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92-year-old Irwin polka fan not ready to slow down

| Tuesday, March 5, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Ruth Shuster of Irwin dances as a polka band plays during her 92nd birthday party at McDonald's in Irwin on March 4, 2013. Shuster turned 92 on March 3. Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Ruth Shuster of Irwin and Gill Humphrey of Ohiopyle finish a dance as a polka band plays during Shuster's 92nd birthday party at McDonald's in Irwin on March 4, 2013. Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review

The moment the three accordionists hit the first notes of a lively polka, Ruth Shuster grabbed a partner.

“Da, da da, da, da,” she sang as she swayed and twirled to the music.

Then she moved on to another partner. And another. And another.

“Anybody else want to dance?” the Irwin woman said, a big grin on her face and not a bead of sweat on her brow.

For most of her 92nd birthday party on Monday at the McDonald's Big Mac Museum Restaurant in North Huntingdon, where she works in the dining room three days a week, Shuster danced nonstop to the sound of the four-piece polka band.

She took on all comers — women and men, kids and seniors like herself.

Trim, spry and dressed in her work uniform — bright blue T-shirt advertising Fish McBites and a baseball-style cap — she danced with barely a pause to catch her breath, as she does four nights a week at clubs and other venues. She can polka and country line and square dance.

What she can't seem to do is sit still.

“All her life she never walked, she always ran,” said her daughter-in-law Mary Lou Shuster of Hempfield. “And that's her secret.”

To celebrate her March 3 birthday, Shuster's friends and McDonald's co-workers threw her a party at the restaurant, as they have since her 90th.

Friends and family filled the restaurant to celebrate with Shuster, a mother of two, grandmother of five and great-grandmother of two. Her husband died in 1971.

“I should be so lucky to be alive at 92, let alone have the energy and quality of life that she has,” said Betty Anderson, 67, a friend who square dances with Shuster.

Mary Lou Shuster marvels at how many friends her mother-in-law has.

“It's just everywhere you go,” she said.

Many of them know Shuster from dances or from the jobs she's held throughout her life.

At age 18, she worked as a seamstress for the Works Progress Administration, the largest of the Depression-era New Deal agencies begun by the Roosevelt administration. She later worked for A&P and G.C. Murphy, among other businesses.

She most enjoys working at McDonald's, she said.

“I love it here,” she said. “I'm telling you, they are the greatest people to work for.”

Her co-workers said they feel the same about her.

“She's terrific,” assistant manager Neil Shamitis said. “She's the hardest-working employee we have in the dining room. The customers love her. The kids love her.”

Children who regularly come in with their parents and grandparents look for “Ruthie.”

Some brought her cards and flowers for her birthday.

“They are my sweeties,” she said.

Lately, Shuster has been sweet on someone else.

She introduced her co-workers to her “good friend” Ray Scalise, 89, of North Braddock, whom she met at a dance six months ago. They partnered for a dance, and Shuster wouldn't let go.

“She said, ‘You're not going anywhere. You're a good dancer,'” Scalise said. “That's why I'm stuck.”

Scalise said it's hard to keep up with Shuster, even though she is an “older woman.”

“She drags me everywhere,” he joked. “I was 200 pounds, and now I'm down to 140.”

Shuster said there's no special reason why she's still so active at 92. She just takes one day at a time, she said.

“I just live, that's all,” she said. “Live the way I'm living.”

Jennifer Reeger is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6155 or jreeger@tribweb.com.

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