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SSYMCA Remembers Ruth Kundsin and Her Secrets to Long Life

Posted: Dec. 26, 2020 Donate to Senior Scholarships

DECEMBER, 2020

The following articles featuring longtime Quincy YMCA member, Ruth Kundsin, were written in 2019 and 2020 after several major news outlets published stories about her long and fascinating life. At the time, Ruth was 103 years old and continued to stay active and fit through weekly personal training sessions with friend and Y personal trainer, Dick Raymond. This beloved weekly routine lasted over 10 years.

We were devastated to learn that on Thanksgiving day, 2020, Ruth passed away peacefully at the age of 104. Since COVID-19, she was unable to continue her workouts with Dick Raymond and, according to her family, her health declined.

Ruth will always be remembered as one of our Y’s most influential and captivating members, and we will always be inspired by her accomplished trailblazing career as a microbiologist, and her determination to live life to the fullest at every age.

We hope you enjoy these articles on Ruth and feel inspired to live life to the fullest as well. To honor Ruth, donations made to the South Shore YMCA in her name will provide Senior Membership Scholarships to the South Shore YMCA, helping other seniors enjoy the physical and social benefits of exercise as part of the Y community.

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At 103, Quincy YMCA Member Ruth Kundsin Lives Life to the Fullest

NOVEMBER, 2019 – Centenarian-plus Ruth Kundsin, who was featured several times in The Patriot Ledger over the past 10 years, was recently profiled by CBS Boston and NBC’s TODAY online.

At 103 years old, Kundsin carries on her weekly workouts at the South Shore YMCA Quincy branch with no signs of slowing down. Her personal trainer, Dick Raymond, 69, at the South Shore Y, was also featured in the pieces, sharing that exercise is helps to keep Ruth just as strong as when they began working together over a decade ago.

See below for original stories and links about Kundsin at TODAY.com, CBS Boston, and The Patriot Ledger.


TODAY.COM: How to live longer: 103-year-old ‘s longevity secrets include exercise, champagne

Original Story By Agnes Pawlowski of Today.com – Dec. 3, 2019 at 11:21 AM EST

People lifting weights at a gym in suburban Boston can be forgiven if they have no clue the energetic woman working out next to them is 103 years old.

Ruth Kundsin’s exercise routine includes cardio and strength training, a lifestyle that’s more active now than the decades she spent working as microbiologist — only reluctantly retiring in her 80s.

She still lives on her own, loves parties and works out with a personal trainer every Friday at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Massachusetts.

“I feel better afterwards and I think it’s keeping me vertical,” Kundsin told TODAY, expressing surprise at all the excitement about her centenarian status.

“It’s really funny to me. I think I’ve gotten more accolades for my age than I have for my science and that’s sort of strange because you have nothing to do with your age. I mean, you just age, but the science I really worked hard on.”

Dick Raymond, who has been her personal trainer for 10 years, said weights are the most important part of her routine.

“We work every part of her body trying to keep her strong,” Raymond, 69, noted. “The older you get, the more you need exercise because you lose strength as you age. You can prevent that — you can get better at any age.”

Here’s what Kundsin attributes to her longevity:

Positive attitude:

Kundsin described herself as having a very upbeat, optimistic, happy outlook on life. If something disturbs her, she gets over it, she said.

“It’s very important to have something to look forward to. If you don’t have anything to look forward to, life is bleak and dull. But it seems like I always have something to look forward to and if there isn’t anything, I make it, like I throw a party,” Kundsin said.

“I know that no matter how bad I feel, in a little while, I’ll be feeling pretty good. I don’t really worry about anything any great length of time.”

Having a satisfying career

The daughter of Latvian immigrants, Kundsin received a doctorate of science from Harvard School of Public Health in 1958.

Kundsin felt passionate about her work as a scientist and insisted on working even though it upset her family at a time when women were expected to stay home with their children.

She was the first mother to work in her community, facing intense scrutiny from her neighbors. Even Kundsin’s husband didn’t want her to work, but she got her own way.

