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This Old Town – The story of Ruth

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From her arrival in Medfield in 1927 until her death on November 8, 2006 at age 107, she was one of the most recognized people in Medfield, especially at St. Edward Church. She married and raised her family here, and for her entire time in Medfield, St. Edward Church was the center of her spiritual and social life. She was, of course, Ruth Vasaturo.

She was born “Rafaella” DeMichele on June 9, 1899 in the town of Panne in southeastern Italy. She came to the United States with her mother, three sisters and two brothers. Her father had come previously to live and work on a vegetable farm in Thornton, Rhode Island. Like millions of immigrants who came to America, her family had hopes of a better life. They entered the United States through Ellis Island, passing the Statue of Liberty, with its Emma Lararus poem welcoming immigrants: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free … send these the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Her only memory of the crossing voyage was that they “had soup every day.”

Ruth and her family settled in Thornton, Rhode Island where, at age 8, she began school. In 1909, Ruth’s father got a job with the City of Providence Public Works Department and moved the family to Providence. When Ruth turned 13, she was pulled from school so she could help bring income into the family. She worked in a stocking factory for the next three years. Here, she was paid $2.10 for the week. Here also, the foreman substituted the name “Ruth” for “Rafaella,” a change she initially approved but later regretted. All her earnings went to help her family. Ruth would walk just over three miles to and from work, never missing a day’s work due to illness. She said her family struggled on the edge of poverty but “she and her siblings were never sick.” At age 16, she began working in a woolen mill in Oneyville, RI during the day and attending night school after work. Each day, she left home with two lunches, one for work and one for the evening school.

Ruth was 18 when the United States entered World War I. During the war years, she also worked at the U.S. Rubber Company plant assembling gas masks. She was now working two jobs. She was at the Rubber Company from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and would then walk three miles to the woolen mill, where she worked the 6:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. shift. Evening school was discontinued due to the war.

When the war ended, the Rubber Company scaled back production and Ruth left the job, giving her the chance to go back to night school, from which she graduated in 1920 at the age of 21. Upon graduation, Ruth entered the Convent of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, located not far from her home. For six years she, she delighted in all the spiritual and temporal aspects of convent life. However, as time passed, there was increasing pressure to return home to assist with family responsibilities and finances. This ultimately led to her decision to leave the convent, a profound sorrow for Ruth.

Returning to the family’s apartment in Providence, Ruth learned of a job opening at Medfield State Hospital. Ruth accepted the job as a hospital employee and moved to the hospital grounds, where she received free lodging.

In 1928, Ruth met her future husband, Peter Vasaturo, who worked at the Atlantic Brick Company located in the area of today’s West Street. Peter and Ruth were married on November 29, 1928. The newlyweds moved into an apartment in the Center of Medfield on Main Street at the head of South Street. The apartment was less than 100 yards from St. Edward Church (then located at the site of today’s gazebo, opposite Town Hall), which made Ruth’s desire to attend morning Mass relatively easy to fulfill. Throughout her life, Ruth attended daily Mass and was an active member of the Catholic Daughter’s of America. She was then employed in the rectory as cook and housekeeper from the mid-1950s until the early 1970s.

The following year, Ruth delivered her first child, Anthony “Tony” and the following year, she became a citizen of the United States. The ceremony took place at the courthouse in Dedham. Peter continued working at the brickyard and picked up part-time work through the Public Work Assistance (PWA)working on town projects.

Peter, swept by the spirit of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, became an ardent Democrat. He would go on to be active in state Democratic Party campaigns, as well as in local Medfield politics.

In 1932, Ruth gave birth to a second son, Peter, and three years later gave birth to a daughter, Marie.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Ruth worked at the Medfield Hat Factory, where production switched from ladies’ hats to knapsacks and hemp lines for rope ladders and cargo nets for landing craft. Ruth made regular trips to the Red Cross blood drives, donating gallons of blood during and after the war.

Following the war, Ruth became an attendant and worked nights at Medfield State Hospital.

In 1944, Ruth and Peter fulfilled a life-long dream with the purchase of a house on 79 Spring Street. Here, they planted an extensive garden. During the summer, fruits and vegetables were sold at the family roadside stand, with strawberries, tomatoes, corn and cucumbers the most popular items.

Ruth was an active member of the PTA through her children’s school years. During the 1950s she continued attending Mass daily, while returning to evening classes to earn a license in practical nursing, all the while continuing her employment at the state hospital and at St. Edward Rectory. Peter suffered several heart attacks in the 1950s and was later diagnosed with lung cancer. He died on November 29, 1957, on the very day of his and Ruth’s 29th wedding anniversary. In 1958, after 16 years of service to the mentally ill, Ruth retired from the state hospital.

In the mid-1970s, the Spring Street property was sold and Ruth returned to live in an apartment at 411 Main Street. Her children had now grown with lives of their own. Tony was ordained a priest, Marie moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, married James White and settled down to give birth to three daughters and two sons. Peter married Margaret Mary Molloy, purchased a house on Emerson Road, and their family was increased by three children.

In the 1980s, Ruth began working for town historian, school teacher and Medfield icon Laura Smith at her 402 Main Street house. Laura was confined to her bed with Ruth helping to care for her, watching and discussing the news and giving her company. Laura died in 1987, and Ruth decided that the time had come to retire. In 1990, she moved from Main Street to Tilden Village, where she told all who visited with her: “I am enjoying the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living.”

Ruth died on November 8, 2006 leaving a legacy of 107 years, almost 80 of them in Medfield, giving spiritual kindness and joy to all she encountered. Medfield is today that much better because of the legacy left by Ruth Vasaturo.

A note of thanks to the Vasaturo family for their special memories of Ruth Vasaturo.

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