The University Place Senior/Community Center will be hosting a special birthday event for one of their regulars on May 12. Local artist and gardener Ruth Ayers Hofto will be turning 107 this year, and the Senior Center is inviting the public to stop by and help celebrate her remarkable life. Jonie Emrick, Director of the Senior Center and planner of this momentous occasion, says it’s the least she can do. “I thought it would be great to show our appreciation for a wonderful and inspirational lady who has done a lot for the center,” she said. “Plus, it’s a great excuse to throw a party!”
Born in Black Diamond on May 13, 1910, Ruth Ayers was the second of four children. Her father was a coal miner, who often needed to move the family for work. After graduating from Cle Elum High school, the family moved to Tacoma.
Not long after, Ruth met musician and builder Henry Hofto. They married in 1934 during the height of the Great Depression. Though jobs were scarce, both Henry and Ruth managed to find gainful employment during those difficult times. Henry worked at the sawmill. Ruth found a job at the JC Penney department store, and even had the privilege of shaking hands with Mr. Penney when he visited the Tacoma store. However, Ruth’s true calling was art.
Ruth was in first grade when she was first recognized as a talented painter. “My dad always had a lot of flowers and stuff in the yard,” recalled Ruth. “So I started to paint pansies. And the teacher put it up on the wall. It was the only one that time. So [the town’s] butcher came along and saw that painting. So I went with my dad to get meat and [the butcher] gave me a big piece of butcher paper. And he said, ‘Now you draw and you bring it here, and I’ll give you another sheet.’ And that’s what I did. That’s when I started.”
Throughout her life, Ruth was very active in the art world in organizations like Lakewood Artists, Tacoma Arts and Crafts, and Allied Artists. She continued to create new works until 2008, where a stroke left her with impaired vision, some hearing loss, and some issues with speech. Yet her artistic legacy remains prevalent throughout the Pacific Northwest. “Some of her paintings hang in Black Diamond Historical Museum and Issaquah Museum, depicting how it looked long ago,” said daughter Jacki Hofto. “She has an amazing gift and ability to transfer her life experiences and travels around the world into her artwork directly from her memories.” Ruth also had a hand in gardening and horticulture, and was once the State Bird Chairman for the National Council of Garden Clubs.
Ruth attributes her longevity to staying active her whole life, as well as her daughter Jacki, who retired from teaching music at the University of Texas 10 years ago to take care of her mother full time.
Ruth’s birthday party is open to the public and begins at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, May 12 thanks to generous donations from Trader Joe’s, Harbor Greens, Weatherly Inn, and CarePartners. Emrick expects a fairly large turnout, including members of City Council, Mayor Figeruoa, members of the UP Fire Department, Police Chief Mike Blair, members of the Board of Directors from Community Connections, and many others. Cake and coffee will be served.