It’s hard to surprise a woman like Ruth Tate, especially at the Ruth Tate Senior Center in South Memphis.
For 35 years, she directed the activities, special events, bus excursions, and even a trip to Europe for senior participants. Tate is now director emeritus. Even at the age of 87, not too much goes on without her input. But on May 1, the staff of the Ruth Tate Center did something about that.
“Ms. Tate started the senior center. She was honored some years back, and the center was named after her,” said Alton Edwards, president of the Ruth Tate Council at the center. “We thought it would be a great idea to surprise Ms. Tate on her birthday with a party!”
Edwards and the other seniors pulled off the near-Herculean feat of keeping the party under wraps during the careful planning and execution of one of the year’s most highly-anticipated events.
“Over the years, Ms. Tate has helped so many families,” said Crystal Conley, the acting director for the center. “It is so important for seniors to stay actively engaged in socializing with their peers and being a part of a social network. The center is an important outlet, an extension of the family.
“Keeping seniors active and happy contributes to longevity and enhances the quality of life,” Conley continued. “So many seniors and their families over the years owe so much to the work of Ms. Tate.”
Even after 35 years as director of the center, Tate still spends most of her days there at the senior complex. She remembers the surprise party as one of her brightest and most memorable days.
“They really got me that time because I was truly surprised,” she said. “It was such a wonderful day, and I just felt very special and honored for them to remember my birthday like that.
“So many people were there who came by to wish me a happy birthday,” she added. “My son from Houston was even there, and that really surprised me. It made me feel good to know that so many people appreciate what I tried to do for seniors.”
The beginning of Ruth Tate Senior Center was an humble one, but the call to lead the project seemed tailor-made for Tate.
“It all started with a study that was done at Memphis State, well, you know, it was Memphis State at the time. We know it’s the University of Memphis now,” said Ms. Tate. “And they said that we needed a senior center in South Memphis because of the large number of seniors who lived in the area.
“It was part of Senior Services, and we started out in the basement of Christ Missionary Baptist Church when Eddie Currie was pastor. Senior Services was giving us $200 a month for rent, but we were told they needed more money. That’s when we asked Dr. Reuben Green over at Central Baptist Church if we could start meeting there. And he said, ‘Come on, Ms. Tate.’ We stayed there until our building was finished. When it was time to move, Dr. Green said, ‘Don’t leave, Ms. Tate.’”
Her love for planning activities and facilitating special events is legendary. The center’s annual Pre-Mother’s Day Luncheon is the big fundraiser, hosting more than 500 participants.
“I asked the Lord to give me something for Mother’s Day that wasn’t sad,” she said. “My own mother died at the age of 32, leaving two small children behind. So I understand people grieving their mother on Mother’s Day, even when they are seniors. But our luncheon is fun and uplifting. People take their vacation during that time so they can come take their mother to this event. It continues to be the big highlight of our year.”
This director emeritus still has the magic touch. She’s been asked to plan a Father’s Day luncheon at the center – the event is set for Tuesday, June 11 at 11:30 a.m. Along with the luncheon, there will be a men’s health conference, Conley said.
“United Healthcare is sponsoring the health component,” said Conley. “Although the emphasis will be on men, the women are not excluded. We are looking to have a wonderful time celebrating fathers at the luncheon.”
As for Ms. Tate, she plans to stick around indefinitely.
“My doctor said they made a mistake on my birth certificate because I can’t possibly be 87 years old,” she said. “But I say, we are going to keep living and enjoying our life. We’re not going to let age stop us.
“Many of our seniors live alone,” she continued. “It’s no good staying home thinking about all your aches and pains. We spend time at the center. That’s really the secret to staying young.”