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Former Lynn businesswoman Ruth Farber turns 100

Jerry, Rikki and Ruth Farber while they celebrated Ruth's 100th birthday last month. (Steve Krause)

PEABODY — Ruth Farber has had quite a life, which might be what you’d expect to hear from a centenarian.

Farber turned 100 on Aug. 30, and lives in an apartment in the Harriett and Ralph Kaplan Estates, an assisted living facility on Lynnfield Street. As you might expect from anyone who has advanced to the age of 100, Ruth (Goldstein) Farber doesn’t look too far ahead … or too far behind, for that matter.

“It feels very good to be cared for,” she says about the staff of the facility she calls her home today. “I feel lucky to have the care I have, to have wonderful children, and grandchildren.”

It takes some prodding to get Ruth Farber to wax nostalgic about her life. That may be because there’s so much to remember. And, in the case of a woman accosted with questions on short notice, things can get pretty jumbled sometimes when you’re trying to recall 100 years worth of living.

“I don’t remember things the way I used to,” she says, with a hint of the self-deprecating humor.

She remembers she grew up in Dorchester and then Quincy. She remembers the first time she met her future husband, Irving, when she was 18.

“He must have liked the way I danced,” she said, since she met him at a dance. “All I know is that we were together from then on.”
She married Irving Farber when she was 21, and there’s a back story to that, too.

“He went AWOL,” said Jerry Farber, Ruth’s son. “He went AWOL to attend his own wedding.”

“He got in trouble,” daughter-in-law Rikki says. “I’m sure there were a lot of potatoes in his life for a while.”
It isn’t as if Irving Farber out-and-out defied the U.S. Army. It’s just that this was 1941, and war tensions were beginning to get ratcheted up. Irving Farber was supposed to go on leave and get married, but his leave got canceled. It was a magnificent union in more ways than one. The Farbers had three children (only Jerry remains). And if you grew up in Lynn and ever had occasion to go downtown and buy a pair of shoes, you undoubtedly either know, or know of, the Farbers.  Irving Farber ran Farber’s, a shoe story on Market Street. 

For a long time, Ruth Farber was there, beside her husband, every day. Then, Farber purchased Dalton’s on Broad Street, which specialized in women’s shoes, and Ruth didn’t just help her husband run it. She ran it. From soup to nuts. 

“She was a pioneer,” said her daughter-in-law. “Back then, not many women ran businesses the way she ran Dalton’s.”

“There was a bit of a pull between my mother and father when it came to running a business,” said Jerry Farber. “My mother was very organized while my father wasn’t. They had different ways of doing things.”

The Farbers were married for 64 years (Irving died in 2006), and she has some fond memories of him, especially when they were still courting.

“He took me on a midnight drive … to the Cape,” Ruth Farber said. “I remember my sisters were very nervous for me to get home. I don’t know what time we finally made it home. I think it was around 2 in the morning,”

Life at the Kaplan estates is good, she says. Her overriding philosophy, she says, “is to be nice to everyone.”

If anyone’s looking for any secrets to long life out of her, however, you won’t find anything unusual.

“If you have longevity, you just have it,” she said. 

But her daughter-in-law offers a little more advice.

“I think you have to keep your mind active,” she said. “She played Bridge, and played Scrabble, all her life, and both of those keep you thinking.”

And, Ruth Farber added, “I taught Bridge.”

She doesn’t have much to say about different medical trends that have come and gone over the years about diets and lifestyle.

“I don’t remember getting any advice about stuff like that,” she says.

“It doesn’t matter now anyway,” Jerry Farber said, looking at his mother, “you’ve outlived them all.”

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