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SeniorWomenWeb Interview with Ruth Daleth:
"It's never too late to become better or stronger"

by Sandra Smith

Upon meeting Ruth Daleth, my first impression was of an attractive, no-nonsense woman of a certain age. She took charge and focused on the health insurance problems that I'd brought to Congressman Gary Condit's office. Her direct approach left no room for ambiguities about her ability or desire to help and I could tell she felt any day was a fine day to go to battle for a senior constituent.

You'd never guess that Daleth—a 68-year-old powerhouse—is a recovering alcoholic, had never worked outside the home during her 31 years in an abusive marriage, or that her confidence was once so low that, as she said in her scratchy tobacco voice, "If I hadn't joined Alcoholic's Anonymous and gotten this job, I'd be dead today. Knowing that my work here makes a difference in people's lives is part of what gets me up in the morning and makes each day a gift." When I asked for an interview, Daleth reluctantly agreed "because maybe my story can encourage someone else to get help and let them know that it's never too late."

Daleth loves to talk about how she helps older adults. She tells a story about an 85-year-old woman whose Social Security checks were reduced $500 a month for no apparent reason. In addition, her regular monthly check hadn't been deposited—again for no reason—and the woman rang up $608 worth of bank charges before she discovered the discrepancy. Out of desperation, the elderly woman went to Congressman Condit's office. Daleth immediately picked up the phone and spoke with her contact at Social Security. An emergency check was issued and Ruth helped the woman balance her checkbook, negotiating with the bank to have the overdraft charges dropped. On the woman's behalf, Daleth wrote a letter to creditors explaining the situation and asked them to wave their $25 fees.

Daleth, with full support and encouragement from Congressman Condit, represents old-fashioned public service in the finest sense of those words, a service underperformed today. Daleth was also quick to point out that everyone should attempt to resolve their problems first before visiting a Congressman's office for help. That should be a last resort.

Ruth Daleth's mother was also an alcoholic. "She divorced my father when I was six months old. I spent my first 21 years with my mother and grandfather in Carnegie, Pennsylvania—a steel mill town. My mother was a bar waitress, working Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. She'd bring me to work with her when I was six. Carnegie had three movie theaters. I'd see one double feature, and go on to the next double feature. Then I'd walk back to the bar. I'd fall asleep in a booth until my mother got off at 2 am. I never watch movies now."

She met her ex-husband, Jack Daleth, at 14 and they married when she was 21. He joined the military and went to Korea while Ruth went to California to live with his parents until he returned. She said, "He, too, is an alcoholic and his drinking worsened as time passed. It didn't help when his brother bought a bar and Jack became his partner. Jack and I were always fighting. I blamed Jack for years when our first child was stillborn."

"In 1963 we put our daughter, Nancy, his golf clubs and all our possessions in a little red Corvair and moved permanently to California." The Daleths landed in Salinas and lived there for about seven years. Jim secured a job with a large retail chain and was promoted regularly while Ruth stayed at home raising the children. Although Jim brought home a paycheck, he stayed away as much as possible, leaving Ruth to take care of his mother who suffered from Alzheimer's.

The whole family suffered as the elder Mrs. Daleth became increasingly belligerent and less responsible due to the disease. When Jim was promoted to manager of a Modesto store, Ruth stayed in Salinas for several months to finish remodeling the house so it could be sold. "He was living in an apartment in Modesto and I kinda knew at the time that something was going on with somebody at work." It wasn't the first time, but Ruth knew the other relationships hadn't lasted.

©2002 Sandra Smith for SeniorWomenWeb
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