Widowed at 28 with 4 children, 1 on the way: A life remembered

FISHER — Charlotte “Sug” Rutledge enjoyed quilting, which involves piecing together different articles of cloth.

Her family used that analogy in describing Mrs. Rutledge for her eulogy last week.

The Fisher resident couldn’t and wouldn’t let hard times roll over her. She would pick up the pieces and stitch life back together during difficult times because she had young children to raise.

She was 28 years old when her husband was killed in a traffic accident. She had four children and another on the way.

Mrs. Rutledge died Oct. 26. She was 85 years old.

It was the 1960s when she lost her husband.

She would never remarry, her son Roger Jenkins said last week,  because she was in love with her husband and “wasn’t ready to move on.”

She chose to focus her attention on her children and later her grandchildren.

“It was brought up a time or two (about remarriage), and she said she was too busy with the kids. She would have a couple of guys who would take her out,” but that was it, Jenkins said.

Dwight and Charlotte Rutledge had been married a little more than a year when he was killed in the accident.  

The family lived in rural Sadorus and sold Christmas trees. Dwight also worked at AC HumKo in Champaign and had loaded up several Christmas trees to take to his friends at work. His vehicle was struck by a train at the railroad crossing in Sadorus.

Mrs. Rutledge didn’t realize it at the time that she was three months pregnant with her fifth child.

Jenkins said his mother began having stomach pain, went to the doctor and was told it was likely a tumor. A second opinion, however, revealed she was expecting. The baby, Alan, was born six months later.  

Mrs. Rutledge’s marriage to Dwight was her second. She had been divorced from her first husband, Bill Jenkins of Paxton. She had two children with Jenkins — Roger and Sandy. The Jenkinses divorced when Roger was 3. She had three children with Dwight Rutledge.

Born in 1933, Mrs. Rutledge was part of what has been described as “The Greatest Generation” — known for overcoming obstacles and persevering during one of the most trying periods of world history — The Great Depression.

Times weren’t much easier for her growing up than they were after the death of her husband.

Mrs. Rutledge grew up on a small farm in rural Sadorus. Her father, Vernon Bialeschki, died just before Christmas 1950, and her mother, Ethel, had to raise her five daughters alone.

Just like her mother, Mrs. Rutledge “would face adversity, grieve and realized that ... she’s got to start over. ...,” Roger Jenkins said.

“She would pick up the pieces of her life and find a way to put it back together. Some people would have just given up.”

Mrs. Rutledge moved from rural Sadorus to Fisher after her husband’s death. Mr. Rutledge’s family was from Gibson City, and Charlotte had two sisters who lived in Fisher.

The family of six lived on Dwight Rutledge’s social security benefits and whatever else Charlotte could scrape together doing part-time work, whether it be bookkeeping, ironing clothes or wrapping meat at a meat locker.

But with five children, it was difficult to have a steady job and deal with their comings and goings in sports, scouting and other activities.

“She did a lot of catering for weddings,” Jenkins said. “People loved her cooking.”

She likely learned much of that culinary expertise working at her mother’s restaurant in Sadorus.

Much of the food in the Rutledge house was home grown. Gardening was a must.

Jenkins said if his mother didn’t can 100 quarts of green beans and tomatoes each year they would starve by the spring.

She used an entire vacant lot near their house for her garden.

Pam Seim, who did Mrs. Rutledge’s hair for “probably 20 years,” called her “just a sweetheart.”

“She was generous and full of stories all the time,” Seim said. “I had a beauty shop, and one of the first questions she had was, ‘What’s new?’”

Mrs. Rutledge was homebound for the latter part of her life, and Seim would come to her house every Wednesday to do her hair. She said Mrs. Rutledge’s hairstyle “didn’t change much” in the 20 years she did it.

Mrs. Rutledge loved Christmas, Seim said, and would start the year early buying and making presents for her family.

“It was so important to her,” Seim said. “It was the big thing. She would buy months ahead of time. Her bedroom would just be full of wrapped gifts.”

Some of the gifts would be things she made. She did a lot of quilting. She did lots of craft things.”

Seim said that love for crafting continued when Mrs. Rutledge became a resident of Gifford’s Country Health Care and Rehab.

“I know when she went to the nursing home, she was always helping them make stuff like lap pads. She had the kids take the sewing machine over there” to the nursing home, Seim said.

Henry Rappleyea had been a neighbor of Mrs. Rutledge and her family since 1965. He said people were close in the neighborhood.

“We looked out after each other for years,” Rappleyea said. “We didn’t nose into each other’s business, but we took care of each other’s houses. Our kids played together, and it was like family.”

Rappleyea said when a parent dies young, the children step up and take on more responsibilities, and that was true with the Rutledges.

“They were polite. They were honest. They were great kids,” Rappleyea said. “They were a great family, that’s all I can tell you.”

Jenkins said the Rutledges had an open-door policy for friends of the children. And many times, Mrs. Rutledge invited Chanute airmen over for a meal if they couldn’t make it home to their families at the holidays.



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