22. Ruby Heafner

Before I leave the Heafner surname and begin to profile the allied families, I would like to take a little detour to highlight a cousin who left her mark. Ruby Ethel Heafner was born in Gaston County on 05 March 1924 to Robert Monroe (Uncle Mun) Heafner and Nancy Ethel Hildebran. Ruby was a niece to our grandmother Effie Heafner, and 1st cousin to my father, Carl (making her our 1st cousin – once removed). Ruby’s early years were consumed by two activities; her school studies and playing baseball with the neighborhood kids.

The December after Ruby turned seventeen (1941), the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and the country, along with most of the world, was throw into war. Ruby, being quite the “tom-boy”, was not going to allow herself to be outdone by the boys, so she enlisted in the Army (initially regarded as the “women auxiliary”) sometime after turning nineteen. She ultimately became part of the WAC’s (Women’s Army (Air) Corps); serving for the duration of the War with state-side deployments in Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wisconsin. Her service in the Air Corps must have given her valuable instruction and knowledge since she later retired as an employee of Boeing Airlines in Long Beach, California.

Ruby had always considered herself a ball player, having played fast pitch softball on her school team, and bragged that she had struck out several of the boys who played on the school’s baseball team. While serving in the military, she heard rumors and saw a short clip preview at a movie house about the formation of a “new” baseball league for girls. Now I will take the opportunity to use another motion picture reference when writing about our collateral family history. I hope you have seen the movie “A League of Their Own”, starring Tom Hanks and Geena Davis, about the creation of the AAGPBL (All-American Girl’s Professional Baseball League). The movie, while fictionalized, was set in the Midwest in 1943. Ruby wanted to play in this new league, but she was still obligated to the Army, so she had to wait until after the war; finally getting her chance to play in the Spring of 1946. While she didn’t play until three years after what was depicted in the movie, she did play with many of the women portrayed in movie, and even played for the team featured in the move, the “Rockford Peaches”. Ruby was a catcher, just like the movie’s star player, Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis) who was a fictionalized composite of several players. Ruby played for a total of six years; playing with the Rockford Peaches (1946), Fort Wayne Daisies (1947-49), Racine Belles (1950), and the Battle Creek Belles (1951). Being from North Carolina, and a “daughter of the South”, Ruby was given the nickname “Rebel”. After a successful career, Ruby returned to Gaston County for a while to work with the Gaston County Recreation Department, coaching softball; eventually leaving once again to begin her career with Boeing.

It didn’t take long for the AAGPBL to become just a footnote in the male dominated world of baseball, but as depicted in the movie, in the late 1980’s the league began to garner new recognition, and was given it’s own place in history with it’s own exhibit in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. Ruby was, and still is, a part of that exhibit; and I believe she was able to attend the induction ceremony in 1988. The women who played in the league had begun to have reunions where they would put together a game, including one for that HOF induction ceremony. Clips from that game were used in movie, and Ruby may have been shown there, but I’m not sure. Now that you know we have a family connection to Ruby, if you haven’t seen the movie “A League of Their Own”, watch it; if you have seen it, watch it again with a new perspective.

Ruby never married, and after retiring, she returned to Gastonia where she remained active in local sports, supported her church, and volunteered at the Gaston Memorial Hospital. Her final accolade came in September of 2008 when she was inducted into the Gaston County Sports Hall of Fame. Two years later she died in hospice care in Kings Mountain; she was 86 years old.

(Check out Ruby’s photos in the gallery).