SCARBOROUGH – Material items were never important to Ruth Wakem — it was more about family, and saying her priority in life was her family is almost an understatement.

Today, her two sons, one of her grandsons and one of her granddaughters are all neighbors to the home where she and her husband lived.

“That was the goal: to try to get the family to stay together,” her son Keith Wakem said, adding that there are two remaining lots on the “compound” for the other two grandchildren.

“We basically have been together every day for my lifetime,” he said.

Mrs. Wakem died Thursday. She was 91.

When her husband, John Wakem, returned from serving in World War II, the couple opened Wakem Cleaners in South Portland.

At first, she worked at the store a lot, but as the business became established, she began to work less.

Her son said she worked in the store for up to 20 hours a week. On Saturdays, she would wait on customers at Wakem Cleaners and she would take their sewing projects home to work on, whether it was hemming a skirt or repairing a shirt.

At the time, Mrs. Wakem and her husband lived near their business and were often occupied with work. To get away, they had a small camp on Thomas Pond in Raymond.

“It was more to just get away, to relax,” her son said. “So when they left the business (for the weekend), they left it.”

The camp was a log cabin with two bedrooms right on the water. “It was really nice,” her son said, remembering the times they gathered there as a family. He said they would play horseshoes or go out on the boat and just enjoy their time there.

John Wakem died in 2004.

“I’ve known her since I was 15,” said her daughter-in-law Nancy Wakem, describing Mrs. Wakem as a “sweet, loving person.”

Where the family lives now, there is a long driveway from Mrs. Wakem’s house to the road. Her daughter-in-law said she would walk the drive multiple times each day from her house to the mailboxes.

“She’d walk up and down that area so she wouldn’t go in the road,” she said. “Getting her exercise, she would always say.”

With four grandchildren, Mrs. Wakem made it a point to never miss any of their activities.

“It was always family first,” her son said.

Whether it was gymnastics, track or soccer competitions or various graduations over the years, she was always there.

“It really didn’t matter what it was,” he said. “(She) always made it (her) duty to go and support the kids.”

He said it was the support of the family at all the events that was the most important to the grandchildren. Nancy Wakem said her mother-in-law was always there to watch the grandchildren and cheer them on.

“She didn’t ask for anything,” and focused more on her family, Nancy Wakem said. “As long as she had enough to get by, that’s all she cared about.”


Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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