band with her sister, Donna, for a few years.

“I didn’t know what to do, because I always sang,” McDonald said. “I thought about what I would do in the band. Somebody told me to play the kazoo and that’s what happened. We tooted away on that thing, I tell ya.”

Despite her age, McDonald still takes care of business. She still drives and pays her own bills. She has lived in the same house she and her husband bought 66 years ago. With 94 years full of memories, McDonald is looking forward to starting year 95 with a parade full of friends.

“How exciting is that?” McDonald said. “I’ve never been a part of something like this before.”

Crandall thinks there will be more celebrations for McDonald to be had.

“We may be doing this again five years from now, with how well she’s doing,” she said.

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