ELKINS – Many people lament the possibility that they may have to work until they are 70 years old before they retire, but an Elkins woman passed that milestone 20 years ago and has no plans of slowing down.
Ruth Hepler, who turned 90 Wednesday, still works four days a week. Hepler, who graduated from Davis & Elkins College as a registered nurse at age 54, puts on her white uniform and shoes and drives herself to her job at Nella’s, a nursing home in Elkins.
Hepler said she spends her days overseeing and comforting patients, providing treatments, teaching nursing assistants and traveling with residents to doctor appointments.
On Thursday, Elkins Mayor Van Broughton presented Hepler with a key to the city of Elkins.
“I want to congratulate you and present you with a key to the city,” Broughton said. “But the door to Elkins is always unlocked for you.”
Hepler thanked those gathered at the celebration Thursday at Nella’s, where she has been employed for 40 years. To celebrate her birthday, fellow employees, administration and residents she cares for gathered with Hepler’s family members for cake and punch. The gathering was a surprise for Hepler.
Nella’s administrator, Shasta Eidell, said she enjoys working with Hepler.
“Ruth is one of those people that spreads a special magic,” Eidell said. “Wherever she goes, lives are changed because of her caring manner. She will go to help someone at the drop of a hat and she works tirelessly. Ruth puts the emphasis on caring and giving with everything she does.”
Hepler said she came to Mr. Eidell, then administrator of Nella’s, to explain her unique situation when she was looking for a job.
“My husband passed away suddenly and I had a young son and two daughters in college,” Hepler said. “I did not need a full-time job because I needed to be home with my son, too. Mr. Eidell understood my position and hired me. He said I could work at Nella’s as long as I needed.
“Nella’s has been very good to me.”
She said she has been a nurse for as long as she can remember.
“I was in the first graduating RN class at D&E,” she said. “Our class had 22 students that graduated and 11 of us passed our state boards. Everything was relatively new back then.”
On Wednesday, Hepler traveled with her family to the Capitol in Charleston to celebrate Unity Day. Nurses and nursing students from throughout the state gathered at the Capitol. About 500 participants marched from the Cultural Center to the Capitol.
Hepler was introduced by West Virginia Senate President Jeffrey Kessler. She received a plaque from the West Virginia Nurses Association, honoring her for her many years of dedication to the practice.
Delegate Denise Campbell, D-Randolph, said she was sorry to have missed Hepler’s award.
“Ruth Hepler is a great nurse,” Campbell said. “There are not many people her age still working and I admire her dedication.”
Hepler’s daughter, Paula Heinke, said her mother had surgery recently, and had to spend some time convalescing.
“She came to Nella’s to heal,” Heinke said.
“It was a great experience all around. Mom was off work, but was still surrounded by her Nella’s friends. They are like a second family to her, and she received great care.”
Although she had said she might consider retiring when she turned 90, Hepler shows little sign of slowing down. When asked why she continues to work, she said she “really likes to shop – and someone has to work to pay for your Social Security.”