I’m sad. The streak has come to an end. For the first time in the 68-year history of the Florida Folk Festival, Ruby Shaw will not be there in person this year. Last weekend White Springs said goodbye to “Miss Ruby.” You’ll surely want to read this if you knew her, but even if you didn’t know her, read this and you’ll learn of the passion, patience and persistence of a woman who was a legend, and who lived a way of life that is worthy of respect and remembrance.

“Life in White Springs” mentioned Miss Ruby frequently over the years. Here are a few examples.

Ruby made peanut brittle but she cooked other delightful dishes too.

2008… Not only did Miss Ruby have a lasting impact on her hometown family and friends, she also made a lasting impression on the hundreds of Elderhostel visitors and the thousands of Florida Folk Festival visitors. From a blog about one of the many Stephen Foster Elderhostel programs Miss Ruby cooked for. “The first 2 evenings, we had spectacular "home cooked" meals of pot roast and chicken pileau catered by local cooks Willonese Tillman-Adams and Ruby Shaw. This blogger went on to say that this was his 20th Elderhostel, and this group of people and the people of White Springs bonded like few other programs have. Miss Ruby made memories and connections.

Ruby loved the Florida Folk Festival!

2010… This was my thirtieth year at the festival and I am proud of my unbroken attendance streak but I don’t hold a candle to some, including our own Ruby Shaw. “Miss Ruby” has been there all 58 years and those who have known her over the years will tell you that she is part of the fabric of the Folk Festival and that nobody in the world makes better peanut brittle than Miss Ruby does.

Ruby made the politicians listen.

2011… I heard through the grapevine that our own Mrs. Ruby Shaw prepared some of her famous peanut brittle for the entire Florida Legislature and that they were very appreciative. I hope that Miss Ruby does not get accused of bribery, because her peanut brittle is so good it’s “worth a million dollars” just to taste it. Thanks to Representative Leonard Bembry and the State of Florida for recognizing the confectionary skills of Miss Ruby. She is active in so many parts of our community life. Those of us who know her know that she is a true White Springs treasure!

Ruby was tough!

2013… As many of you know, the world’s best peanut brittle is made right here in White Springs by our own Mrs. Ruby Shaw, who is a very active and involved person in the White Springs community. I was sad to hear that Miss Ruby recently fell and had to go to the hospital. Now, any of you that know her know that she is one wonderful lady with a giving and caring spirit. The good news is that she is also one tough and determined woman when she needs to be, so I suspect that she is going to be working hard to heal and come back home soon. Miss Ruby, the thoughts and prayers of White Springs are with you. We all love you, miss you, and wish you a speedy recovery. And, to be honest, we all look forward to the next batch of peanut brittle! Get well soon!

Ruby was recognized and honored.

May 2014… Barbara Beauchamp, Cousin Thelma Boltin, Sara Gertrude Knott, Lillian Saunders, Nancy Morgan and Ruby Shaw were acknowledged as part of the inaugural “Legends and Legacies” program at the Florida Folk Festival. Miss Ruby, the only living recipient, was in the heady company of these powerful and well-known women because of her knowledge and practice of the traditions that make up our Southern culture here in White Springs, and also for all her contributions over the years to the Florida Folk Festival. Miss Ruby Shaw is our neighbor and whenever we see her it brightens up our day. Though she is always loving and sweet, when adversity comes along she is also very resilient, and she can be as tough as nails when she needs to be. She sets a good example and she and her famous peanut brittle, like her so sweet and so good, remind us that often the “old fashioned ways” are often the best and are certainly worth preserving. Thank you Miss Ruby!

Ruby was an “extraordinary ordinary woman.”

2015… At a glance, White Springs might seem to just be populated by ordinary folks, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that, but a longer look would reveal that quite a few of these “ordinary” folks are indeed quite extraordinary. You have to pay attention to notice what extraordinary lives these ordinary folks lead, because they go about it in such a quiet, unassuming way.

My wife, Merri, wrote a letter in support of Miss Ruby’s nomination for a Florida Folk Heritage Award. Merri has known “Miss Ruby”, as she is called in the community, since Merri moved to White Springs in 1974. Miss Ruby and her family were involved with the Florida Folk Festival right from the very beginning, which is how Merri got to know her. Over the years Miss Ruby became well known for her knowledge of Southern food traditions, but it is her peanut brittle which she makes and sells during the Festival and at other community events, that she is revered for. Her stories about family life and candy making are wonderful and reflect the region’s culinary traditions and the pioneer spirit that still thrives in White Springs. Miss Ruby’s nomination was accepted and that she is one of the few that were selected to receive the Florida Folk Heritage Award for the year 2015. The award recognized her contributions to the preservation of our cultural heritage through a lifelong commitment to sharing traditional foodways. Miss Ruby will be recognized at a special presentation of the Florida Heritage Awards on the evening of March 11, 2015 in Tallahassee, Florida.

In 2017 we mentioned Miss Ruby in this column one last time.

2017… Legends and Legacies are coming to town! Some of the past honorees include the late Mrs. W.A. Lillian Saunders, the late Sarah Gertrude Knott, the late Cousin Thelma Boltin, the late Barbara Beauchamp, the late Aunt Nancy Morgan, and the late J.L. McMullen. I dare not overlook the living; the wonderfully melodic songstress with a voice like an angel, Jeanie Fitchen, and the lady with the indomitable spirit who inspires me and satisfies my sweet tooth like no other can, Mrs. Ruby Shaw! I look forward to seeing both of them at the Folk Festival this year.

Gone but never forgotten!

As I said at the beginning of this column, the streak has come to an end. For the first time in the 68-year history of the Florida Folk Festival, Ruby Shaw will not be there in person this year. But she will be there in spirit! We who knew her will remember her, and people who never knew her, children and adults alike, will take blissful delight in Miss Ruby’s Peanut Brittle, now and for years to come, and those of us who knew her will watch, and we will know…the legend lives on!

Manny Perez, Manager at the Stephen Foster State Park, asked me to share this with you. “We are in the middle of events season here at the park and could always use some help. We are seeking volunteers to help on March 21 at the Antiques, Arts, and Collectibles Day. We are looking for some help early about 7 a.m. to help direct the vendors to their spots. We also need some volunteers stationed at the museum and tower to address visitors’ questions. Please call me, Manny Perez, at 386-397-2733 if you are interested.”

Once again, I’ve said enough! I love living here and writing about life in White Springs and the surrounding region, but I sure could use your help! Let me hear from you. I am thankful that we can depend on each other, and I hope that we can continue to feel proud of who we are and where we’re headed, and that we all appreciate how White Springs and its surrounding region is a very special place, to be honored and protected. As always, I look forward to seeing you out and about, enjoying your community and your life in White Springs.

Walter McKenzie

386-303-1394

lifeinwhitesprings@gmail.com

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