Ruth Hobbs’ century of nonstop learning has enabled youth to stretch their imaginations to live the impossible dream

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Ms. Ruth Hobbs with great, great grandson, seven month old Assante Gringetty of Stone Mountain, GA. (Advocate photo: Alice Thomas-Tisdale)

By Alice Thomas-Tisdale

JA Publisher Emerita

REPRINT: Feb. 26-Mar. 4, 2015

Jackson’s latest centenarian, Ruth Hobbs, is a petite woman with a dangerous ‘right’ hook. She has spent her entire life learning how to knock out ignorance with individualized instruction. She is truly an educator extraordinaire.

Imagine a seamstress spending countless hours constructing a seamless dress or jacket to fit the wearer to a tee. That’s what Ms. Hobbs has accomplished since completing studies at Southern Christian Institute in Edwards, MS in 1934. She literally burned the midnight oil sifting through educational materials to design a no fail lesson plan to achieve the most favorable outcome for her students.

Ms. Hobbs’ weapon of choice to fight racism and discrimination was not a pair of shoes to march in a civil rights protest, or a NAACP membership card. She chose instead the blackboard, books, worksheets, paper and pen and lots of questions she had the answers to.

Her first teaching job was in Duncan, a small rural community in the Mississippi Delta. She spent two years there, earning $30 per week. It wasn’t the meager pay that made Ms. Hobbs decide to move back to Hinds County and teach in Edwards and Raymond. “The school term was too short. Students didn’t go to school when it was time to get the crops in. It wasn’t conducive to education.”

During the time of the U.S. Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954, Ms. Hobbs was receiving her Master’s in Reading at Jackson State College. Earlier, in 1951, she received the B.S. in Elementary Education from the same institution. She was aware of the struggle for equal rights but it didn’t interfere with her mission to garner more knowledge to share with her students.

However, after spending the summer of 1960 at the University of Illinois at Urbana, Ms. Hobbs returned to Mississippi with a renewed spirit. Things were quite different for Blacks in the Midwest than in the South. “I exchanged ideas with my associates; it had an impact on me,” she said.

It wasn’t so much that Ms. Hobbs did things differently when she returned to Mississippi. She was just more determined to make sure her students excelled in every subject, especially in those they struggled with.

Ms. Hobbs retired from Jackson Public Schools in 1978 after 34 years of dedicated service. After retirement she spent six years as an instructor for the GED program, which proved to be very challenging. “My students were all girls; most had children or night life. They would attempt to sleep in class but I would wake them up. They were so far from knowing basic areas of study. Writing and math were the hardest areas,” stated Ms. Hobbs.

Of course she knew what to do, what she’d always done – spend countless hours packaging materials according to her students’ needs and take the necessary time to check their work. “Some did quite well,” she said.

Ms. Hobbs remembers her youth like it was yesterday. She was born Ruth Powell on February 18, 1915, in Willows, MS, 15 miles from Port Gibson, MS. She credits her mother, Annie Louise Powell, with her desire to become an educator. “My mother was my teacher from K-8. I rode in the buggy (3-4 miles each way) with her to school every day,” she recalled. She said school didn’t stop there. “We had hearing lessons in every subject. At night she had to hear what we read at school.” 

Her mother taught in both Jefferson County and Hinds County on a normal school teaching certificate, which allowed more women to become teachers without attending college. 

As a child, Ruth didn’t fully appreciate her mother’s constant prodding; it wasn’t something she looked forward to. “I had to learn all 82 counties in Mississippi in alphabetical order. Spelling was a big deal and we also did poetry,” she said.

Weekends didn’t help much to turn a frown into a smile because they were reserved for cleaning the house, washing and ironing pillow cases and bed sheets, which had to be starched, wash the glass chimney of the kerosene lamps, and pick up wood chips after her father, Jackson Powell, finished cutting wood for the fireplace. Thank goodness she had the help of her three sisters and brother. 

Ms. Hobbs’ father was a progressive farmer. “He had everything but sheep,” she said. He was also progressive in obtaining a comfortable lifestyle for his family. Mr. Powell started off renting his land that was of considerable size. Ms. Hobbs is not certain how many acres but “it was a lot.”

She said her father started off selling produce and livestock. It was easy to save money because “everything was cheap. A stamp was three cents, bread five cents. He purchased the home and made three kinds of sausage – smoked, stuffed, and fried which was canned. We only had to buy flour and sugar. We made our own molasses. We had a cistern for water and also a spring was not far from the house. We also bought coffee beans. Ooh, that was some strong coffee my daddy made.”

Ms. Hobbs didn’t take to farming but she is passionate about gardening. Her roses could easily win a gardening ribbon if she entered them for competition, but they do end up on her Christmas cards. She shared a tip to achieve gorgeous blooms: “Fertilize in early March using crushed, dried banana peels or fish/emollient oil.” She also likes to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, bell peppers, and make chow chow relish and bread and butter pickles. 

Rewards for hard labor have been realized by Ms. Hobbs’ family and for herself. She has had the love of her two husbands – Rev. Delmar Jackson and Rev. B.T. Hobbs, both deceased; two daughters; and a host of family members, friends, church members, and her community. Her daughters, Falvia and Ramona, are graduates of the University of Illinois and Tougaloo College, respectively, and are productive citizens.

