Thursday, March 8, 2007

Ruby Blanche Camfield

Ruby Blanche Camfield was born April 24, 1888 in South Bend, IN, the fourth of five children born to Joseph Harrison Camfield and Arazina Rose Graham. I know very little about Ruby’s childhood other than what I have gleaned from census records. Her father was a barber and her mother had been a domestic servant prior to her marriage. Her parents separated between the 1900 and 1910 census and Ruby remained with her mother.

The picture is labeled Pearl, Leroy and Ruby but looking at the picture it is possible that it is Ruby on the left. She was almost two years younger than Pearl and in many of Pearl's pictures she looks serious like this. Not pictured were her older siblings Fred and Mabel.

She attended a business school and obtained a job at the Studebaker auto factory, working her way up to office manager. She never married although I’ve been told that she was engaged at one time. I’ve never been able to learn what happen to that relationship or why she didn’t marry someone else later.

Despite being the youngest daughter, Ruby became the matriarch of the family, looking after everybody. One of her nieces told me, “She was tighter than the bark on a tree for herself so she could be generous to everyone else. The South Bend paper even wrote a story about how she was always helping everyone.” She walked over a mile each way, to and from work, to save the street car fare. Her clothes were always neat and presentable for her job but if you were to look very closely you would have found that they were also well darned. Besides being frugal she invested her money in stocks long before it was common for individual men to do so; it was almost unheard of for a woman. She gave freely to family, friends and neighbors for needed things but never for luxuries like movies or other entertainments. She helped several of her nieces and nephews financially so they could attend college. She had rows of shelves in her basement that I remember being filled with items that she had picked up at sales and stored there. When someone’s birthday came around she would go down and see what she had that might suit them. For our family, she would put a box together sometime between the summer and October, wrap everything in white tissue paper and send it off. We then had two to five months until Christmas to guess what treasures it might hold.

She lived with her mother until Rose passed away in 1931. After that she rented the upstairs portion of the house to Notre Dame students. As it was a one family house, the students would enter through her living room. Eventually someone convinced her that it would be better if she made a separate entrance. I remember visiting the house as a child. We stayed in the student apartment during the summer break. She had paintings on the walls that had been painted by her brother Leroy. On the back of each she attached a note telling who it was to go to. My mother received one that I now have, a beautiful scene of the Allegheny River. She seemed to have put thought into who would most enjoy each painting.

At Christmas time she played the part of Santa for her sister, Pearl’s, children. It seems that for years, just before Santa would arrive she would have to visit the outhouse and therefore always missed him. At Christmas the children would receive a years supply of clothing that she had picked up throughout the previous year, both winter and summer items. Her brother-in-law always resented that she provided what he could not and they never really got along, but that never stopped her from visiting. Some of their clashes may have been due to her very strong will and take charge personality.

When the Studebaker Company decided to start it’s own on premises library she studied library science on her own so that the library would be set up properly. Even though she worked for Studebaker until her retirement she never owned a car or even learned how to drive. During WWII the auto factories were switched to some type of war goods so during the war no one was able to buy a new car. When the war ended demand for new cars far outstripped production so she used her position to help one of her nephews buy a car when he returned home from the war.

She became a Christian Scientist sometime in the 1930’s. When nieces or nephews visited they were expected to attend Sunday School and services with her or mid week services if they were there then. After she retired she worked in the Christian Science reading room for many years. I still have the copy of Science & Health along with several other books by Mary Baker Eddy that she gave me when I was twelve. I briefly affiliated with the Christian Science Church in my early teens and even though I didn’t stay with that faith, I’m glad for the experience and the knowledge I gained during that time, not only about the church but about myself.

Ruby was able to stay in her home until sometime in her 90's. The last few years of her life were spent in a nursing home in Niles. She died Nov. 30, 1986 at the age of 98. She is missed by three generations of nieces and nephews.


Miriam Robbins said...

Apple, I like that you picked a woman to write about that didn't have descendants. I think that's one of the important roles as a family historian: to make sure that those collateral relatives who had no issue be honored and remembered in some way, because as your story illustrates, many of them had a great impact on the lives of others within the family.

Grateful2God...! said...

How delightful. This is a charming story in and of itself, but as a Christian Scientist I am especially grateful to learn of your Aunty's qualities and character. Than k you for highlighting her story in this way.

All the best.

Tony L.

Annie in Austin said...

Hi Apple,
What a great post! My vote is also that the girl on the left is Ruby - they have similar chin shapes and the set of eyes seems much the same.

Apple, right now I'm feeling as if know you a little better because you chose to write about Ruby. That's because in my family we've also tried to research, honor and remember those who didn't have descendants of the body, because they did leave descendants of the heart and spirit. Thank you for this story.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Anonymous said...


I have learned a few new things about Aunt Ruby. What a neat lady she was. Thinking of all those packages wrapped in white tissue paper still makes me smile! I wonder if she ever realized how much she touched our lives? Thanks for writing about her!

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. After reading this I think I might write an entry about m Aunt Edna.

Anonymous said...

Hello again :)

After reading your post about Ruby it inspired me to write about my Aunt Edna...

Elfego Gomez said...

I was one of those Notre Dame students that lived upstairs in Ruby's house from 1978-1980. Even to this day, some 43 years since I last saw her (I was 22 then and I'm now 66 years old), she is a tremendous and wonderful influence and inspiration. I have told stories of my experiences with her many many times. In fact, in the type of work I do in leadership development, I use specific lessons learned from her. It was wonderful to find this site and the background information about her life. Some of it I knew (working at Studebaker and then the Christian Scientist reading room; that she was never married). But there is a joy in learning more of her rich history. I remember she had nephews that would come visit occasionally. I think they were from Three Rivers, MI? I would love to chat with anyone from her family and share my stories to keep her memory alive! Elfego Gomez 719-659-0808