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Have You Met?

Florence Ruston is known as the Grande Matriarch of Denver Society and she certainly deserves that title. At 87, Florence has accomplished more in her lifetime than most of us could only dream about. And what a life she’s had; entertainer, wife, mother and volunteer extraordinaire.

Florence regaled me with stories about her time in Hollywood. “I started in entertainment at the tender age of two. I won a contest and appeared with Charlie Chaplin and we were dressed as a bride and groom. That was the beginning of my career.” Florence attended East High but much of her education was at the Hollywood Professional School. “We traveled back and forth until I lost my teeth when I was six or seven. Then I wasn’t considered cute anymore. I remember I was in Hal Roach’s “Our Gang” comedies, during the silent movie days and my mother used to stick my front teeth in with chewing gum. That hurt, that hurt really bad. Pretty soon that didn’t work either so we just returned to Denver.

My mother would always say “yes” whenever she was asked if I could do an activity like swim or ride horseback. On one project I was in a swimming pool and they pushed me in the “plunge” at Ocean Park. I didn’t know how to swim and almost drowned. They pulled me out unconscious and of course I lost my job.”

When she returned to Denver, Florence concentrated on dance lessons and elocution. “When I was sixteen and graduated from high school, I opened a dancing studio in the old Tabor Theatre building. I had my school there for many, many years. I remember when the big stars would come through and always stop at my studio. That was fun. We had light rail then too, only they were called ‘trolleys.’

Florence went back to Hollywood in her early twenties. “Mom was friends with Sid Grauman and he interviewed me and set up an audition with the director of Republic Studios. That was during the time John Wayne was a big star. The director told me I would have to pluck my eyebrows and have my teeth capped. I really didn’t want to go through all of that, so he said to me, ‘Florence, why don’t you go back to Denver and marry a dentist.’ So, I got on a train and came back to Denver. My mother was very disappointed. I didn’t marry a dentist though, I married a lawyer.”

Dancing has a prominent place in her heart. “I opened my school in 1933 and taught for 25 years. I had the biggest dance school between Hollywood and Chicago and I had hundreds of students. I continued working after I was married and retired when my knees gave out. I also taught for many years at Elich Gardens at what they called the “Free School of Dance.” Helen Bonfils would come looking for me and tell me to ‘stop the show,’ because while the performance was going on people wouldn’t buy tickets or ice cream cones. I’d hide so I wouldn’t have to stop the show.”

Once Florence “retired” she decided she would use her energy in charity work. “I had the personality that could organize and get things done and I had been in business for a lot of years, so it was just natural to use that knowledge to help others.” Florence was instrumental in organizing most of the charities that began right after World War II. “I organized a lot of charities and many of them, like Hearts for Life and the Denver Ballet Guild, are still going strong. I’m very proud of that fact.” Florence, like the charities she began, is still going strong. “I’ve donated twenty-seven scrap books to the Western History Library and I’m working on thirty more that are still being put together. I was a very active lady.”

What’s important in your life? My children and grandchildren and making sure the charities survive

What’s in your future? The DCPA is naming a rehearsal hall the “Florence and Harry Ruston Room.”

What are your volunteer activities? I’m not as active as I used to be

How long have you been involved in non-profits? My mother used to raise funds for charities. I was involved in the first fundraiser for the American Medical Center and was asked to become president. I raised $6,000 for the first fundraiser, an unheard of amount at that time. The first event I sold tickets for was the Ballet Guild Ball. I started the “Patron Ticket” because I thought it was easier selling a group of tickets at one time.

What kind of changes have you seen in the non-profit world? Women work now. The wanna-be’s are still there. Many women today only join these organizations for the contacts.

What is/was your favorite volunteer activity? I never had one. Each time I was involved in a charity it became the most important thing in my life. I attended Black-Tie events on an average of four times a week and went to three to five meetings a week. When I was involved with the Denver Symphony, I used to entertain the stars in my home.

Which social event is your favorite? The Heart Ball

Favorite restaurant? The Palm

Who is the most interesting celebrity you have ever met? Carol Channing. I won the Carol Channing Award from DCPA.

If your life were a movie, whom would you want to play your part? Someone who could dance, maybe Ginger Rogers or Cyd Charisse.

Do you have any pets? Not any more. I did have Dalmatians and then I had German shepherds.

When you move, what will your home tell its next owner about you? That it’s my home. I wanted to give it to the Lutheran Church but they couldn’t accept it.

What word describes you best? Energetic

How would you like others to describe you? Energetic, talented, vivacious

What was your first job? I was a paid entertainer at the age of two.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Working too hard, volunteering too much

What trait do you most deplore in others? Pushing! Trying to be in society, the “wanna be’s.”

What is your greatest indulgence? Eating

What type of clothes do you like? Dress up and ball gowns

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? Get out of bed and wash my face

What’s the last thing you do before bed? Say prayers

Favorite comfort food? Ice Cream

Tell me something about yourself that people would be surprised to know about you. I’m really very shy and I’m really an introvert. When I first became involved in charities, my husband had to write my speeches.

What is the best gift you have ever given? Love

What is the best gift you’ve received? Love

What or who is the greatest love in your life? My husband Harry; I was married to him for over 60 years.

What is your current state of mind? Since I lost my eyesight, I don’t know. I just want to get well. I never missed anything until now.

What do you consider your greatest achievement? My children

What is your most treasured possession? My wedding ring

What is the quality you most like in a man? Honesty and a man who doesn’t cheat

What is the quality you most like in a woman? Honesty and not being ambitious through me.

Favorite books/writers? Gone with the Wind and The Agony and The Ecstasy

What is the best advice you have ever received? Helen Bonfils told me to do the best I can, never to lie and don’t exaggerate. She gave me my start when she gave me the job at Elitch Gardens.

Do you have a motto? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

If you could come back in another lifetime, what/who would you like to be? And why? Marie Antoinette, but I don’t want my head cut off…or Elizabeth II

What are your hobbies? Other interests? Television, listening to the news

Who is your mentor? Helen Bonfils

What would you most like to be remembered for? Organizing the many charities I’ve put together

If you could go anywhere and do anything, what would it be? I’d like to go back to England and live there for awhile and also go back to France. We rented a flat for seven years in France while my daughter was there.

What do you like about the town you live in? I like the climate. I used to like the people – now there are so many new people. It’s exciting to live here now, but I don’t like the traffic.