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Ruby & Don find love later in life
Ceres has been lifelong home to Ruby McLean, niece of Ceres first constable
Ruby and Don McLean live on a quiet Ceres street not far from the house where she spent her days as a girl. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Ruby and Don McLean have plenty of time to themselves these days.

Long ago were the days of working, defending the country and raising kids.

Life has been full for both Ruby, who'll be 91 this November, and for husband Don, 94. Now that life has wound down, it's their time to live quiet lives,

But then again, life has always been quiet for Ruby in Ceres. With the exception of a time in her life, Ceres has always been home to her.

Swinging on an outdoor swing - his favorite spot - in the shade on a 100-degree day, Don gushes with appreciation that he found Ruby and married her in 1986. This is the second marriage for both.

"I'm lucky," said Don. "She's quiet a girl. I have a wonderful wife, I have a good family."

Second time around for both
Don had lost his first wife of 40 years to cancer and he was in his 60s. They belonged to the same square dancing club in Ceres and gravitated toward one another during dances in the Walter White Elementary School cafeteria.

"I picked her up at the school," said Don. "That's where I made my first advance at her. I just lost my first wife after 40 years. Ruby and I just hit it off. She did all the things I liked. She danced and we enjoyed it."

Each summer Don ventured to Montana where he square and round danced. He decided to take Ruby and that's where they were married. Don was 66 and Ruby was 63.
"I decided it was time we got married and we did and I haven't been sorry. No way. I've got a nice home. I've been very fortunate. I've had two wonderful women."

Don's first marriage produced three daughters and two sons. Ruby had two children.
Since marrying, the McLeans have done some major globetrotting. They traveled all over the United States, square dancing along the way, and saw Canada, Alaska, Australia, New Zealand and Europe including Venice, Italy.

"We danced in Hell, it's a little town somewhere," laughed Ruby. They frankly have forgotten where it is located.

Born out of Iowa
Don's story started in Clarinda, Iowa, which had produced band leader great Glenn Miller 16 years prior. Don's family left town when he was a teenager to Des Moines for new work. Don finished high school and enlisted into the Marine Corps in 1940 - the beginning of a long military career. Don spent six years in the Marines and then Air Force.

During World War II, Don saw battle and helped fight the Japanese at Saipan and Tinian and Iwo Jima. He was twice wounded. While he participated in the celebrated battle of Iwo Jima McLean (Feb. 19- March 26, 1945) in the South Pacific, McLean was situated "too close to a bomb blast so I went without hearing for a while. You can't fight and not hear so they shipped me back to the states."

He recuperated in Des Moines but was called back to service in the Marines. He expressed to officials that he didn't want to go back into combat - he was scheduled to go to China - but since he had been wounded twice they agreed. He served stateside as a Marine shore patrol near San Diego and was discharged only to join the Air Force where he served for 25 years.

"The Air Force recognizes families. The Marine Corps didn't at that time."

Don had a cousin living in Modesto and decided to come with a friend to visit him. He decided to stay and applied for work at the Modesto Post Office, was hired and worked there for approximately three years before retiring in 1970.

Ruby a product of Ceres
Ruby's birth came three years after Don. She was born Nov. 24, 1923 in Modesto to Dwight Kingsley Perrin and Kansas-born Hazel Ramsey Perrin. Dwight was raised in Denver, Colo., and had served in World War I as an Army private. He eventually came to Ceres because an uncle was here. That uncle, Thomas F. Perrin was the first constable of Ceres after Ceres was incorporated in 1918. At that time Constable Perrin made just $5 per month. The city increased the pay to $20 per month when he was succeeded by Albert Rich in 1920.

Ruby grew up in the Perrin family house at the end of Ninth Street in Ceres. Dwight Perrin worked for the railroad but was out of work when the Depression hit. He found work when Roosevelt's WPA program came along.

"I used to be so embarrassed but at least he kept food in our mouths," said Ruby, who is the second of four girls. Her sisters were Virginia, Mary and Barbara. "We had maybe a poor life but we were happy."

