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CNBNEWS ARCHIVES: Ruth Cleary, Remembered as Warm & Generous

October 16, 2007

Cleary spent a lifetime opening her heart -- and often her wallet -- to strangers who became friends.

Born in Pine Grove, Pa., near Pottsville, she was on her own at 16 after her parents' death. She began to work as a waitress, where she met her husband, Jim, a bartender.

Jim Cleary,  switched careers, eventually becoming president of a construction firm that contracted with major utility companies. He died in 1984, a year after retiring.

Ruth Cleary focused on raising her children, first in Stratford, then in Haddon Heights.

"She was just fabulous, the life of every party," her daughter recalled. "She loved country western music and cowboy dancing.

"She cooked and baked and stayed at home. She was a Brownie and a Girl Scout leader. Mothers could do that then."

On a whim in the aftermath of her husband's death, Cleary opened Short Stuff, a store at Station Avenue and Kings Highway where she sold used children's clothing and furniture.

She became "the social butterfly of Station Avenue, with more energy than the rest of us put together," Underwood said. "She'd spend weekends going to yard sales, buying things for the store."

But Cleary's heart got in the way of her business, said her daughter, and she often would give away items to needy mothers.

"The store went into the red," Underwood said. "She just gave too much away, and she'd pay the bills out of her own pocket."

That generosity wasn't a surprise to her children, especially her oldest, Ruthann Dubb, who now lives in Philadelphia.

When Ruthann was 12, she needed an appendectomy and was recovering in a Philadelphia hospital. A 9-year-old boy named Richard Powers was in the bed next to Ruthann, and when her mother learned the child was an orphan, she paid special attention to him.

When Powers was released to one of the Sisters of Saint Joseph who ran the orphanage where he was living, Cleary stopped the pair at the elevator.

"Even today I remember her asking, "Where do you think you're going?' " Powers remembered. "When Sister said I was going home, back to the orphanage, Ruth promised to keep in touch."

And she did, visiting Powers every month and bringing him to her home on holidays.

"Once during a visit, she noticed I wasn't sitting down," Powers said. "She pushed me for an explanation, and I said I had been beaten. She pulled up my shirt and took me to the Mother Superior.

"I was afraid. I told her they were gonna get back at me. That night, she barged into my dormitory, where a sister was standing by me with a stick. She (Ruth) took me home, to her home, and kept me for several weeks."

"She wanted to adopt me," Powers said, "but Catholic Social Services said no, because my mother was still alive and wouldn't agree. My mother had left me alone from the day I was born, but she wouldn't let me go to Ruth."

When Powers became too old for the orphanage and was transferred to St. Francis Vocational School in Cornwells Heights, Pa., the visits continued.

"We were in touch for more than 50 years," he said. "Ruth was the most wonderful lady and mother and friend.

"I was a true orphan until Ruth came into my life. She was my number one lady, of all the ladies in the world."

 

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