“Thank goodness. Now I know it was the right thing to do,” she said. “It’s a satisfaction to have a job… I loved my work.”

Kundsin had 150 papers published in scientific journals and wrote five books. She worked as an associate professor at Harvard Medical School until she was 81.

Keeping the body moving

Scientific work is sedentary, so after spending much of her life bent over a microscope, Kundsin decided she had to make up for it when she retired.

When an acquaintance invited her to come to a gym, she thought it would be fun and has been exercising regularly ever since. She particularly liked swimming, taking part in Senior Games and competing at the national level three times.

She started working out with Raymond at age 93. The personal trainer focuses on having her do exercises that are challenging for her “because challenging things are what improve you. Easy things don’t improve you,” he said.

Besides her weekly workouts, Kundsin cooks for herself and takes care of her house, doing chores and climbing up and down stairs, “which Dick approves of,” she said.

Kundsin isn’t the first centenarian Raymond has worked with. He at one point also trained his father, who recently passed away at 101.

Making healthy choices and improving at any age

Unlike many centenarians TODAY has profiled, Kundsin smoked cigarettes for many years and didn’t quit until her 70s. Still, she hasn’t had any major health problems like cancer or heart disease, she said. It’s only within the past year that she’s started using a cane because of balance issues.

Kundsin doesn’t eat beef, but otherwise does “nothing special” when it comes to her diet.

Influenced by Raymond’s advice, she now eats oatmeal topped with lots of fruit for breakfast and has started avoiding sugar after a lifetime of eating desserts.

She drinks a glass of wine every night — not because she loves it but because she believes it’s good for health. Indeed, research of people who lived to 90 and beyond found those who drank moderate amounts of alcohol lived longer than those who abstained.

“I should be drinking red wine, but I think it’s a little strong for me so I drink white wine. I prefer champagne,” Kundsin said.

To view the original story and photos, visit TODAY.com.


CBS BOSTON: 103-Year-Old Woman Shares Secret To Long Life

Original Story By David Wade of CBS Boston –

QUINCY (CBS) – Ruth Kundsin proves the point that you are never too old. She’s 103, and just watching her workouts will make you tired.

She works with a personal trainer at the South Shore YMCA ever Friday. And on Friday, she let us in on her secret. “You’ve got to have something to look forward to. That is the secret,” said Ruth, who has plenty to look forward to.

Like her workouts at the Y in Quincy. “Oh, I love to come here. I like it because not only do you do exercise, but you meet people,” she said.

Ruth was born in 1916, when World War I was raging. She didn’t retire until she was 81 after a long career as a microbiologist. “I have 150 published papers and five books,” she said.

Before coming to the Y she was a swimmer who took gold in the Senior Olympics. Now she works with personal trainer Dick Raymond. “She approached me about 10 years ago, when she was 93 years old,” Dick said.

Since then it’s become a regular Friday thing, starting with a cardio routine and moving on to strength training with Dick calling the shots. “He pushes you so you’re sore. If you’re not sore it didn’t do any good,” Ruth explained.

She knows she’s healthier because of the exercise, but it’s also the social aspect that works for her. “Because I think it helps you to say alive. I really do. And by the time you’re through you’re ready to go to bed. I am! I go home and I take a nap,” Ruth said laughing.

Ruth is writing a book about her career and the discrimination she faced as a woman who was a scientist, and about growing old. She says most books about aging are written by younger people who just don’t know the subject like she does.

To view the original story and video, visit the WBZ Boston website.


THE PATRIOT LEDGER: Quincy woman pulling her weights at 103

Original Story By Sue Scheible of The Patriot Ledger – Sept. 9, 2019 at 4:33 PM EST

At age 103, Ruth Kundsin of Quincy works out once a week strength training at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy with personal trainer Dick Raymond.

QUINCY — There’s a favorite quote of the late actress Bette Davis: “Old age ain’t for sissies.” Ruth Kundsin takes it to a new level: Pressing 150 pounds with one leg at age 103 ain’t for sissies either. For Ruth, it’s part of her weekly routine.

