Milwaukee's 82-year-old 'Can Lady' finally finds family

CREATED Apr. 27, 2012

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  • Tom Murray reports Video by wtmj.com

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MILWAUKEE - The so-called 'Can Lady' is a selfless senior.  At 82-years-old, Ruth Hana is said to be the only non-employee allowed to collect cans from Miller Park tailgaters.
 
"I had several friends call in and I guess they got sick and tired of hearing the name Ruth, so they decided I would be the only one permitted to collect cans," Ruth said in an interview outside the ballpark this week.
 
She exchanges the aluminum for cash and gives all of the proceeds to charity.
 
While Ruth has met thousands of Brewers fans, she had never met a single blood relative.
 
Ruth lives in a simple Wisconsin Avenue apartment.  She was orphaned at infancy and has no children of her own.
 
"I tried for 82 years to locate my mother," she told TODAY'S TMJ4 reporter Tom Murray.
 
The clues to Ruth's past are few.  But with a birth certificate, ancestry.com genealogist Camille McMurtry found a full family's worth of ties right here in Wisconsin.
 
"We found her mother in the 1930 census, found her working in a laundry business in Milwaukee, from there with other census records online, we were able to find her parents and siblings," McMurtry explained.
 
So, at a truck stop near Green Bay, TODAY'S TMJ4 was there when Ruth, for the first time in her life, met relatives.  Cousins Kim and Tanya exchanged hugs with Ruth and spoke about family resemblance.
 
"Everyone is really nervous," cousin Tanya said to Ruth.  "We didn't even know anything about you, so we were surprised when they called us."
 
TODAY'S TMJ4 followed the group to a nearby cemetery on a family farm.
 
"I've told my family this is a day of history," cousin Kim Martin said.  "We're making history right here."
 
Ruth was about a decade too late to reunite with her mother.
 
"I had given up all hopes of ever finding anything about her," Ruth said, standing over her mother's grave.
 
Ruth's mother lived out her final days at a home in De Pere.  As far as family knows, she never told anyone that she once gave birth to a daughter.  It appears to be a secret Ruth's mother took to the grave.
 
Two aunts still live at the house.  Ruth met those ladies.  She also got to see what was her mother's bedroom.
 
"I would ask her why she gave me up and if she ever thought of me," Ruth said.
 
Ruth's mother had no husband when she gave birth in an era when single mothers were shamed.
 
Yet, now there is joy.  About 50 relatives celebrated their new addition at party in the De Pere community center.  It was a family reunion set up just for Ruth.
 
"I never thought this would happen," Ruth said.  "Now I can go to my grave happy and smiling."
 
Ruth's financial planner turned close friend Stan Zurawski pulled strings to pull together the special day.
 
"She can get some closure and some peace that she had a family," Zurawski said.  "It's wonderful."
 
To finish the day, at age 82, Ruth took part in her first family portrait.