Vahe Gregorian

Now, she’s seen it all: 101-year-old KCK woman revels in first KU basketball game

Ruby White, 101, from Kansas City, Kan., saw her first KU basketball game in Allen Fieldhouse on Tuesday night.
Ruby White, 101, from Kansas City, Kan., saw her first KU basketball game in Allen Fieldhouse on Tuesday night. vgregorian@kcstar.com

If you’ve ever been to Allen Fieldhouse, you know ear plugs come in handy.

Ruby White managed the noise her own way on Tuesday night during Kansas’ 96-58 romp over Toledo.

“I took my hearing aids out,” she said, laughing.

The longtime Jayhawks fan from Kansas City, Kan., knew what to expect even though she’d been, well, too occupied to make it to a game here for most of her first 101 years.

It was worth the wait for a spectacle that immediately ranked among lifetime highlights for the coal-miner’s daughter the family likes to call “Ruby-Doo” for her can-do spirit.

“Ohhhh, joy,” she said. “I’m ready to go up.”

From early in the day until the moment of tip off for a game, Kansas basketball is steeped in tradition in Allen Fieldhouse.

Her day at Allen included attending the KU shootaround with two of her four children, Susan, a nurse, and Barry, a longtime teacher, coach and administrator at Pembroke Hill who’s now a substitute teacher.

“She had the most energy I’ve ever seen from someone that’s above 80,” KU sophomore Mitch Lightfoot said. “She was talking and loving on us.”

To hear White’s son tell it, that scene was plenty eventful, too.

“While we were sitting there, a ball comes flying over and my mom (reaches up), and she deflected that thing,” he said. “The (players) all came over and high-fived her.”

On the drive home late Tuesday, he thought about how his own reaction time might not have been adequate to knock the ball away and asked her how she did it.

She just said, “I saw it coming.”

Unlike a day her son figured reflected some kind of alignment of the stars.

It all started with coach Bill Self embracing the idea after getting an email about the possibility from Barry White, who had known of an ill friend for whom Self had provided tickets.

Kansas administrators followed up on the wishful whim.

Next thing you know, here is Ruby White smiling at everyone who approaches and holding hands with and hugging strangers all night from her wheelchair.

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Ruby White, 101, was greeted during her first KU basketball game in Allen Fieldhouse on Tuesday night. Vahe Gregorian vgregorian@kcstar.com

Self made her feel special, too, chatting with her and asking after the shootaround, “Well, Ruby, how did we do? Did we look very good to you?”

“He is the most charming man — except my husband,” she said.

Ruby’s husband, Walter, a childhood polio survivor, died about 40 years ago.

Her longevity evidently begins with genetics, considering the mother of this native of Richmond, Mo., lived to be 97.

As for her own role in her life span, her son says she never smoked, never drank (also that she never exercised or dieted) and that the “X-factor” has been “be happy. Because when you get angry and upset, you just punish yourself.”

The First Southern Baptist Church of Kansas City, Kan., also has provided a major part of her well-being. That’s both in terms of her religious faith and continued participation in the venture that she and her husband helped start 60 years ago.

That helps account for the 350 people who came to her 100th birthday party and why she’s still a regular there as she prepares to turn 102 on Jan. 31.

“We feed people, we take care of them, we take care of their problems … that’s it, brother,” said Ruby, who continues to live by herself with the support of frequent family visitors. “And I call my friends to say how I love them. What’s wrong with that?”

Which is why she’s been able to make 75-year-old Barry feel much younger … and how she’d lived through two World Wars and the Great Depression … and the turbulent 1960s … and seeing mankind land on the moon … and the rise of the machines in the last generation.

“Been through it all,” Barry said.

But somehow hadn’t seen it all until Tuesday, when she finally visited one of the timeless cathedrals of basketball.

“I’ve wanted to come here for years,” she said. “This means a lot to old people.”

Vahe Gregorian is a sports columnist for The Star: 816-234-4868, @vgregorian

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