Every Friday morning at 10:30 a.m., Kundsin arrives at the South Shore YMCA. The MBTA RIDE drops her off (though she occasionally drives). Small but sturdy, she uses a cane for balance as she makes her way around the upstairs fitness center. She begins with a half-mile walk on the treadmill. Then she boards an elliptical bike and pedals about two miles in half an hour. After a short rest, she moves on to the main event: her weekly half-hour strength training session with her personal trainer, Dick Raymond.

“It’s enough to kill you,” she jokes.

“She’s stronger than she looks,” Raymond replies.

He reminds her she has been meeting with him for 10 years, starting when she was 93. At the end of her workout — a combination of leg, upper body and core strengthening exercises — she says she feels tired but good and can walk better then before, even after pressing 150 pounds with her legs.

“I like the idea of doing this at 103 — I’m trying to keep my strength up and be as healthy as possible and Dick is fantastic,” she says. “He would never have me do anything that could hurt me and he watches very carefully.” Once he even caught her when she started to fall.

Kundsin has maintained her strength and still has a steady gait. She continues to live independently in her home of many years and keeps up a busy social schedule that includes dinners out with friends, the monthly West Newton Cinema Club and plays at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge.

Kundsin, a retired scientist, turned 103 on July 30 and finds “it’s not much different from being 100. You just keep going and you have more aches and pains, I suspect, and you’re a little shakier. But in my spirit I’m about the same . . . I’m basically a happy person, very positive, upbeat. I like to be happy and enjoy life.”

The “saddest” part of getting old, Kundsin says, is losing friends.

Last year, Rosemary Wahlberg, a Quincy community activist and social services pioneer who became her close friend, died at age 87. Last month she lost Ardys Peterson, who had talked her at age 101 into taking a cruise together to Budapest.

“What helps me is I have a lot of friends and they are very understanding,” she says.

When I comment that many must be younger; she laughs and says: “Oh all my friends now are younger than me! At this age everybody is younger than me. My daughter is going to be 80 next month. My daughter! And she’s working. She’s working hard on a project on the Hubble (Space Telescope). Well I worked til I was 81.”

Her daughter, Andrea Kundsin Dupree, is a senior astrophysicist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge.

Her secret for coping well as a centenarian is this: “I try to take care of things myself and then I have people who help me. I have help with my house and my garden. There’s not much you can accomplish if you are doing too many things at once. You have to keep your own spirits going.” She says she never feels lonely because “I have too much to do.”

In her home office, she is writing a book about her 51-year career as a microbiologist in Boston and about what it is like to grow old.

“The books about the elderly are written by young people and they don’t have a clue about what it’s like to be an old person,” she says.

One of the challenges Kundsin has faced is adjusting to a partial loss of vision caused by macular degeneration. She is treated with regular eye injections, wears glasses and uses a magnifying glass to read her daily newspaper. She has hearing aids and well-tended teeth.

Her main message for thriving in old age: “You need an upbeat psychology. It’s good to have friends who are optimistic. You want to do things that are interesting.”

Even things like lying on your back, raising your legs in the air and pedaling away.

To view the original story and video, visit the Patriot Ledger website.

Subsequent Patriot Ledger coverage on Ruth Kundsin can be found here.


THE PATRIOT LEDGER: A Good Age – At 104, Ruth Kundsin tells it like it is

Originally Published on July 28, 2020 by Sue Scheiblescheible@patriotledger.com

Ruth Kundsin of Quincy stands with her swimming medals in her home on July 24, 2020 - her 104th birthday. Lauren Owens Lambert/For The Patriot Ledger
Ruth Kundsin of Quincy stands with her swimming medals in her home on July 24, 2020 – her 104th birthday. Lauren Owens Lambert/For The Patriot Ledger

QUINCY — Will she or won’t she? To lift or not to lift?

As retired microbiologist Ruth Kundsin turns 104 on Thursday, she faces another crossroads in her long and accomplished life. The time may have come to stop her weekly workouts with a personal trainer at the South Shore YMCA.

