Ruth Jean (Harkness) Brennan
Ruth Jean Harkness was born on March 28, 1920 to Herbert and Gertrude Harkness in Grand Haven, Michigan. She had three older siblings, Marguerite (died in infancy), James (died in infancy), and Marguerite Alice, known as Peggy. The family later moved to a farm four kilometers west of Millet. Growing up, she was very close to her sister Peggy, and at a young age they learned how to farm, cook, and garden. Life on the farm also led to her love of horses and her dog Tippy. It was here that she learned what commitment to her family, community, and church meant. She carried these values all through her life.
Ruth went to school in Millet and enjoyed many activities, including skating and tap dancing. She won a few local awards with her talents. Her caring nature led Ruth into nursing; in 1939, she graduated as a Practical Nurse from St. Joseph’s Hospital. She worked as a nurse at St. Paul Hospital and St. Joseph’s Hospital until 1943, when Ruth left nursing to raise a family and work with her husband on their farm.
On November 8, 1943 Ruth married Ray Brennan. For the first two years of their marriage, Ruth and Ray farmed the Brennan Farm; by 1945 they purchased a farm of their own, east of Millet. They welcomed six children: Terry, Garry, Debbie, Roger, Bonnie, and Jean. While raising a large family, Ruth worked by her husband’s side on their mixed dairy farm. She was very dedicated to her family and friends. Everyone was welcomed into her home and she made sure nobody left hungry. Ruth always said they could add a little water to the soup and feed all the extra people that arrived at the dinner table. On several occasions, people would arrive at the farm with nowhere else to go. They stayed and became part of the family: they were loved, cared for, nurtured, and disciplined if needed.
Ruth insisted that her children receive a good education both in school and religion. Her religion was very important to her. She taught her children their catechism and the family never missed Mass on Sunday. Ruth was a member of St. Norbert’s Catholic Women’s League (CWL) for over 35 years. She served in many executive positions as well as helping to organize the St. Patrick’s Day Teas and Bake Sales.
Her cooking skills were superb, and she often gave her homemade goodies away as well as feeding the Millet Catholic priest most Sundays. Helping to cook and serve the Community Suppers was also a high priority for Ruth. The money made at these suppers was used to build and support the Millet Community Hall in the 1950’s and 1960’s. She loved to dance, so helping to complete the hall was high on her priority list.
When rumours began to circulate that an arena might be built in Millet, Ruth was almost the first person to volunteer to work fundraising bingos. Ruth worked for years to help pay for the arena and was front and centre on opening day. Although she no longer skated herself, she was ecstatic to see her grandchildren skating in the arena. Even though Ruth now lived in Wetaskiwin, she remained a very strong supporter of Millet and of its many organizations.
In 1973 Ruth and Ray retired from farming and moved to Wetaskiwin. While in Wetaskiwin, Ruth worked at a dress shop until the age of 65. After retirement, Ruth continued working bingos for the Millet Agricultural Society and St. Norbert’s Community Aid Society. She also volunteered in the Wetaskiwin Hospital Gift Shop. She loved watching her 18 grandchildren grow up and followed all of their achievements. She was their best cheerleader and team booster. She also enjoyed meeting with her friends for a cup of coffee at Tim Horton’s.
Ruth passed away at the age of 97 on November 30th, 2017. Without strong women like Ruth, small rural communities like Millet would not have the amenities which they enjoy today.