Ruby Santucci knows the meaning of independence.
In some ways, her life was typical of the 1950s. She grew up as an only child in Irondequoit, a suburb of Rochester, attended Our Lady of Mercy High School, married her prom date, Vince, and had children. Despite its familiarity, this life is not an account in a textbook: a living person experienced it, and it is extraordinary.
Santucci's husband was a captain in the American Air Force and as a military wife, Santucci learned to fend for herself. Vince was moved to several bases around the States, and Santucci followed him without question.
"He loved flying," said the 78-year-old. "If he was happy, then I would be happy."
Vince was often sent on missions to undisclosed locations for undetermined amounts of time. Sometimes, it would be months before Santucci or her children saw him.
Santucci recalls one mission in particular when Vince was sent out and she was left to wait. After several days, she learned her husband was in East Asia. A month later, he called. "He says sell the house and get ready to move - just like that," said Santucci. They were going to France.
One morning, Vince and a flight crew went up for a routine maneuver. For unknown reasons, the crew lost control of the plane and it crashed in the Ecouve Forest, killing all on board. After only eight years of marriage, Santucci was left a widow with three children.
Following her husband's death, Santucci moved back to Rochester. "I started my life, you know, a different life - without him," she said. She joined the relatively new female workforce as a secretary to support her family. Through Santucci's persistence, all three of her children went to college, an especially impressive feat in the context of the 1970s, when far fewer students attended college.
Even after her children married and left home, Santucci continued to work. When she was 76, however, she suffered a stroke. "I was at work one day and in the hospital the next," she recalled. Her left arm and leg were paralyzed.
Two years later, Santucci is still working, though in a different way. She is a resident of Morgan Estates Assisted Living, near Wegmans, and is undergoing physical therapy. Her goal is to move into her own apartment, in Geneseo, regaining the independence she had lived by for so long.