Ruth Viola Hyry
My mother, Ruth Viola Hyry, was born on December 13, 1909 in Champion, Michigan and I, David, one of her two sons, was also born on December 13, in 1937, on her birthday. Walter Alan, my brother, was born four years later. Mother was a sibling of ten children of Saima Kopakka Beck and Charles Hyry.
Her father was born in the United States, her mother in Finland. Five brothers and four sisters made her upbringing difficult. Her father was killed in an accident while working for Champion Mining Company when she was 12, and she was never able to reconcile this loss.
Mother attended Suomi College (now Finlandia University), taking a business course. She won second place in a typing contest covering the entire state of Michigan. Wishing to obtain employment as a government secretary, she traveled to Detroit but was unable to find a job.
She told of her frustration and decision to work as a maid. Her first job working for a Jewish family was not pleasant so she quit and placed an ad in the newspaper seeking further employment but stating in the ad, “gentiles only.” She was quickly called by a Mrs. Levin, inquiring why she had placed such an ad. She explained her previous experience and was invited by Mrs. Levin to come to their home, where she would have a different experience.
She did, and was accepted as a member of the family—including taking meals at the family table. When she was able to obtain government employment as a secretary, she resigned and was sadly missed by the Levin family. This experience became family lore and was the basis for her sons being raised without prejudice against others with differences.
During her time as a secretary, mother had the opportunity to travel the State of Michigan with federal attorneys who were purchasing farmland which had previously been forested with white pine trees. The fanned-out land was being sold during the Depression. She spoke of this experience, using her secretarial skills, as the happiest time of her life.
Mother married our father, Clarence Millard Sharpe, in 1932. He wasn’t of Finnish heritage, so my brother and I had only a limited connection with Finnish culture during our upbringing. Mother was fluent in the Finnish language but we were not taught Finnish. Mother did continue the Finnish-American custom of making delicious pasties, a meat pie, adapted from the Cornish people in the Upper Peninsula. Contacts with our Finnish relatives was occasional, but offered an opportunity to hear the Finnish language spoken.
Mother worked in my father’s music business. She selected the records for each location and typed the labels used in the record machines. Father was away a lot and mother enjoyed her pastime, reading. Mother found great pleasure in being spirited away through reading and her imagination. She believed in “automatic writing,” and spent many hours attempting communication with lost relatives and friends.
She never learned to drive a car although efforts were made to provide instruction. Mother wrote a book about her early life experiences, and repeatedly tried to have it published, but was unsuccessful. Several copies were printed for her by the family.
My mother, Ruth Viola Hyry Sharpe, was a kind and gentle lady loved by all who knew her. She passed away in her 89th year of life in southeastern Michigan.