Ruth Donaghy was an amazing woman.
Born in a farmhouse near Alleman, Iowa, in 1912, the youngest of 13 children, Donaghy never married. Yet, except for the seven years she worked as a housekeeper in Des Moines, she lived out her life on the farm where she was born. For many of those years, she cared for the never-married three brothers and sister who lived with her.
Since 1981, though, it was just Ruth. “I’m not going to leave this house,” she told her great-nephew Tom Cory, according to a story this week in the Des Moines Register.
Register staff writer Gunnar Olson wrote, “As she hoped, Donaghy took her last breath Nov. 6 in the bedroom in which she took her first.” She was 95 years old.
It’s exceedingly rare that an American stays in one house for their entire life. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the average American moves 10 times in a lifetime.
Cory, who owns the Donaghy farm, is determined to keep the farm in the family. That’s not easy in Iowa, where 60 percent of its farms have disappeared since 1930. An Iowa State University study in 2005 showed that only one-third of Iowa’s farmers had identified a successor.
For Cory, the temptation to sell will probably be great. Suburban sprawl is rapidly approaching the farmstead from two directions. But, for now, Cory plans to move his son's family into the farmhouse and he'll start sorting through his great-aunt’s possessions, including several paintings she did after taking up the hobby at age 60. He plans to give the possessions to various family members.
“Maybe they can start building a connection to what this Donaghy family is all about,” Cory told Olson.
Larry Lehmer is a personal historian who helps people preserve their family histories. If you’d like to know more, check out his web site or send him an e-mail.
Flickr photo of rural farmhouse courtesy of Zama Ree Do.