Naples, Fla. – The Guinness Book people probably aren’t doing much traveling these days, but if they were, we’d have a candidate for World’s Oldest Maker of Quarantine Masks.
They could come to Naples and check out Ruth Anderson, 101, who’s making masks at her apartment at The Arlington’s independent living facility.
Anderson, originally from Boston, has turned a passion for sewing into a community service.
“This is a lady who’s been productive all of her life and she doesn’t see why she shouldn’t be now,” said Sandra Lee Buxton, director of community engagement at The Arlington.
Anderson says her interest in sewing goes back to her childhood, when her mother would take her to the dressmaker. “I was fascinated,” she recalled.
Her mother bought her a sewing machine, and a lifelong interest developed.
Her career took her on a different path, however.
She became a mathematician, working during World War II on projects to develop the earliest radars and computers. Later, she worked for the U.S. Bureau of Standards in Washington, D.C. Her late husband, Lowell Anderson, worked for NASA.
After retiring from government work, they moved first to Cape Cod and eventually to Naples, where they found the warm climate more to their liking. She’s lived in Collier County for 30 years.
During that time, she returned to her childhood passion of sewing, starting a dress company making garments tailored to older women, said her daughter, Karen Anderson of Seattle.
She has two dressers packed with high-quality cotton and a huge supply of elastic, Karen Anderson said.
“I was wondering a long time ago what to do with it,” Ruth Anderson said. “They (masks) looked like they were easy to make, and I guess they’re needed.”
The masks she makes aren’t hospital grade but, she noted, “They keep people from touching their face.”
Like most people in senior living facilities, Anderson isn’t allowed to have visitors, due to the coronavirus scare. Meals are brought in so there isn’t much interaction with neighbors.
“She’s stuck in her apartment, she’s trapped,” Karen Anderson said. “She wants to do something.”
She reads and has daily FaceTime talks with her daughter in Seattle.
“I try not to watch the news,” she said. “It’s too depressing.”
So far, she said, she’s sewn about a dozen masks. She’ll look to distribute them to whoever needs them, perhaps starting with her neighbors and staff at The Arlington.
Anderson is old enough to remember hearing firsthand accounts of the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. She was born in July of that year, just months before the pandemic hit. An aunt became very ill but survived.
She’s found a way to stay busy and useful during the second pandemic of her lifetime.
“I’m going to be 102, but I still have all my marbles,” she said. “Why not?”