Ruth Palenchar, Daily Star columnist, dies at age 86

Published 2:27 am Wednesday, January 14, 2004

By Staff
NILES -- Ruth Dunn Palenchar, whose columns providing a historic perspective of life in Niles graced the pages of this newspaper almost every week since 1995, has died at age 86.
Palenchar, 86, died at her apartment in the St. Paul's Retirement Community in South Bend, Ind., late Monday afternoon.
She is survived by her husband of 56 years, Anthony Palenchar, and a son, David Palenchar of Elkhart, Ind.
Palenchar, who remained active up until her unexpected death on Monday, had suffered with a bout of bronchitis for the last three weeks. However, on Saturday, she wrote Griffey in a note attached to her weekly column submission that she was feeling better, "was feeling a little more ambitious" and regaining her strength.
Palenchar's husband said she returned home from a doctor's visit on Monday, sat in her recliner and simply passed away.
Her approach to life is one we would do well to imitate, Griffey said.
Indeed, Palenchar's life was a study in learning and exploration. She embraced her later years, working with vigor to make them a special time of new beginnings.
Cortney Metcalf, assistant recreational program manager at St. Paul's Retirement Community, said Palenchar was very involved in social aspects of life there.
However, her move didn't mean Palenchar lost interest in Niles. She returned frequently to attend many events and functions here, just as she did when she and Anthony lived in the home they built on St. Joseph Avenue on Niles' west side.
Up until just days before her death, Palenchar was constantly on the go. Sadly, though, that was a habit rooted in one of the most unpleasant times of her life.
The Palenchars lost their daughter, Loretta, in 1965 to juvenile diabetes. Loretta was 13. She had been diagnosed with the disease three or four years earlier, and had taken well to the diet and medication regime necessary to keep her healthy.
Her daughter's death came unexpectedly, and it was an unimaginably difficult time for the Palenchars, particularly Ruth, she said in an interview in early 2000 for a story about her life for that year's Horizons edition.
The Palenchars are also the parents of a son, David, who with wife Sherry Balog, provided them with six grandchildren.
The Palenchars moved in 2001 from the home on St. Joseph Avenue which they designed and built together. They filled it with personal touches, like the lowered countertops and kitchen work areas, more convenient for her petite physique.
Palenchar considered designing her home and incorporating features for ease of living, as one of her greatest accomplishments.
Palenchar could stand on her front doorstep in Niles and look up South St. Joseph Avenue in Niles and see the home she was born in.
Palenchar was born to Edwin L. Dunn and Emma Kennedy Dunn, the second of four children. Her only sister, Kathryn, 85, who died in 2003, lived in Butorac, Calif., and was a retired Navy commander, having served in its nursing corps. A brother, Edwin K. Dunn, died at age 56, and brother Robert L. Dunn, died at age 21, a war casualty.
Palenchar attended Fourth Ward Elementary School in Niles and St. Mary's Parochial, graduating from Niles High School in 1935.
She worked after school and during summers during high school at Tyler Refrigeration. After graduating from high school, she went to work for five Niles doctors for $5 a week as a receptionist and bookkeeper.
A few months later, however, the Barentsen Candy Co. of St. Joseph opened a Niles store and Palenchar accepted a job there for $10 a week.
From 1937 through 1944, Palenchar worked as a cashier and secretary at Michigan Gas and Electric Co. on Main Street, where she advanced to office manager.
In 1944, she worked for a short time doing "war work" at Studebakers and National-Standard, and returned to office work right after the war ended at National-Standard Co.
Palenchar continued working with her husband in his business full time for a number of years, but continued on a part-time basis after the 1950s, in order to raise their children.
The Palenchars adopted their children: Loretta was adopted at six weeks old in 1951 and David was adopted at 14 months old in 1955.
Later, she went back to work full time with her husband in the family business.
When it was necessary to close the AP Electrical Service due to the construction recession in the late 1970s, the Palenchars retired, but continued with the antique business, doing shows in Michigan and Indiana and spending winters in Florida for five years. After that, Palenchar sold her antiques in antique malls for several years.
In the early 1990s, Palenchar decided to try office work again, but on a part-time basis. However, her attempts to find employment didn't go well.
In addition to her writing work, which had her constantly researching Niles' history, Palenchar was active in a number of area social and civic groups, including the Fort St. Joseph Historical Society, Niles Chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons, the Niles Literary Review book club, St. Mary's Christian Service Organization, Lakeland's Pawating Auxiliary and the Leighton Center in South Bend, Ind.
A voracious reader, Palenchar enjoyed newspapers, books and periodicals, particularly historic novels and autobiographies of famous people.
Funeral services are Saturday at 11 a.m. at St. Mary Catholic Church in Niles. The Rev. Canon Marian M. Kencik will officiate.
Burial will be in Calvary Cemetery, Niles.
Memorial contributions may be made to St. Mary's Church, its Christian Service Organization or the American Diabetes Association.