Ruth Rutkauskas didn't want to be the focus of attention, so there was no way she was going to let her daughter throw her an 80th birthday party.
That is, until Peggy Rutkauskas suggested that in lieu of personal gifts for her mother, guests bring Christmas toys for children.
"This was the only way she was going to let me have a birthday party," Peggy said. "It was a negotiating tool."
More than 100 people attended two birthday parties for Ruth last month, and they arrived with at least 150 toys, plus $300 cash, for The Salvation Army.
For about 40 years, Ruth, of Carnegie, has bought toys and donated them to the charitable organization. A former toy store employee, she continued the tradition even after her husband, Tom, died eight years ago and after she suffered a stroke three years ago.
"[Donating toys] was always a big deal as a kid," Peggy said. "I always told her, 'You have one child, but really you support so many children on Christmas morning.' "
George Barron, director of Salvation Army's Chartiers Valley Service Center in Carnegie, picked up the toys last Thursday at Peggy's home in Imperial Pointe in Findlay.
"This is wonderful," Ruth said, surveying the dolls, games, books, stuffed animals and other toys displayed next to a Christmas tree.
Mr. Barron said the toys will go to local children up to age 13 under the income-based program Treasures for Children. More than 300 families have signed up for this year's distribution, and each child will receive at least three toys, he said.
When he was a child, Mr. Barron received toys through the same program -- although at the time, he thought they came from Santa Claus. He recalled being thrilled to tear the wrapping from the presents.
"To see those same smiles on children today, it's just beautiful," he told Ruth. "And it's made possible by individuals like you."
After the group shared cake and coffee, Mr. Barron and Peggy began scooping up armloads of toys and piling them into a box truck. They soon were joined by three Johnsen boys from next-door -- Connor, 12; Ty, 10; and Mason, 4.
Peggy, a flight attendant for US Airways, held the catered birthday parties in her home on Nov. 3 and Nov. 10. She served her mother's favorite dessert, burnt almond torte from Prantl's Bakery in Shadyside.
Stacey McIntyre of Peters, who works as Ruth's caregiver, chose a dinosaur figure and other toys for the party that reminded her of children she knew, including her adopted son, Evan, now 21 and all grown up. She said toy shopping for The Salvation Army was nostalgic and fun.
"It gives you a meaning behind what you're getting somebody," she said.
Andrea Iglar, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org