Ruth Fossen Allman joined the exclusive centenarian club on Saturday, Aug. 31. She celebrated her 100th birthday with her family at her daughter’s house on Millionaire Mile in Fort Peck. She agreed to be interviewed the day before the big event.
“To get 100 – which I never, never, never expected to do!”
Born on a dryland wheat farm in Fingal, N.D ., Allman came to Montana in 1918 when her parents proved up their homestead. They went back to North Dakota, then moved to a farm 36 miles north of Wolf Point when she was 11. It was an all day trip by horse and wagon to go to town, and another full day to get home again. Later on the family got a Model T and the trip didn’t take so long.
Allman’s parents waited a year to start her in school so she could go with her sister, Liffie, who was 15 months younger. They attended French School, which had an enrollment of 12. They always had a student who had six weeks of training come out to teach them, and the teacher boarded with her family a couple of years.
“Living in the country at that time was safe and sound,” Allman said. “The folks never worried about leaving us girls alone at any time. Everything was so much simpler in those days.”
But she also said, “People just didn’t think about having anything really comfortable.”
They were self-sufficient on the farm, with their own garden, a pig or two and cows to milk. Her mother would can pickles, vegetables and the crates of peaches they bought at the store.
As high school students, she and her sister batched in a house in town. One of the treats they had was opening a can of beef roast their mother had put up. They had to work for room and board but going to school was a big privilege. The school superintendent watched over them like a parent. They had to be in at 9 and they were.
“There were no problems,” Allman said. “Life was pretty easy, compared to what it is now for young people.”
They didn’t have much money so they started a dance band. Liffie played the violin, Ruth played banjo and they picked up drummers. They played for school dances and dance halls like the Silver Star. People would come from as far away as Scobey to enjoy the music.
The Fossen sisters sang together their whole lives, for school programs, weddings and in their Lutheran church. They made a CD in 2009, the last time they sang together. As always, the songs were religious songs.
“I love to talk about the future and what can come if we have faith,” Allman said. “I was brought up from the day I could talk to say my prayers at night.”
After graduating from Wolf Point High School in 1933, Allman had no money for college, so she did housework for a lady. She heard that the dentist in Glasgow, Dr. Jack Burgess, had lost his assistant. She got the job and worked for him until she married Ellis Allman in 1937.
“It was tough going,” Allman said. “My husband wouldn’t think of charging anything. You lived according to what was in your pocketbook.”
They had a son and two daughters, all born at Frances Mahon Deaconess Hospital, which she remembers as so clean, and the food was good.
Ellis Allman was a mechanic, but he had been raised on a farm and wanted to go back. They moved to a farm near Wolf Point after their second child was born.
“It was a simple life but a wholesome life,” she said.
In 1978 they sold the farm to their son. They had been wintering in Mesa, Ariz ., for many years and spending summers in a small house on Millionaire Mile. In Mesa they took up square dancing and she painted a lot.
Allman’s only granddaughter, Amy, remembers the summer vacations she spent at Fort Peck. She and her grandmother would walk the shoreline and pick up rocks. Her grandmother taught her how to paint them. They made lefse together every year.
Allman also has three grandsons and eight great-grandchildren.
Allman moved to Mesa full time after her husband died in 2000. One daughter, Sandra Wyrzykowski, and her husband, Jerry, have just finished a beautiful new house on the site of the old house on Millionaire Mile.
When Allman was interviewed by college students in Mesa, they asked to what she attributed her long life. She told them – strong black coffee.
There is also a family trait for long life. Hr grandmother lived to 97 and an aunt to 98. Allman has some eye problems and she says she doesn’t hear as well as she should, but her mind is sharp and her memory good.
“It’s amazing what happens at this age,” she said. “Every once in a while I think – I am 100 years old. My kids are so good to me.”