Celeste Ruth Gertsma was born to Andrew and Dora (Kooistra) Gertsma on June 7, 1917, on a farm near Lynnville. Ruth, as she was always called, had a very happy childhood with a fun-loving mother, a kind and helpful father, and one brother, Merlyn Bruce, who was born in 1922. Ruth also enjoyed the company of many Kooistra cousins.
Ruth graduated from Lynnville High School in 1936 along with seven other classmates. Although she dreamed of becoming a nurse, her father encouraged her to become a teacher. She attended a 12-week teacher’s course at the Iowa Teacher’s College in Cedar Falls and then taught school north of Lynnville in a one-room school house. She would board with various families and go home on the weekends.
On her twenty-second birthday (June 7, 1939), Ruth married Neal and Mayme Vander Wilt’s oldest son, Orval, during a thunderstorm! The families were neighbors, and Ruth’s father had purchased his 80-acre farm from Orval’s parents in 1928. Ruth and Orval began their married life in Lynnville, where Orval was operating the Standard Oil Station. Three years later, they moved to Sully. Orval purchased a cream/milk route from Walt Vander Leest, and he hauled milk and cream from nearby farms to the Sully Creamery for the next 32 years. Orval and Ruth also bought a home, where they lived for 39 years and raised their five children: Philip Bryan, Martha Diane, Charlotte Rose, Charles Dwight, and Mary Ellen. When the children were older, Ruth worked part-time for the Lynnville-Sully School District as a school cook. She also oversaw the food planning and preparation for many school banquets and events. Many of the family activities centered around the Sully Community Church, which the Vander Wilts faithfully attended whenever a service or meeting was being held.
After Orval retired from the milk route, he and Ruth became live-in managers at Fair Haven in Pella, a residential facility for the elderly. This job suited Orval and Ruth very well, and they worked there for five years. After retiring from Fair Haven, Ruth and Orval rented a home one block from Pella’s main square, which allowed them to enjoy the Tulip Time festivities. Ruth entertained countless guests with delicious food and warm hospitality, dressed her grandchildren in Dutch costumes, and remained kind and unruffled. Pella’s Berean Baptist Church became a warm church home for the Vander Wilts.
Orval passed away in 1990 after a lengthy illness. Two years later, Ruth moved to Hillsboro, KS, to live near her daughter, Mary Ellen Tippin. In Kansas, Ruth continued her hospitable ways—entertaining, transporting, and befriending many widows and others. She made many of these friends at Parkview Mennonite Brethren Church where she attended. Her grandchildren often would drop in with the assurance of a treat at Grandma Ruth’s house. Later, Ruth settled into an independent-living apartment at Presbyterian Manor in Newton, KS, where she lived for the next 11 years. Ruth enjoyed the daily shared lunches with the other residents, game nights, Bible studies, outings, and almost any social activity offered by the Manor. She was known and loved for her pleasant smile, happy demeanor, Christian living, and ability to befriend anyone. Her days were filled with socializing, reading 5-10 books and numerous Christian periodicals each month, handwork, cooking for family events and game night, and faithfully corresponding with at least 30 different individuals and families through letters.
Ruth’s 100th birthday in June 2017 was a grand celebration with most of her growing family attending a weekend event. She celebrated her 101st birthday on June 7, 2018, a little more slowly but still with a sharp mind and the ability to live on her own. The end of Ruth’s life came quickly and peacefully on July 27, 2018, as she passed from here into God’s presence.
What most marks Ruth’s remarkable life—and what she would want to be remembered for—is her devout Christian faith in Jesus Christ as her Savior and Lord and living according to His Word, the Bible, each day in both the big things and the small. This is what really made Ruth the loving, caring person so many knew and loved. She will be remembered for the truly special woman she was!
Preceding Ruth in death were her parents; her husband, Orval Vander Wilt; one daughter, Charlotte Christensen; and her brother, Merlyn Gertsma.
Ruth is survived by four of her children and their spouses: Philip (Carolyn) Vander Wilt of Vacaville, CA, Martha (Paul) Ebbers of Cobbs Creek, VA, son-in-law Maury Christensen of Cobbs Creek, VA; Charles (Jennifer) Vander Wilt of Sandy, UT, and Mary Ellen (RJ) Tippin of Newton, KS; as well as a sister-in-law, Virginia Gertsma of Mesa, AZ. Ruth is also survived by 13 grandchildren and their spouses, 32 great-grandchildren, and three great-great-grandchildren.
A memorial service celebrating Ruth’s life will be held Sunday, Aug. 12, at 2 p.m. at Sully Community Church.