Inspiring, amazing, old-school work ethic, dedicated.
The list of superlatives to describe Corinth’s Ruth Holder seems endless.
But she would simply rather be known as someone who loves what she does, and has been doing, for a living for almost 50 years.
At the age of 92, as she approaches her golden anniversary working as a certified nurses assistant (CNA) at Whitfield nursing home, she continues to work 40 hours a week caring for residents in the physically and emotionally demanding job.
“She can still outwork anybody on the floor, including the younger ones,” said Sarah Whittemore, Holder’s close friend and co-worker for the past 31 years. “I’ll walk into a resident’s room to check on them and they’ll ask me if Ruth is working? I’ll say ‘Yes, she’s in the next room’ and that usually puts a smile on their face and they answer, ‘I’ve just missed seeing her and wanted to make sure she’s okay,” she said.
Holder began her career in the nursing field after she and her late husband, Cleston Holder, moved back to the area after spending 20 years in the northern United States.
“We got our son through school up there and then moved back here,” Holder recalled. “I remember telling my husband I wanted to work, although he said I didn’t have to. I have always been that type of person. I was raised on a farm where we worked long days, from sun up until sundown … sometimes even later if it required.”
The valued Whitfield employee began her career as a CNA (Certified Nurses Assistant) long before state certification was required.
“When I started there were no classes to attend or special certification, I just learned with on-the-job training,” she said. “Lamar Burns was the administrator back then and taught me how to do the job, He was ex-military and was very demanding as you might expect. But he was good to us and taught me a lot.”
As a CNA, Holder can perform most nursing duties with the exception of administering medicine.
“I could probably do that too but I’m not licensed for it,” said the long-time health care worker with a smile.
“Ruth is one of a kind,” said Director of Nursing Jennie Whitfield Hibbard. “She has been with us longer than anyone and is a joy to work with. She’s one of the most dedicated ones we have here and I never have to worry if she will be here or not and that her nights are always covered.”
The 92-year-old works the graveyard shift from 11 p.m. until 7 a.m. five nights a week.
Holder didn’t know where she wanted to work after returning to Corinth in 1972 but fate stepped in and took over at that point.
“I honestly didn’t know where I would end up working but I knew I wanted to work and get out of the house,” she said. “I do like sitting out in the sun after work but if I sat around the house all day I’d go crazy.”
“I had a close friend who told me about an opening here at Whitfield and said she thought it would be a great opportunity for me, so I came in and interviewed and started a couple of days later.”
Around 1989, CNA positions were required by the government to be certified and licensed so Holder went through the training, took the required tests, passed them and now possesses a certificate proving she is licensed. But she doesn’t display it prominently as some might.
“I have it somewhere at the house, but I do have one,” said the beloved CNA.
“Being a certified Nurses Assistant means I’m able to take blood pressure readings, give baths, make beds, whatever it takes,” said Holder.
Over 50 years she has seen a lot of changes in the nursing home industry, including a noticeable change in the kinds of patients in the home and their individual needs.
“A long time ago a lot of our patients, or as we call them residents, could do a lot more for themselves but that isn’t the case anymore, Holder added. “We have some that can do a few things by themselves without much if any assistance but most of the residents here require our assistance. Some are completely dependent on us to take care of their daily needs.”
When asked if she has given much though to retiring, she said, “Not really. I don’t know if I ever will or not. I love my job here and the people I work with. It would be hard to leave.”
“Knowing her as I do, I’m fairly sure she’d rather die on the job doing something she loves than to be sitting at home bored and nothing much to do,” said Whittemore.
Although she has had to take some time off over the years it’s never been much. The longest time Holder had to be out was around eight weeks back in 2006 when she had neck surgery. Even then the spry CNA said she couldn’t wait to return to work.
“My doctor (Time Noyes) has told me many times he’d like to make a replica of me,” she said referring to her generally good health and longevity.
Holder will celebrate her 50th anniversary on Feb. 26.