A Full Life
90-Year-Old Ruth Hadley Has Been a Minister, Missionary, Mother & More
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photographer / Darren Boston
When Ruth Hadley was a young girl, she daydreamed that one day she’d marry a minister. One of her older sisters, Dorothy, daydreamed of marrying a doctor. Oh, how plans change. In 1952, Ruth was 25 years old, living in New Orleans and still unsuccessful in her quest to find the right man. One day she had a revelation.
“Okay, God,” Ruth said. “I’m leaving this up to you.”
Later that week she went with a friend to a young adult meeting at church. The leader asked all newcomers to introduce themselves. She and her friend stood up as did two men. When the meeting adjourned and the women boarded the trolley car to return to the French Quarter where they worked, the two men from the group sat down behind them. David Hadley, a medical student, sat across from Ruth so she turned and struck up a conversation. Though the two hit it off, it was a slow burn.
“It was a year and a half before he finally asked me out on a date,” says Ruth, who earned a Master’s degree in Christian Education. The couple married in October 1954 in Charleston, South Carolina, while Dave was in the Navy. In 1956, they moved to Tennessee where they received heartbreaking news that they would likely be unable to conceive. Around this same time, they got word that they’d be heading to Kenya as missionaries — David to work as a physician and Ruth to train future church leaders.
“I distinctly heard God say to me, ‘Don’t worry. If you obey and follow my lead, you’ll have a child,’” Ruth says.
Patience paid off, and when the Hadleys returned to the United States four years later, their 5 and a half-month old son John was waiting for them. The family nested in Dayton, Ohio, for several years before returning to Kenya in the fall of 1965. Two years later, John (nearly 4 at the time) started announcing that he was going to have a baby sister.
“I told him that wasn’t true, but he insisted it was,” Ruth says. That spring when she was in Nairobi with a friend, she got word that there was an African baby up for adoption who had possible hearing loss. Ultimately, the Hadleys adopted Mary Jane, making John’s premonition come true.
While in Kenya, the Hadleys experienced some wild times. For instance, once Dave, a nurse named Mable, two Africans and Ruth took an orphan baby to relatives in Tanzania. On the way back that evening, the ambulance clutch broke, leaving them stranded in the middle of nowhere.
“We had very little food — just two cans of green beans, some boiled eggs, and bread,” recalls Ruth, who strained water from the river through some diapers and boiled it.
Another time a father accidentally dropped his 6-month-old baby on a rock, slightly denting in her skull. While Ruth held the baby’s head, Mable put the baby under anesthesia.
“Dave made a hole in the depressed area and popped it out with a tongue blade,” Ruth says. “The baby recovered completely.”
In Kenya, Ruth created a nursery school where she trained adults how to teach children by playing, singing and participating in various activities. Two years later, surrounding villages also adopted the nursery school model.
The Hadleys moved to Plainfield in 1971. In 1995, David became the Hendricks County Health Officer, a position he held for nearly 20 years. As for Ruth, she took a path she never saw coming when a rural church in Belle Union (25 miles from Plainfield) named Walnut Chapel Friends Meeting asked her to be their substitute minister.
“After I’d been preaching for several years, I felt that something was missing,” Ruth says. “Then, while I was doing an EKG on one of Dave’s patients, the man began telling me his problems. That was the beginning of my being a listener.”
A flip was switched and from that point forward, Ruth began approaching sermons in a new way.
“I realized I needed to be vulnerable and share myself,” says Ruth, who received immediate feedback from a parishioner who told Ruth, “I thought I was the only one who experienced a dry spell with God. I really appreciated your authenticity.”
Ruth continued delivering her soul-touching messages for the next two decades until the church closed its doors in 2002.
After 90 years on this earth (she’ll turn 91 on July 3), Ruth has noticed an overlapping theme when it comes to preaching, parenting and even painting: patience. As a child, she despised the art of painting because if she messed up, she had to start over. Later in life, however, she discovered paint-by-number kits and suddenly a whole new world was open to her. Though she still made mistakes, she learned how to blend colors, thereby transforming her mess-ups into masterpieces. For instance, she once mixed up her colors while painting a landscape, leaving her with a purple and orange sky. She initially lamented her creation until she used brushstrokes to bring the colors down into the mountains. When she was finished, a friend told her, “Ruth, it looks like Jesus is coming over those mountains!”
Trusting God and following His lead has certainly worked well for Ruth. For starters, it led her to the love of her life, with whom she enjoyed 60 years of matrimonial bliss. David passed away in May 2015 after a battle with Parkinson’s.
“Dave told me the Tuesday before he died, ‘I’ve got to pack fast. I’m going on a long trip, but I can’t remember where.’ He passed away that Friday,” says Ruth, who decided to make Cumberland Trace, a senior living community in Plainfield, her home in 2015.
“No place is perfect, but this is the best, comfy home for me,” Ruth says.
As it turns out, Ruth married a doctor and her sister married a minister, which just goes to show there’s no point in making plans.
“I couldn’t have imagined where God was going to lead me, but it was just as it should be,” Ruth says. “It’s been a good life.”