An estimated 200 local residents, family and friends gathered to commemorate the life and legacy of Gap resident, William Chester Ruth, with a historical marker. Lauded for his creative talents and ingenuity as an inventor and entrepreneur, Ruth invented equipment that made farm life easier. He is also noted for improvising his invention, the manure spreader, to a cinder spreader because folks had so much trouble making it up Gap Hill in the winter. With more than 52 patents to his name, he was also commissioned by the US government to make bombsites for secret weapons during WWII and was even solicited by Campagnie Charles Le Borgne of France.
Born on July 19, 1882, William Chester Ruth became a well-known black inventor during the Roaring 20's and the Depression Era of the 1930's. His father was a former slave and his grandmother descended from the ruling family of New Guinea. She was kidnapped while panning for gold with other children from the royal family. Her father was part of the Mali Empire, an Iman (Muslim Holy Man).
Quoting a French philosopher, organizer Nancy Hess said, "Every man carries within himself the history of the world, meaning that history is simply a record of what is already written in the confines of the human heart... The history of the world is only an extension of individual lives".
She added, "William Chester Ruth believed that the story of human life begins with God and ends with God, history began with God and God began with his story. What God does on a large scale in the history of the world, He is ready to do on a smaller scale in the history of every life, it is within this context that we celebrate the life of such a great man."
Minister of the Church of Christ in Erchildoun, Larry London dedicated the occasion in prayer. Ruth preached for 36 years at the Church of Christ, founded by his parents, Samuel and Louisa Pinn Ruth.
Students from the Octorara High School Chorus sang two historic hymns that were favorites of William Chester Ruth, and Octorara Senior Dannan Stewart read his biography.
Representing the Salisbury Township Historical Society, Joan Lorenz shared memories from local residents and proclaimed that Chester Ruth, as his friends and neighbors knew him, was the embodiment of one of the great commandments, to love God with all your heart, strength and might and to love your neighbor as yourself.
Gap resident Violet Baker recalled Ruth as having never acted the part of a man of prestige. She described him as always humble and a friend to everyone, "It was not in him to do anything but live a humble life and service to others."
Bruce Bomberger, representative for the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission and curator for Landis Valley Museum said it was one of the proudest moments in his life to assist in the dedication of the marker honoring Ruth and said the marker symbolizes how important early tolerance in Pennsylvania was in providing Ruth the freedom to establish his blacksmith shop.
State Representatives Art Hershey and Gordon Denlinger presented Ruth's grandson, Richard Ruth, with a citation from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Hershey recalled hearing his father talk of Chester Ruth and his blacksmith shop and lauded Ruth for his faith and integrity, expressing that America's young people need the same strong influences of faith, family and integrity. He recognized Ruth for his creativity, tenacity and his admirable desire to make life easier for Pennsylvanians.
Congressman Joe Pitts, a former history teacher with great personal interests in local history, was also on hand to acknowledge the accomplishments and endeavors of William Chester Ruth. Pitts recognized Ruth as an outstanding citizen whose strong commitment to service remains an inspiration. He also commended Ruth for overcoming the tremendous odds present in the history of his lifetime to become a productive, caring and committed American citizen. He added, "We would all do well to follow his example."
Ruth's was not the only one in his family to gain notoriety. His sister, Ida Ella Ruth Jones, was the famed primitive African American artist who began her artistic career after the age of 70. His brother George was a musician and frequently entertained at the White House. Robert Allen Pinn, his maternal grandfather, was one of only 16 African Americans earning a Congressional Medal of Honor during the Civil War.
When Yankees invaded the south, Ruth's father fled the plantation and came upon soldiers from the 54th Massechusetts. He was taken under their wing and became the personal servant to Sgt. Swails, the first African American commissioned officer in the Civil War. Ruth's mother boasted of having once served dinner to the famous Ulysses S. Grant.
The marker is located on the north side of Route 30 by the open lot before Rita's Italian Water Ice. Sponsored by the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission and property owner, Marvin Stoltzfus, the marker stands as a continuous reminder to passers by of the rich legacy left by the life of William Chester Ruth.