Mom worked in processing apricots, peaches and grapes grown in Ceres. Hazel Perrin was later offered a job at the Ceres library by her friend the librarian.

"We didn't like that too well because we wanted our mother on Saturdays," remembered Ruby.

Ruby and her sisters attended the White Brick School on North Street and remembered the day in 1930 when all the students packed up their books and belongings and marched to the new school - the new Whitmore School on Lawrence Street east of Sixth Street.

"I think I must have been in about the first or second grade and you don't forget things like that," said Ruby.

The school later was converted to the Ceres Unified School District office and was burned in 1990.

She graduated from eighth grade in 1938. Members of her class included Ronald Berryhill, brother of Clare Berryhill, and studio photographer Gordon Ham. Ruby recalls the Peterson sisters as teachers and remembers Mr. Walter White as a wonderful man who seemed as quiet as she.

Geneva White, Walter White's wife, was one of her teachers and tried to get Ruby to break out of her shyness.

"She says, ‘Just keep her reading; she's going to come out of it.' I know I didn't talk much because I was very shy."

WWII changes lives forever
Life in America and Ceres changed on Dec. 7, 1941, the day the Japanese attacked U.S. Naval vessels in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and plunging the U.S. into World War II.

Ruby felt the pain in a personal way. One of her good friends, Japanese-American classmate Shizue Fukui, took the attack hard.

"We didn't turn our backs against her or anything," said Ruby. "Suzi" was, however, ripped from the fabric of her hometown and relocated with her family to a Japanese internment camp. The action of rounding up patriotic Americans of Japanese descent is today considered a black mark on the presidency of President Franklin Roosevelt.

"I was so hoping I could meet her again," said Ruby. "That was a shame. Suzi was such a sweet thing. I was hoping nothing happened to her."

The Perrin girls received their religious instruction in First Baptist Church with their parents.

Marriage, kids, divorce
After graduating from Ceres High School in 1941, Ruby met her husband in wartime California and followed him to San Diego where he was stationed in the Navy. Ruby's marriage to Eugene Alexander may have produced two "wonderful kids" but the contact between husband and wife was "hit and miss" as Gene was always shipping out. She raised the children in San Diego and later in Sacramento when he worked at a depot.

Apparently Gene was less than faithful.

"He finally went off and got divorced and I let him. So the kids and I were alone for quite a while and I came down here to Ceres where my folks could help me take care of them."

Ruby went to work at the mental hospital in Modesto, which was the former Hammond General Hospital on what is now the MJC West Campus, for 11 years until it closed in 1970.

She spent the rest of her working years at several state jobs, ending with Medi-Cal office employment in Modesto.

Ruby lost her father on July 3, 1966 and helped support her mother until her death on Sept. 2, 1987.

Twilight years
Mostly shut-ins now, the McLeans rarely get out of their Kay Street house to attend Grace Community Christian Church. Ruby gave up her driver's license and Don has health issues that prevent him from driving.

"He didn't like my driving," laughed Ruby. "I guess I must have drove like a teenager so I thought if I can't drive I might as give it up." Don interrupts with a loud "Zoom!" and thrust of his hand as she finishes "and I'm sorry I did now because I could probably drive us around and not have any problems."

Ruby keeps busy with housework chores but admits that she tires easily. The rest of the day is filled with watching TV game shows and daytime soaps and evening ball games, reading and occasional exchanges with neighbors like Pauline Carter, whom is the same age as Don. Coincidentally and in defiance of the odds, neighbor Pauline and Don went to school together in Clarinda, Iowa.

As probably most people who reach their 90s think and feel, life has presented its best days and the inevitable comes into view.

With a pacemaker installed in her chest now after a series of collapses, Ruby said she's in a slow process of "destroying stuff because I don't want the kids to have to bother to with it."

I'm not sure if the McLeans have ever pondered on the words of Longfellow. He wrote:

"For age is opportunity no less than youth itself, though in another dress, and as the evening twilight fades away the sky is filled with stars, invisible by day."

Ruby and Don, I'm sure, can relate.