Ruth (Shields) Tessari
Life and Work
On January 27, 1931, Ruth was born in the old St. Mary’s Hospital in Camrose. Travelling by horse and buggy, her parents, Ernest Benjamin (E.B.) and Dorothy Anderson, brought little undershirts with them to the hospital for their second-born child and only daughter in the family. The Andersons were of Swedish descent and born in the States; E.B. in Minnesota and Dorothy in Iowa. They were married in 1926 in Saskatchewan. E.B. ministered in rural areas across the three Prairie Provinces and Dorothy was a schoolteacher.
The Andersons had six children: Arnell, Ruth, Don, Paul, David, and Phil. In addition to the challenges of early settlement, the children were also faced with the difficulty of changing schools. Ruth spent Grades 1 and 2 in Weyburn, Saskatchewan. The family then moved to a parsonage in Minnidosa, Manitoba where they raised a cow, chickens and pigs and received their mail through a rural route mail delivery. Ruth spent her formative grade school years studying at the Havelock School from Grades 3 to 9. The Anderson children had to walk across the countryside for a mile to get to the one-room school.
During her childhood years, Ruth developed a love of birds and outdoor life. She trekked around the countryside, learned different bird calls and hunted for birds’ nests to check up on the eggs. There was a barn in the back of their parsonage where she loved to watch the barn swallows build their nests and feed their young.
Ruth had Confirmation classes with the Swedish Mission Covenant Church and was confirmed in 1945. Growing up with a minister for a father, Ruth’s family roots and faith in the Lord led her to attend the Prairie Bible Institute in Three Hills, Alberta. She graduated high school in 1948. The next year, she stayed in Skiff, Alberta, where the family had moved. Her mother taught at the school in Skiff to keep it open. Ruth helped out with the housework and took care of her younger brothers.
Ruth went back to Prairie Bible Institute for four more years of bible school. During that time, she worked at the Institute’s print shop and stayed on the staff after she graduated in 1954. Ruth thoroughly enjoyed her four years of dormitory life despite her initial worries about leaving the stability and security of home. As she puts it, “Dorm life was an education in itself.”
On September 12, 1959, Ruth married Robert John Shields at the Prairie Bible Institute, the same place where they met. John Shields was from Vermont, USA. They had two children: Ernest Paul born on June 30, 1960 and Faith Ann born on November 29, 1964; the Shields had adopted Faith in Calgary when she was only four weeks old. Ernie now lives in Idaho with his wife Debra Steinwadt from Bittern Lake and their two children, Amy and Kaylee. Faith Ann lives in Victoria, BC with her husband Gareth Morely and their children: their eldest daughter Leda and their two adopted Ethiopian sons, Mikias and Yohannes.
The family stayed in Three Hills for a few years, living on a farm a mile away from the Institute where John worked as a dairy farmer. It was in Three Hills that Ruth and John Shields were informed about Bethany Homes for Children.
Founded by Mr. and Mrs. Jespersen in 1948, Bethany Homes aimed to provide a place for children who came from broken homes. The children may have had parents who were divorced, widowed, or did not have the financial capacity to care for them anymore. The Home operated on the belief that God would provide. Sharing that belief, the Shields moved to Bethany Homes in 1966, with John as farm supervisor and Ruth as a house parent. They lived in an apartment adjoining the boys’ floor, taking care of about 8 to 10 boys. Meals were taken together, with a staff member at each table. They went to Gwynne Church in a big school bus Mr. Jespersen drove. Ruth remembers a trip to a three-ring circus, courtesy of community contributors, that she and the children really enjoyed. She also remembers doing loads of laundry while the children were away at school. Ruth was involved in all aspects of the children’s lives: teaching, cooking, cleaning, and caring. Ruth’s son, Ernie, believes that Ruth gave the children not only the stability they needed but also the unconditional love they deserved.
In 1971, the Shields moved to the Sexsmith area to work for a pioneer family. They later on moved across the Little Smoky to live near Bezanson, where the children went to school in Ridge Valley. The Anderson family had a reunion in Banff in 1970, where E.B. especially enjoyed the mountains. Unfortunately, he passed away in 1974, and the Shields decided to move to Gwynne that same year to be close to Ruth’s widowed mother.
For the next ten years in Gwynne, Ruth was involved in a handful of community activities. She was active in the Gwynne Church, especially with Sunday school classes. She also led a club for young people where they had religious instruction, crafts and singing. The young girls appreciated Ruth for teaching them housekeeping and cooking skills. Ruth also substituted for the post-mistress Irene Snyder during that time. When not involved in the community, Ruth and John liked to travel with their close friends, Elsie and Dave Baker. The four of them would travel as far as the Maritimes, Vermont and the Ontario border, sometimes spending several days in one area. Elsie fondly remembers those relaxing times, and that both couples enjoyed each other’s quiet company and good humour.
In 1984, Ruth and John were ready to move back to Bethany Homes and rejoin the staff. When the Jespersens retired in 1991, they took over the administrative work. Their vision of establishing a family-oriented environment rather than a dorm setting was brought to life. Two separate houses were built in 1996, with a house parent and a few children assigned to each. Ruth and John acted as house parents in one of the houses for some time. Ruth enjoyed homemaking and taking care of children. She considered the Home as her main ministry.
Ruth and John were married for forty years until John passed away in 1999 from heart problems. Ruth stayed in the mobile home for two years, helping out at Bethany Homes as much as she could. She moved to Luther Manor in Wetaskiwin in 2001. To keep busy, she continued to read and do embroidery. She helped lead exercises for the residents at the Good Shepherd Home and acted as chairperson for the Wetaskiwin Christian Singles Group.
Ruth married Ernest Joseph Tessari on July 17, 2004. They stayed in Nanaimo, British Columbia for a period of two years. Ruth loved the ferry rides, the scenery, and the change in lifestyle; however she sorely missed the Alberta sunshine, as well as the company of friends and family. In June of 2006, they built a house in Wetaskiwin and moved back.
Today, Ruth lives at the Good Shepherd Home. She is on the family-resident committee that meets to discuss improvements for resident life and to address any concerns families of the residents may have. Ruth enjoys taking day trips with her husband Ernie in a converted wheelchair-accessible van. She also keeps in contact with her children and grandchildren, who visit her when they can.
Compiled in 2013.
Compiled by Michelle Mabuyo
Sources: Ruth Tessari, Elsie Baker, Ernie Tessari, Faith Shields, Ernie Shields, Wetaskiwin Times, Treasured Memories, Bethany Homes for Children Book