Ms. Hobbs has traveled extensively throughout the U.S. and abroad. She was baptized in the Jordan River – “it was ice cold but a beautiful experience” – and while in Bethlehem she took the opportunity to ‘sit’ on a camel. “I saw a sign for $5 and I just had to do it. I didn’t want the camel to move, I just wanted to sit on it.”

What better gift to give someone who loves to travel on their 100th birthday than a cruise to Rome, Italy? Ms. Hobbs can’t think of anything more special. She’ll take off sometime in June for yet another life experience. 

Besides travel, she has affection for cooking and pulling her chair up to the table. Her favorites are chicken, any kind of veggies, potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and definitely, lemon pie!

She credits God for her joy, comfort, and 100 years of life, and has continued to serve Him in numerous capacities. “Thank the Lord I don’t need a cane or a walker. I feel great!” Her family is known for long life. Her father lived to be 105 and her sister will match him this year. Ms. Hobbs’ mother died at the age of 84; her brother John and sisters Carrie and Eleanor are deceased.

Ms. Hobbs remains active in her church, United Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), located at 1730 Florence Ave., Jackson, MS, under the leadership of Rev. Russell Myers. She has served as Sunday school teacher, study group leader, and president of the state convention, among other contributions.

Growing up in the Baptist faith, Ms. Hobbs fell in love with reading the materials of the Disciples of Christ. In 1979, she was a delegate to the church conference held in Jamaica. The following year she served as vice president of the national convention of Disciples of Christ. She also completed Christian education classes at the Disciples of Christ national headquarters in Indianapolis, IN.

Her expertise in working with youth has not been underutilized. Since 1968, her affiliation with Southern Christian Services for Children and Youth has expanded to eight agencies that provide tutors for students striving to complete high school, assistance with adoptions, and life skill training for teen parents. She presently serves as a faith partner with the nonprofit.

“Recently, we had 12 children up for adoption and all of them found homes but two, who were both 12, which by that age is harder to place, but we’ll keep trying,” stated Ms. Hobbs. 

Southern Christian Services for Children and Youth is an affiliate of the National Benevolent Association of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) as well as a member of Disciples Care Network. It is located in Jackson, Mississippi, with offices across the state.

Joy cometh in the morning for all, but for some it never leaves. Ms. Hobbs has been blessed in that respect. She gets her strength from being a worship leader for her church and a Bible Study group leader for the Mary Church Terrell Literary Club and her church.

In her lifetime, Ms. Hobbs has seen the light switch replace the kerosene lamp, listened to one of the first radio commercial broadcasts, and been fascinated by the telephone, an automobile, and the first flight into space. “When I saw my first car I ran in the house and told my mother that judgment day is coming.” Forward to 2015, the thought of an automatic car without a driver has her thinking the same thing.

Ms. Hobbs has great concern for future generations, especially Black youth. “So many youth don’t want to go to school. They have no idea what they’re missing. Dope is destroying youth and adults,” she stated. She thanked fraternities, sororities, and other civic groups for the work they do to encourage youth to fully participate in society.

For certain, Ms. Hobbs has not given up doing her part. She creates word games and writes litanies to keep her wits sharp and to challenge others to never stop learning. One game is called How Well Do You Know Mississippi? One of the questions is: A car tool and a male boy. Hint? The home of Medgar Evers. One more? I had a cow and could not keep her in the pasture so ___. Hint? This small city is between Belzoni and Indianola. 

Yes, Ms. Hobbs is quite witty and is a well known jokester. One of her favorite jokes is about a man being baptized who gets dunked multiple times in the lake because each time he comes up the minister asks, “Did you find Jesus?” and he replies, “Not yet.” On the next dunking the minister holds him under a bit longer before bringing him up. “Did you find Jesus?” he asked. The new convert replies, “Are you sure we’re looking in the right place?” Of course, she told the story much better.

Ms. Hobbs’ wit puts search word puzzle competitors and card players at a huge disadvantage. Besides being known as a jokester she’s got a reputation for being a card shark. Her son-in-law, Charles “Chuck” Roberts, wouldn’t have anyone else as his partner, and if it’s just the two of them playing, he prays for an interruption. His only excuse for losing is that, “she cheats!”

What a fun life she’s had, rather, what a fun life she’s having, which includes lots of crafts and singing, too. In 1978, she became interested in ceramics. She and her sister Carrie did Japanese needlework and other crafts from 9-1 p.m. each day at Golden Key Senior Citizens Center on Albermarle Rd. in Jackson. 

Around noon each day a musician came to play. The sisters began to sing along, which led to the Golden Key Ladies Chorale, which transformed into the Metropolitan Retired Teachers Chorale, now referred to as the Retired Community Chorale to include non educators. She served as president of the group in 1981-82.

Ms. Ruth Hobbs was celebrated last week on Feb. 20th for being a living example of someone who sincerely cares about family, church and community and has dedicated her life to ensure we never stop learning; students for life. Let us not disappoint her. Happy 100th birthday!

Editor’s Note: Ms. Hobbs, I hope to always remember the two trees that are names of body parts are palm and gum. Thank you for the lesson.

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Ruth Hobbs’ century of nonstop learning has enabled youth to stretch their imaginations to live the impossible dream

By Jackson Advocate News Service
March 18, 2024