Skip to content

Her Basket Runneth Over

For retired school teacher, Mary Ruth Stephens, the basket of life is overflowing.

Throughout her life, Mary Ruth Stephens has been a busy lady.  Today, at the age of seventy-two, Mary Ruth can check off a laundry list of accomplishments which includes being a pastor’s wife, retired school teacher, mother of four successful children, grandmother, and of course, expert basket maker who has successfully completed 505 beautiful baskets during the last nineteen years.

Married for fifty-four years to Brent Stephens, who has been a pastor for twenty six years, Mary Ruth recalled meeting her husband-to-be when she was a freshman in high school and Brent was a sophomore.

“My class was in the library at McCreary County High School,” she laughed.  “Mrs. Flora Bass was our teacher, and she had us line up to wait for the bell to ring.  I looked over and saw Brent in the library, and my heart moved.  It flipped!”

“I saw him yawn and asked if he was OK, and Brent said he was just sleepy.  Of course, I had to tell him that he should have gone to bed earlier,” Mary Ruth declared with a big smile lighting up her face.  “We started out by being friends.  He’d go out with someone else, and I just sit and wait on him.  My mom told me I couldn’t go out with anyone else if I cared about Brent.”

The couple eventually started dating.  When Brent graduated from high school, he went away to the Air Force and returned home when Mary Ruth graduated from high school the following year.  Mary Ruth graduated on one day and got married the next.

“I really think God gave us a connection so I could help Brent with the ministry,” Mary Ruth revealed.  “As a pastor’s wife, you do it all.  I’ve taught Bible School and Sunday School, sang with the choir, and cleaned the church house.”

After marrying, Mary Ruth continued her education and became an elementary school teacher.  She spent her thirty year career as a teacher at Stearns Elementary.

“When I retired and left Stearns Elementary, they had to tear the building down,” she joked.

“I loved my kids,” Stephens commented.  “I remember taking one little boy down to Store 1 in Stearns to buy him a pair of shoes.  Years later, a young man came up to me and hugged me.  It was that same little boy except he was all grown up.  He thanked me for buying him those shoes.”

Despite suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, COPD, diabetes, and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in her hand, Mary Ruth still pursues her passion of weaving baskets.  Although her health has somewhat slowed her down, Mary Ruth most definitely still has basket making in her blood.

After retiring as an educator, Mary Ruth discovered the art of basket weaving in classes taught by Kathy Brannon and Nancy Tucker.  Today, she has nineteen years of basket making and 505 baskets of various sizes, shapes, and designs to her credit.

“For years, I’ve made a basket for any child I taught who sent me an invitation to their high school graduation,” Mary Ruth remarked. “I also make bushel baskets and fill them with cleaning supplies for former students who send me wedding invitations.”

Considering her life-long love of baskets, it’s only natural that Mary Ruth, who once made fifty two baskets in a year, immersed herself in the craft.

“Even before I began making baskets, I loved them,” she commented.  “I always collected them.”

As she pointed to individual baskets in her collection, Mary Ruth rattled off the names and histories of each.  The churn basket, saddle bag basket, Jeremiah basket, Appalachian egg basket, Northern Exposure basket, Maria’s storage basket, apple pickin’ basket…the seemingly endless list of baskets continued with each basket named conjuring up a story about its design, designer, purpose, or creation.

When asked to name her favorite type of basket, Mary Ruth studied a moment before answering.

“I knew you would ask,” she replied with a laugh.  “I suppose my favorite basket would have to be the Shaker gathering basket.  A person can put a lot of food in one of those and take it to a church picnic or church gathering.”

That answer, coming from a pastor’s wife who adores baskets, seemed to be woven just right.

Leave a Comment