Ruth Hardister stands tall and straight, her voice is quiet, but commanding. Everything about her belies the fact she turned 89 in January. Everything about her leaves no doubt that she can do anything others might ask of her.
It is no wonder her fellow senior citizens and the staff at the Payson Senior Circle made Hardister their Volunteer of the Year. Additionally, Hardister was honored as one of the organization's Most Caring and Outstanding Ambassadors, and was presented with a pin for five years of service.
"I've been with the Circle practically since it was initiated," Hardister said.
One of the reasons she stayed with the group so long, she said, is Cory Houghton, director of the Senior Circle for Payson Regional Medical Center, which operates the program.
"She always makes everything interesting," Hardister said of Houghton.
She said she first came to the Circle to take part in its exercise program. It was taught by Jay Scott and used classical music.
"By the time you were done, you'd moved every part of your body and it was nice," Hardister said.
The exercise class was the doorway into greater involvement with the Senior Circle. These days, her volunteer efforts include manning the front desk at the Senior Circle on Wednesday afternoons, coming in every-other month to help put the organization's newsletter together and visiting ill members or those who are confined to their homes for other reasons.
Hardister is also a volunteer advocate for the American Association of Retired Persons. In fact, it was an AARP function with the Legislature that kept her from attending the luncheon at which the Circle honors were presented.
She didn't learn about her awards until someone announced it in her Sunday school class at the First Southern Baptist Church.
She and her late husband, Les, came to Payson in 1979 from Phoenix. The couple was stationed at Luke Air Force Base during World War II and they made many trips through the area and always said this is where they were going to retire.
Hardister was not retired when they made the move to Payson. She continued working, serving as night nursing supervisor at the hospital for several years.
That experience led to the one thing she will not do anymore: Take a leadership role.
"I'll do whatever is needed, but don't ask me to be a leader. I had enough of that when I was working," she said.
Before Ruth's husband died in 2001, the Hardisters did a great deal of traveling, and she still has her motor home at the ready. Her most recent travels have taken her to Hawaii, the Panama Canal and Alaska.
Two of the greatest benefits Hardister feels the Senior Circle offers are the medical closet, where medical supplies are available to seniors free of charge, and the many opportunities it offers for friendships.
There is much more to the Senior Circle though, including a variety of classes. Hardister said she would tell a new senior citizen resident to the Rim Country to make the Circle the first place they went. "We have information and brochures for seniors. There are people willing to answer questions," she said.
If a senior is interested in the volunteer opportunities available at the Senior Circle, Hardister recommends working with one of the veterans for a few half-days to see if the fit is right.
The Payson Senior Circle has about 900 members.
For more information, call (928) 468-1012.