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A busy life: Fannie Ruuska has enjoyed her 94 years

November 4, 2010
By RENEE PRUSI Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE - The world has changed a great deal in Fannie Ruuska's 94 years.

The lively senior wouldn't have missed a minute of it.

"I don't regret working that hard when I was a kid," she said with a smile. "I don't regret a thing."

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Ruuska grew up in Iron River as the fourth oldest of the 12 children of Thomas and Amanda Kyllonen. Her siblings were Waino, Ann, Lempi, Edna, Agnes, Elaine, John, William, Edwin, Alex and Leonard.

"There was the one boy first (Waino) then six girls in a row," she said. "So you know who did the work. The girls."

Her father worked at an iron mine.

"During the summer, he rode in on an old bike he fixed up and in the winter, he went to work on skis," she said. "My Dad was a small man but, boy, he worked hard."

Fannie actually was born in Munson, Maine, as her father briefly worked there in a slate quarry. The family returned to the Upper Peninsula, first living in the Copper Country, then moving to Iron River, while Fannie was a toddler.

"I was still pretty young then but I do remember when they put me on a train to go to Iron River," Fannie said. "I crawled between the signs on the platform and wouldn't get on the train."

The Kyllonen house a busy place in the mornings.

"There was a lot of noise with all of us getting ready for school," she said. "Each of us was looking for where we left our clothes the night before."

During the warm months of the school year, Fannie's father or her older brother drove them and some of the neighbors the five miles to school in a covered wagon. In winter, it was a covered sleigh.

"The benches were just this wide," she said, holding her hands just inches apart. "But we never fought or anything. We all got along not like today on the school bus."

At the small elementary school, grades one and two were combined as were grade three with four and then five with six.

"Then we went to town to the high school starting in the seventh year," she said. "I liked school but when we had to start walking because the school board wouldn't pay my Dad to drive us, I didn't like that at all."

There was no such thing as a school lunch program during the 1920s.

"So we wrapped our lunch in a newspaper. It was bread and butter," Fannie said. "We sometimes brought milk but not everybody wanted to carry milk all the way to school."

Fannie recalled "school got done at 4 o'clock sharp," but the start time was not a crystal clear memory.

"I know it was early, like 9 in the morning," she said. "But when you had to walk five miles to get to school, you had to get up really early in the morning."

The lack of transportation to school took its toll.

"I liked all my subjects in school," Fannie said. "But when I was in eighth grade, I got tired of walking. Oh, it was so cold. We didn't have snowpants back then, we wore black stockings. And we didn't have boots so we wore these little button-up shoes.

"So I quit on my own," she said. "I told my Mom, 'i'm not walking anymore' and that was it. My younger brothers would hide in the barn because they didn't want to go to school either."

Fannie's parents put her to work around the family farm.

"And did I work," she said. "I cleaned the barn, milked the cows, slopped the pigs... There was always something to do. We were kept very busy."

That's not to say the Kyllonen children missed out on play.

"We made our own fun," she said. "We had stilts my brother made. We played kick the can and 'annie annie over' and we threw a rag ball."

Fannie's father lit the sauna nearly every day: "It was a BIG sauna."

At age 17, Fannie moved to Chicago to become a nanny. A few years later, she returned to Iron River to become a housekeeper and nanny for a doctor's family in Iron River. Then a friend sent a fellow named George Ruuska over to pick her up to bring her to church one Sunday.

"He knocked on the door and I almost flipped. He was alone," Fannie said. The two hit it off immediately.

Fannie and George married in 1943 and relocated to his family's place.

"We moved to good ol' Black River," she said, speaking of the location outside of Republic. George's parents moved to a smaller house on the property and the newlyweds took over the main house.

"And it needed a lot of work," Fannie said. She was most anxious to get the kitchen fixed up as she loves to cook and bake.

While the house had running water, it didn't get electricity until 1953.

"I loved using the wood stove in the kitchen for baking," Fannie recalled.

At the home, the couple raised four children: George, Shirley, Suzie and Leonard.

"We lived in the house for 57 years until we moved to Tourville (Apartments in Marquette)," she said.

Fannie holds many happy memories of living in Black River.

"I would say the best part was that my neighbor Irene Hintsala. We enjoyed each other's company," she said. "It was a really good place to raise a family. There were so many good neighbors."

Now living in Marquette, Fannie enjoys spending time, as she can, with her children, 17 grandchildren and 31 great-grandchildren.

Is there anything left on her list of "things to do"?

"I wish I could get them all together," she said of her family. "That would be wonderful."

Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her e-mail address is



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