In today’s world, 20 years is a long time to work at any job, but for Ruby Harris, her two-decade stint at Sear’s Shoe Store in Fort Oglethorpe was a second career of sorts.
Harris’s three children were grown and through college, two of them married, in 1997 when she was out shopping in Fort Oglethorpe one day. "I had seen a help wanted sign in front of the shoe store," she says, "but it was gone that day."
Undeterred, Harris decided to stop in anyway. She asked for the owner. "He came out and shook my hand and told me to have a seat. I shared my qualifications with him and asked if he wanted to see my résumé, but he said no. He told me to just fill out an application."
Two days later, Harris was hired. Two weeks into her new job, she got her first tip from a customer. "A couple from Florida was in the store and I helped them," she says. "After they had paid, they came back and gave me a tip. I made sure it was okay to take it before I accepted."
Over her 20 years of service, Harris has received tips from other customers, too, and not always in the form of cash. "One gentleman gave me a Bible and prayed with me in the store," she says. "I really appreciated that."
Faith is a big part of Harris’s life. "I start every morning by reading the 91st Psalm." The second verse of the passage reads, "I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust." Harris says her faith in God has been the foundation of her life from the time she was very young.
At 13 years old, inspired by her mother and by her Aunt Laura, Harris joined Park City Baptist Church in Rossville. By the time she was 14, she’d been made Sunday School superintendent. At 17, she became a delegate, visiting other churches within the denomination to observe their practices and learn from them then report back to her own church. "Delegates were expected to write up a report when they got back and read it to the congregation."
While she was a senior in high school, Harris met her husband, Carl. They knew quickly that they would marry, and Carl gave Harris a ring, but she wanted to finish both high school and college before tying the knot. Carl waited for her. The couple has now been married for 54 years. "We’re still like newlyweds," says Harris. "I knew I wanted to marry a man who was a Christian and a hard worker, and that’s what I got."
Busy is how Harris likes to live her life. During her childrearing years, she did a lot of carpooling and enjoyed taking her children places, including to the bowling alley. The family grew a large garden and Harris did a lot of cooking. "We gave a lot away, too," she says. "There was always more than we could use."
At one point, Harris’s husband bought her a sewing machine, which sparked a love of making clothes. "He got it from the Southern Sewing Machine Company in Chattanooga. I made my daughter’s cheerleading pompoms on it."
Harris had earned an associate’s degree in customer service after high school, but in the 1970s she decided to return to college just to keep on top of her game. "I took some math, English, science, typing and psychology."
Customer service training came in handy when Harris worked two years for the Chattanooga Free Press, then two years for Olan Mills, first in Fort Oglethorpe, then in their office on the third floor of the Rossville Bank Building (now Community National Bank) in Rossville.
Harris has always been involved in the churches she’s attended and plans to become more involved now that she’s retired. She also plans to spend more time at the gym, something she did a lot of in the past. Even while working at Sear’s Shoe Store, Harris says she took walks on her breaks, sometimes at Gilbert-Stephenson Park and sometimes up and down Lafayette Road.
Above all, says Harris, she loves people. "The people I worked with at Sear’s are wonderful. I especially enjoyed the way I was able to encourage the young employees and watch them become more responsible and serious."
Harris says her advice for young people today would be: "Make Christ part of your life. Get an education. Be on time and do the job you were hired to do."
A recent post on the Sear’s Facebook page congratulating Harris on her retirement attests to her love of people and a life given to serving others. "Oh, Miss Ruby, how we love you. Thank you for always being patient and kind to all of our children. God bless you on your retirement," wrote customer Sheila McKeehan.