Ruth Yeo had a special treat for her recent birthday.
Her 105th birthday.
Not only was the Luther Crest resident able to watch people replicate an unusual musical act she and her sisters performed for years, but she also viewed herself and those sisters perform in the same Crest Hall 27 years ago ... by way of video taken in 1995 and supplied to the party by her family.
“She and all of the residents present—we had more than 130 people at the party—especially enjoyed watching Ruth and her sisters perform then,” says Jennifer Laury of the Luther Crest staff.
The musical act? Six-handed piano playing.
While that might seem unusual to some, the skill is quite familiar to Mrs. Yeo because she and her late sisters, Emma May and Betty—known as the Gabel Sisters—had played six-handed piano for many years, traveling and performing for audiences in a variety of settings. The style means three people play one piano simultaneously.
“Watching Mrs. Yeo watch herself perform was heartwarming.”
In 2016, three independent-living residents of Luther Crest—Carolyn Volk, Marion Phillips and Joan Baumer—practiced for several months so that they could surprise her then. They re-created that event for her recent birthday, entertaining her and party participants.
Mrs. Yeo, right, listens as Carolyn Volk, Marion Phillips and Joan Baumer play three-handed piano for her.
“I’m so thrilled there’s somebody else playing this style, too,” Mrs. Yeo said in late 2015. “It’s a wonderful way for three people who play to get together and learn to play together.”
The goal of surprising Mrs. Yeo then arose when she was overheard wondering if six-handed piano selections were still published. She learned, much to her delight, that they are.
Music has been a major part of Mrs. Yeo’s life.
Born on Feb. 18, 1912, in Boyertown, Berks County, she had three sisters and all of them attended Hood College in New York, according to Laury. The entire family was musically gifted, with the siblings taking lessons in Philadelphia.
Ruth, in fact, learned to play piano, cello and clarinet. The sisters acquired the ability to play six-handed piano when she was eight and performed for such groups as churches, community groups and concerts, continuing to do so throughout much of their lives.
Beyond her undergraduated degree, Mrs. Yeo earned a master’s degree in music education and taught for many years. Her late husband, Wendell, was a professor of education and vice president of academic affairs at Boston University.
The couple had three children; today, Mrs. Yeo also has six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
She moved to the Allentown area from Boston when her husband passed away in 1983, relocating to Luther Crest apartments in 1994, joining two of her late sisters. After many years, she transferred to personal care and then on to the health care center in 2012.
“Ruth is such an inspiration to everyone,” says Laury. “She enjoys being outside and in the summer spends much of her time in the courtyard.”
She still enjoys music and counts classical music and hymns among her favorites.
A day after the recent party, 43 family members joined Mrs. Yeo to recognize a milestone few reach.
The Luther Crest community joins Ruth Yeo in her 105th birthday celebration.