CONWAY — Julia Ruth Stevens, last surviving daughter of Hall of Fame slugger Babe Ruth, died last Saturday at an assisted-living facility in Henderson, Nev. She was 102.
Stevens — who was adopted by Ruth when her mother married him in 1929 when Julia was 12 — called the Mount Washington Valley home for many years.
Her son, Tom Stevens of Conway and Henderson, Nev., said his mother passed away early Saturday after a short illness.
“She went painlessly in her sleep,” he emailed the Sun. “It was her desire to be cremated and interred with my father Brent, at St Margaret’s Anglican church in Conway. A service and memoriam will be held for her in late April or early May.
According to Tom Stevens, his mother first came to North Conway when her famous father was invited by Cranmore developer Harvey D. Gibson, to play in a golf tournament here.
During the course of the tournament, she met Cranmore Mountain Lodge owner Dick Flanders, and they were wed in 1940.
As Stevens told The Mountain Ear in 1977, Ruth loved playing golf here, either at the North Conway club, Wentworth Hall in Jackson or the course at the Mount Washington Hotel. She remembered how her parents visited in the winter at the Cranmore Mountain Lodge in Kearsarge. “But Daddy wasn’t a skier,” she said, “and they didn’t stay long.”
Following her father’s death in 1948 and Flanders’ passing in 1949, and two bad snow winters, Julia sold the inn in 1950. She then ran and owned the Eaton Village Store in Eaton, also serving as postmistress.
It was there that she met Grant Meloon of Hartford, Conn.
After a short courtship, they were married (Meloon was Tom Stevens’ biological father) but divorced in 1955. Julia then met and married Brent Stevens of Eaton, and together, they owned and operated Hidden Valley Poultry Farm in Eaton. However, after a few years, the farm was closed down and the family moved to Conway in the mid-1960s.
Stevens later moved to Arizona, but continuedto summer at her home in Conway. She moved to Nevada to be closer to her son and family in 2009.
Hearing of her passing, several locals recalled Stevens. Josh McAllister, coach of the Kennett High varsity baseball program, called it an honor to meet her. “It happened several times, first as a player 1997-98 and again as the coach of the program when I got to sit with her and one of my players that won the Babe Ruth Scholarship just before her 100th birthday,” said McAllister, an architectural engineer.
“Listening to her tell stories of ‘Daddy’ was surreal,” he said. “She came next-door to Tasker (Field at the American Legion) to watch summer games and was a great supporter of local baseball in the MWV. My thoughts go out to Tom and the rest of the family.”
Gredel Shaw, athletic director at Kennett Middle School, said: “I always got excited seeing Mrs. Stevens’ car out of the garage and catching a glimpse of her at her house when we’d drive by. How lucky are we to be in a place the Ruth family called home and liked to visit?
“What a sweet lady — so many cool stories!” Shaw said. “Rest in peace, Mrs. Stevens. Enjoy the game.”
Kennett High guidance counselor Cheryl Furtado said: “I’ve missed her at scholarship nights. It was such an honor to watch her give out baseballs.”
Susan Quigg Lenehan of Whitman, Mass., said on Facebook she remembered meeting Stevens at a book signing at White Birch many years ago. “When we asked about the curse of the Bambino, she told us, ‘Daddy loved baseball too much to ever curse any team!’ She autographed a book, which we still have. Sorry to hear of her passing.”
Well into her 90s, Stevens threw out ceremonial first pitches at countless baseball games across the country, including at Fenway Park (she was a devoted Red Sox fan) the year that she turned 100 years old (she received a Red Sox jersey with No. 100 on the back, and a thunderous standing ovation from the Fenway faithful).
She also wrote three books about her famous father, about whom she once said, “As long as there is baseball, Daddy’s name is going to be mentioned.”
Julia Ruth Stevens was born in Athens, Ga., on July 7, 1916, to Claire Hodgson and her husband, Frank. They separated when Julia was a baby. Hodgson reportedly met Ruth in 1923, three years after he was sold to the Yankees by the Red Sox.
By then Ruth was a major-league star.
During an interview with the Sun’s Lloyd Jones upon turning 100 in 2016, Julia Stevens recounted fond memories of Ruth, including when he walked her down the aisle at her wedding.
“Another one was when I was very, very ill with strep throat,” she said. “(The doctors) said I needed a blood transfusion. They didn’t have plasma and things like that back then. Daddy said, ‘Well here, try me, see if I work.’ They did, and he did, and he gave me his blood.”
Her son told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that Julia didn’t like being referred to as Ruth’s stepdaughter. “She as said as far as she was concerned, between being adopted and the transfusion, ‘I’m his daughter, period,’” Tom said.
“People think he was a coarse, rough type of individual, but he took the trouble to learn how to dance,” he told the Sun in 2016. “Mom will be the first one to tell you, but he taught her how to waltz and foxtrot and things like that.”
In addition to her son, Julia Stevens leaves behind daughter-in-law Anita Stevens; grandson Brent Stevens and his wife, Marie; granddaughter Amanda Dandro and her husband, Brian; great-granddaughters Lexi and Maddy Stevens; and great-grandsons Parker and Lukas Dandro.
Reporters Lloyd Jones and Tom Eastman contributed to this report.