Senior spotlight: Remembering ‘Rowdy’ Ruby Elsberry 

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Ruby Elsberry dons a tiara and sash that reads “Hanceville Senior Center Queen.” (contributed)

HANCEVILLE, Ala. — The Hanceville Senior Center is a bit less rowdy these days as the “rowdiest of the bunch,” Ruby Elsberry, passed away in late November. Elsberry was known for many things: her signature red lipstick, her delicious and beautifully decorated cakes and quick wit, but maybe more so for her fun spirit that impacted all those at the center for nearly four decades.

Elsberry called Hanceville home since the early 80s and had been a senior center mainstay since 1985 with her husband A.D.

“She was actually too young to be a member at the time, but her husband was old enough, so she was able to attend from that point until she passed away,” explained Hanceville Senior Center Manager Evon Fowler, noting that the two seemed to be in the center every time the door was open.

“She very rarely missed a day until she began having health issues. She was a vital part of the center,” Fowler said, with Elsberry’s only daughter, Carol Argo, chiming in, “She was on that bus, that CARTS bus, every morning at about 8 o’clock. I mean, almost religiously, she was here every day!”

Fowler laughed, “She was always one of the first to participate in any activity, and she was one of the first to get on the bus and ready to ride!” Fowler said Elsberry’s infectious, fun-loving energy motivated other attendees to get down and dirty in a game of cornhole or competitive in a game of Uno.

Fowler pointed to photos of past senior center trips attended by Elsberry and fellow center attendee Thelene Thomas. The two were thick as thieves until Thomas’ passing in 2021. “Thelene, that was her best bud,” smiled Argo.

Sharing more about Elsberry’s life before the center, Argo said, shaking her head, “She was tough. Nobody knows how tough she was.” Argo explained that Elsberry was a single mom who worked at Pizitz and Marsh Bakery before meeting her husband A.D., and city life in Bessemer and Finley was not always kind to the two of them. Despite the hardship, she said, Elsberry never lost her smile – something that would become her signature in the center.

After marrying A.D., Elsberry moved to the quaint city of Hanceville and set up shop to bring her signature coconut cakes and beautifully decorated wedding cakes to the area. Folks caught on quickly, and business began to boom.

“It was how she made her living, and she enjoyed it,” said Argo about her mom’s talent. “People would call her up and say, hey, I need a coconut cake or a wedding cake, and she’d fix it up. She had two refrigerators out in the carport, and if they weren’t home, people would just stick some money in there for her and pick it up!” she laughed.

One by one, other senior center members began to offer input on Elsberry’s legacy at the center. Annette Flanigan said Elsberry can be summed up in exactly two words: “Phenomenal woman,” she declared, recalling how Elsberry used to give her flowers out of her garden.

Another, Jo Ballard, shared that after she moved to Cullman without knowing anyone aside from her husband’s family, Elsberry popped into her life as a fellow CARTS bus rider and quickly became close. A misty-eyed Ballard recalled how encouraging and motivating Elsberry was for her after a bout of serious surgeries.

“I’d get really down and out, you know? And she’d just smile and say, ‘You can do it,’” smiled Ballard.

The consensus from members of the Hanceville Senior Center is that Elsberry will forever be remembered for her ruby-red lips and her kind attitude, interjected with bits of humor. While the Rowdy Bunch may seem a bit quieter for now, they said, rest assured that Heaven is a bit rowdier with Elsberry’s presence.

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