“It may be that I’m just too old,” she said. “I’m not very good at it anymore.”

But her trainer, with whom she has a long and trusting relationship, isn’t giving up.

“I am hoping to get Ruth to come back because I think it would still do her a lot of good,” Dick Raymond said. “The most important thing for her to work on is her balance and working with weights.”

A year ago, reports of Kundsin’s continued workouts on strength-training machines at age 103 drew a national audience. Until the coronavirus shutdown, Kundsin went to the YMCA every Friday to use leg, core and upper body strength-training machines with Raymond’s supervision.

Raymond, who is 70, has a strong belief that workouts are helpful at any age as long as they are done correctly. He and his wife Jane helped guide Kundsin to 54 medals in swimming and other competitions in local, state and national Senior Olympics and Senior Games.

When the Y closed in March due to the state lockdown, Raymond came to Kundsin’s home a few times to supervise exercise. She has hand weights and he brought stretching bands, but they stopped after a few sessions.

“We couldn’t really do very much because I don’t have any equipment,” Kundsin said.

In the COVID-19 downtime, Kundsin got back to work on a book she is writing about her life and aging. A pioneering female microbiologist, she pursued a career in the sciences when few women did so and postponed retirement until her early 80s. She writes about innovative scientific advances she made in understanding infections as the cause of preterm births and spontaneous abortions.

“It’s a book about a lot of things,” she said. “I have written 28,000 words and I have a lot of opinions.”

It is important, she said, for an older person to write about the elderly because younger people “don’t have a clue what it is like. You don’t have a clue until you go through it yourself. I thought it was time somebody who was really old told it like it is.”

In an interview Sunday at her 100-year-old house in Squantum, Kundsin was forthright but not discouraged about the losses and challenges that advanced age can bring.

“You have to get used to it as you age,” she said about changes in hearing, vision, sense of taste, balance and walking. “Everything slows down and you have to deal with it.”

When asked how she does that, she laughed and said, “I don’t know, you just deal with one thing at a time.”

“I am very happy in my life and I have found that if you age in your own home, it is so good,” she added.

Kundsin urged younger people to plan for their later years, as she was able to do. She has lived in her house, built by her late husband’s father and grandfather, for 75 years and pays a longtime housekeeper to clean, shop, and do laundry; she eats mostly prepared meals and also pays a gardener. She stopped driving two years ago.

For her 104th birthday, there will not be a large party like she had at age 100. Instead, due to COVID-19, friends are having smaller gatherings. One was Saturday evening, another will be on Friday in the Hingham restaurant Alma Nove, and on her birthday this Thursday, her daughter, Andrea Kundsin Dupree will take her out to her favorite restaurant, the Ashmont Grill.

Kundsin was born in 1916 in New York City to Latvian immigrants. At age 16, she won a scholarship to Hunter College and graduated cum laude in 1936 at age 19. In 1935, she married Edwin Kundsin, a Quincy attorney who was 10 years older. They met when Ruth, who was a member of a Latvian theater group, came to Boston and was hosted by his family in Quincy.

They had a daughter, Andrea in 1939, and a son, Dennis, in 1942. Ruth resumed her studies after her children were in school — a bold move that everyone but her mother opposed. She received her master’s degree in microbiology from Boston University School of Medicine in 1949 at age 33. She earned her doctorate of science in microbiology, epidemiology and bio-statistics from the Harvard School of Public Health in 1958.

After doing research in bacteriology and molecular genetics at Harvard Medical School, she became an associate professor there in 1976. From 1970 to 1982, she was the epidemiologist at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital. When the hospital merged with Boston Hospital for Women and became Brigham and Women’s Hospital in 1981, she founded a private lab that tested for unusual organisms and provided environmental checks.

She has called those early days as a female medical school professor “a zone of inhibition,” and in 1973 edited a book titled “Successful Women in the Sciences.”

To view the original story and video, visit Wicked Local