Ruth Jacobs embraces the “no moss grows on a rolling stone” adage, and is living proof that it must be true. At 90 years young, the San Antonio native and Coral Gables resident remains the very embodiment of volunteerism and altruism, and has a posse of friends and followers so vast it would eclipse any modern teen’s social orbit.
To mark her July 20 milestone birthday, her legion of admirers gathered at the charming “Doc Thomas House” on Sunset Drive. The frame cottage anchors the Tropical Audubon Society (TAS) campus, is a Dade County Historic landmark, a Florida Heritage Site and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Like statuesque Ruth, it has great bones and is built of sturdy stuff (in its case, Tidewater Red Cypress and Dade County Pine). Its 1932 pedigree makes it “one of my favorite ‘Old Miami’ places,” Ruth informed the nearly 100 folks gathered to fête her on a sultry, midsummer Miami night.
Indeed, the joint was jumping. Just about anyone who was in town and had ever met or worked with the historic preservation advocate had RSVP’d “Yes!” As the celebrants gathered, Django Reinhard 1930s Jazz tunes set the vintage mood. TAS Events Director Amy Creekmur observed, “We have never had a parlor crowd like this for anyone or anything, and we host celebrity artists, politicians, scientists and activists all the time.”
Commissioned by original owner Arden Hayes “Doc” Thomas (a South Miami-area pioneer and TAS benefactor) and designed by architect Robert Fitch Smith, the historic house is Ruth’s cup of tea. That the architect’s son, Donald Smith, and noted Miami historian Arva Moore Parks were among Ruth’s well-wishers was not surprising.
Herself a history buff and storyteller at heart, the former model and Texas beauty queen was captivated by Miami’s compact history from the outset. She landed here in 1964 with three children in tow when Riddle Air Lines transferred her now-late husband Tom to the burgeoning aviation hub. Shortly after arriving, the young family settled on South Alhambra Circle in 1965. In addition to digging into local history, the mother of five jumped headfirst into the PTA when fraternal twins Caron and Chris entered First Grade at Sunset Elementary. Her trajectory from involved parent to host of “PTA Center Stage,” which aired on PBS-WLRN from the 1970s through the 1990s, was notable.
In the mid-70s, Ruth joined Dade Heritage Trust (DHT). She vividly recalls helping with its first project, the Wagner Homestead WLRN Documentary. Ruth later served two terms on the DHT board and was named Education Chair; she presently volunteers as a history docent at The Biltmore Hotel on behalf of DHT. “I like people to be aware that they live in a fascinating place with a colorful history, it’s not just sun and sand,” she says of Miami.
As passionate as Ruth is about historic preservation and education, working toward a cancer cure is what drives her. For going on 55 years she has volunteered with Woman’s Cancer Association of the University of Miami, where she has variously served as president of the Bush Chapter and chaired annual fashion shows to raise funds for cancer research. When Bush Chapter recently merged with Barton Ravlin Chapter, so did ever-adaptable Ruth.
The fit and fabulous 90-year-old is irrepressible. A few years ago, she joined The Villagers, which provides funding for preservation projects and scholarships for students pursuing careers in historic preservation. “I always like to say, ‘The Villagers put their money where their mouth is’ – they just don’t talk about preservation, they fund it,” the nonagenarian enthuses.
To meet this inspirational woman and bask in her aura, take a Ruth-led historic tour of The Biltmore Hotel. (Contact DHT at (305) 358-9572 to inquire about Ruth’s one-Sunday-per-month docent schedule.)
When lucky enough to catch up with on-the-go Ruth, this writer always orders “whatever Ruth is drinking” (in the impossible hope of being more like Ruth!). So what beverage does the Yellow Rose of Texas and the Belle of Coral Gables favor? The most lady-like drink imaginable: Rosé.