Solana Beach woman, 93, pens memoir of growing up tough in rural Indiana
By Claire Harlin
Many longtime Solana Beach residents know Ruth Gunther as the owner of Gunther Realty, which operated for more than 25 years on Plaza Street at the current site of Sushi Solana, right by Fletcher Cove. A successful real estate agent during a growing time for the city, Gunther bought and sold many a home during the 1970s and 1980s, and she was the creative eye behind the Victorian-style remodel of her former office, which bears the same facade to this day.
At 93, Gunther still practices real estate on occasion and she’s active with the Solana Beach Presbyterian Church and the senior center there. And if you are wondering where all that energy comes from, you may look to her latest project for the answer — a book chronicling her childhood years growing up with no running water or electricity on a farm in Indiana. The memoir, “Papa Said,” hit the market in December and she’s scheduled to do a book signing and discussion at the Presbyterian church on Jan. 16 at noon.
The memories in her book date back to when she was between ages 3 and 7 — her youthful, innocent perspectives on growing up without much money, but with lots of love. Gunther was the fourth of 12 brothers and sisters, and she remembers vividly how she felt about losing the family farm, getting along with her ornery brothers and learning from her dad’s heartfelt advice.
“When it’s rough times you either decide you are going to do better for yourself and your family or not … I was always a self-starter, and I had a lot of energy,” she said. “I had a determination that life was going to be different than some of the things I saw growing up.”
Gunther writes about how her mom made clothes for the kids out of feed sacks and how her family took in bums off the street and gave them work and fed them.
“The way I wrote the book, I just imagining I was on the porch of the house and I remembered every detail of the farm,” she said. “I could see my dog and all the things that happened … I remember when my dad’s leg got caught in the belt of an old motorized washing machine. I remember it because it was traumatic for me … I can still see him lying there.”
Gunther began crafting the book in the late 1970s after she took her kids and their families to visit her old house, located on a gravel road more than a mile outside of Pittsburg, Indiana. There were people living in the home, however, when they let her enter it, she remembered it as though it was yesterday, and her children and grandchildren were intrigued by her stories of how life was back then.
“I was telling them all about it and the kids said, ‘You’ve got to write this down for us,’” Gunther said.
For years, she jotted down little stories, and it wasn’t until about a year ago that she strung them together chronologically — at the behest of her daughter-in-law who encouraged her to enter her writing into a Guideposts “Inspiring Voices” book publishing contest.
Through writing the book Gunther hopes to pass on the inspiration she took from her father and has carried with her throughout her life.
“In hard times he was patient,” Gunther said of her father. “He couldn’t say ‘no’ to anybody, and he would spend all night outside with a sick cow if he needed to. I have never known anyone who lives as much by their faith as he did.”
Gunther’s daughter, Dana, edited the book and said she enjoyed reading it more and more each time she read it.
“She has such a great memory,” said Dana, the Torrey Pines High School attendance secretary. “You hear the voice of a small child, relating to her environment and how she felt about things … It’s both sweet and humorous.”
For more information on the book discussion event, call the church, located at 120 Stevens Ave., at (858) 509-2580. For more information on the book or to purchase it online, visit https://