Who’s home? Ruth Rudisill
Where’s home? The Vanderbilt Apartments
How long at this abode? 32 years
This month’s At Home column takes us to downtown Asheville’s venerable Vanderbilt Apartments to visit with 94-year-old Ruth Rudisill. She’s the building’s oldest resident, though you wouldn’t know it from looking at her.
The charming, vital nonagenarian — who doesn’t look a day over 65 — is a former insurance-company supervisor who enjoys a rousing game of bingo and prides herself on her eclectic doll collection. Rudisill started collecting dolls in 1930 when she picked up a 25-cent china doll as a souvenir while visiting her late husband’s family in Gastonia. “We traveled a lot,” she relates,” and from then on, I picked up a doll wherever we went.”
Rudisill has one son who lives in Charlotte (“He’s never been any trouble in this world to me, and that’s a blessing,” she relates) and three grandchildren.
Xpress caught up with Rudisill recently in her cozy second-floor apartment — marked by a vibrant red decor, dolls of every sort ,and a host of gewgaws she’s won playing bingo.
“Look at all these,” she says with a laugh, gesturing sweepingly around the living room. “You spend the first half of your life collecting things and the last half wondering what to do with ’em.”
What’s the secret to her longevity?
“I don’t know how I’ve lived as long as I have, but it’s great,” the perky Rudisill enthuses. “Everybody’s so good to you when you get this old.
“Time has gone so fast,” she continues. “I think it’s because I’ve been so happy.”
Mountain Xpress: How did you come to live here at the Vanderbilt?
Ruth Rudisill: My husband had died in about 1965 and I brought him back up here and buried him. I was living in Asheboro, and had lived in four different towns in North Carolina — including Asheville — at that point. I just didn’t know where I wanted to live after I retired. But I just got to thinking that Asheville was the best place, that I was happier here, that the people were nicer. I just said, I’m going to Asheville. So I came back up here in 1969, I think, and they just about had this building finished. Well, they had an open house one Sunday and I came up here and looked around. There was only three [apartments] rented … one on the ninth floor, one on the first floor, and one somewhere in the middle. So I looked around inside and I thought, ‘Oh, I’d love to live here. It’s so convenient, so pretty.’ So I came back the next day and rented an apartment ,and I’ve been here ever since. That was in 1970.
MX: What was downtown Asheville like in those days?
RR: It was just great. There was Bon Marche, Ivey’s, Winter’s, the S&W Cafeteria. We’d go out at night and eat supper and have the best time. I wasn’t afraid to go out and walk around at any time of the night. And we had some of the nicest people living here in the building. We had two ministers and their wives; one concert pianist who was born in India; two college professors, one of whom had written a book; and Miss Herring lived here — you know, she opened the Herring School. She wrote a book, too: Fire in the Mountains. So there was a lot of interesting and even famous people here. It was real clean, so convenient, so safe.
MX: How has the building changed over the years?
RR: Well, back when we came in, the [minimum] age limit was 62. Several years ago the government made a rule that if people were handicapped, they could live here at a lower age, so we had some younger people move in, and from then on, it just kind of evolved in a different way. When I first moved in here, we had to have so many references to get in. And the Vanderbilt name, you know, sounds so big. So when we went to a store uptown to cash checks and said we lived at the Vanderbilt, they didn’t ask anymore questions. The building had such a good name, you know.
MX: Do you feel like there’s a sense of community at the Vanderbilt?
RR: Yes. Everybody loves each other here. There’s a lot of people here who’ve been here a long time. I’ve been here 32 years, of course, and my neighbor there’s been here about 25 years. The man that lives across the hall has been here just about that long. The thing is, I feel safe. We have buzzers that are connected to the office, and if they haven’t heard from you by 10 a.m., they’ll come to your apartment and check on you to find out what’s wrong.
MX: Are there lots of social activities here?
RR: Oh, yes, we have a lot of things. Twice a week we all have breakfast in the dining room, Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Friday night, we have bingo. And Thursday at lunch time, the Manna Food Bank sets up food downstairs. There’s just so many good things about living here. It’s my whole life.
MX: What’s the best thing about living at the Vanderbilt?
RR: There’s always somebody that’ll help you if you need anything. We have a little grocery store in the building, but if you need to go out to the grocery store, there’s … a man name John Jordan — I hope you’ll give him a plug — that belongs to the Merrimon Avenue Baptist Church, who’s been taking people that don’t have any way to get to Ingle’s there once a week for 10 years. If he’s got too many for one trip, he’ll make two trips. He volunteers. He says that’s his good deed to do for the good Lord. We are really well taken care of. It’s better than any place I know of. … And we’ll never starve to death here. I’ve never seen so much food in my life. They cook downstairs some days and you just go down and eat whatever you want. Then we have a birthday party once a month for the people that are born in that month. It’s just home to me. I’d rather be here than anywhere else.