A typical week for Ruby Roscovich involved gardening, doing the recycling, cycling to and from town, making her own soap and candles and spending countless hours working with other local environmentalists on green initiatives within the community.
Did we mention this was taking place in the late 1960s?
Ruby, a trailblazer in early environmentalist efforts in the Powell River region, turns 100 years old on Friday, April 8.
Described as a dedicated, concerned resident by her loved ones and those who have crossed her path since she moved with her family to Powell River in 1951, Ruby’s centennial birthday has deep meaning to the community.
The outpouring of gratitude and respect for Ruby will culminate with a celebration of friends and family the day after her birthday at Powell River Reformed Church.
Ruby, who has lived with her family at her Manson Avenue home since the early 1950s, remained humble about her impact on the community.
“Oh, I’m very honoured about the things people are saying,” she said. “I’ve only just been myself, I guess, but it’s very encouraging to be supported like that.”
Just being herself has involved an immense amount of work in the community over the past several decades, tackling environmental issues and practices such as recycling before very few other people knew what she was talking about, even city council.
“At that time council thought recycling was just a way to attract rats,” laughed Ruby. “They thought if you’re storing anything, you’re just going to have rats, but that was the wrong picture of what we were doing. They didn’t know anything about recycling; everything was garbage back then.”
Inspired by the late Bob Hunter’s Vancouver Sun columns on pollution, Ruby took a keen interest in local environmental issues.
In 1970, Ruby became an important part of the Powell River Anti Pollution Association (PRAPA), spearheaded by long-time municipal politician and current Powell River Regional District Electoral Area C director Colin Palmer. Palmer formed the association after becoming concerned about pollution coming from the mill at that time.
Ruby worked closely throughout the years with other local environmentalists such as Martin Rossander and Mary Olsen.
Palmer said he remembers Ruby always being “quietly effective and very, very concerned.”
When Ruby convinced her son Dale to spearhead Powell River’s first commercial recycling program in 1972, it made perfect sense to Palmer.
“It was encouraging because she lived it,” said Palmer. “It was fascinating to be around her, and not to hear her just talk about these things, but actually do them.”
Dale, a registered massage therapist who recently returned to Powell River after a 40-year absence to be closer to his mom, said Ruby was a force when he and his older brother Glen, a local satellite installer, were growing up.
“We felt her tsunami coming in the mid-’60s with her health food. The meat and potatoes routine was being disrupted with things like brown rice and health food that started to come in. She was against three guys in the house, but she wasn’t to be deterred,” he laughed. “We were a little resistant to some of her ideas at first, but that wasn’t going to stop her.”
Dale said his father Frank, who died in 1992 at the age of 85, was supportive of Ruby’s efforts. Frank accompanied Ruby on a trip to Vancouver in the early 1970s, along with the family’s recyclable materials, while they were researching recycling options for Powell River.
“She and Frank were really forerunners, along with other committed Powell River people, in anti-pollution efforts and keeping peace with the land,” said Teedie Kagume, collections manager at Powell River Historical Museum and Archives.
However, it wasn’t just her political activism and concern of the environment that made Ruby such a light in the community. She was also a generous person who quickly made many friends, which she established lifelong relationships with.
Local author and historian Barbara Lambert said it was as a result of meeting Ruby that she ended up staying in Powell River for the past 45 years. Ruby and Lambert were both teachers at the time and Ruby introduced Lambert to her future husband.
“Her friendship means a great deal to me. It’s a connection for both of us of our life here in Powell River for the past half century,” said Lambert. “Ruby is a very caring person. She cares about her family and she will do anything she can to help people. She’s one of those people on this earth that really gives back to the community.”
Local organic poultry and produce farmer Catherine Kleinsteuber said she contacted Greenpeace Vancouver when she heard about Ruby’s upcoming 100th birthday celebration.
The environmental organization will be sending Ruby a recognition card in honour of her commitment to the environment, said Kleinsteuber.
“I always held her in awe and respect,” she said. “She reached a lot of people with messages about the environment with the way she lived her life. She lived what she believed in.”
Steadfast in her dedication to the environment all of these years, Palmer said he was always fascinated by Ruby’s devotion to the local transit system.
“Every time my wife and I saw her in town we’d ask, ‘Do you want a lift home?’ and she’d say, ‘No, I’m going on the bus,’ and she absolutely refused to get into a car,” he laughed. “It was incredible.”
Even at 100 years old, Ruby still makes her weekday treks to Town Centre Mall to visit with friends, attends the Powell River Open Air Farmers’ Market every Saturday and goes to church every Sunday. Now, she said, she will let her son give her a ride to the mall, but then she buses back.
“If she doesn’t get out every day, she gets a little itchy, and the bus stop is right in front of our house,” said Dale. “When Stewart Alsgard was mayor he said she was the best bus customer in town.”
Dale said he looks back at his mother’s commitment to the community and understands why so many people have been positively affected by her.
“I stand in awe, like so many others do, of her accomplishments and healthy living principles,” he said. “It’s very heartwarming to see the local response to such a pioneer. I’m very happy and very proud. She’s a bright light, and it’s nice to be so close to such a bright light.”
Ruby said she is aware of a new generation of environmentalists in the Powell River area and she is pleased that they are active.
It is everyone’s duty to protect their natural surroundings, she said.
“It’s the business of each and every one of us to control the environment and our footsteps on planet Earth, and that we don’t ruin it,” said Ruby. “We depend on it to live. It’s our business to watch the imprint that we make.”
As for the milestone birthday, Ruby said she feels great, adding that breathing fresh air and eating healthy all of these years probably had something to do with it.
“Still, I can’t believe it,” she said. “I’m turning 100!”