Ruth Hyba, a Free-spirited SMA Matriarch
By Jade Arroyo
Personality of the month
Ruth Hyba is a well-known and deeply loved person in the San Miguel community. She is a hotel and restaurant owner, artist, hostess, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. She is also a woman who defied convention in the ’50s and ’60s by becoming one of the first women entrepreneurs in San Miguel and opening the first international hotel here.
Ruth (or Ruthie, to the granchildren) was born in Memphis, Tennessee, US, on August 17, 1921, the daughter of Valentine Brewer and Gertrude Hammond.
Although Ruth lived in various US cities, she remained the longest in Memphis before coming to Mexico. In Memphis, she worked as a window decorator for a department store. She was part of that first generation of women who worked during World War II while the men were at the front. Like many fortunate women, Ruth was allowed to taste independence and freedom and did not want to stay at home. She decided to take a trip to Mexico and study art, which was always her dream.
In 1952 she arrived in San Miguel de Allende to study art at the Instituto Allende. At that time, she didn’t imagine that she was about to meet José Torres, who would change her life completely, bringing her closer to being a businesswoman and, ultimately, closer to Mexico.
Ruth recalls that when she arrived, SMA was much simpler: the streets were quiet and there were fewer people, fewer cars….
Together, Ruth and her husband opened the Hotel Vista Hermosa on Cuna de Allende, a street that became famous for the glamor and refinement that it provided the people with its famous piano bar and the black and white balls they used to present. This place, besides being a hotel, became a meeting point for sanmiguelenses, Mexicans, and expats of the time, a large group of artists and philanthropists.
Hand-in-hand with hospitality, Ruth realized that the restaurants in town served very spicy food unsuited to foreign stomachs and minds. She decided to soften the menu. She insists that her food was always Mexican because all the ingredients used were Mexican. But in the opinion of her family, she was ahead of her time, making innovations and inventions in the kitchen. She developed her own fusion cuisine.
In 1968, Ruth opened La Mansión del Bosque, which she founded on her own and still runs. She never imagined that the corner of Juárez Park that she used to paint during her art courses at the Instituto Allende would someday be her own Mansion del Bosque, an almost magical place full of greenery and scented with vanilla and chocolate orchids.
It was at the Mansion del Bosque that she perfected her culinary skills, and where she independently published her cookbook, Gourmet My Way, over 10 years ago.
There, in the Mansión del Bosque, Ruth built a home for her five children: Elena, Crisanta, Luisa, Antonio, and Gregorio; she also has eight grandchildren: Guillermo, André, Sandra, Valeria, Jorge Armando, Iverna Marianna, Erika, Sebastian, and her two great-granddaughters, Alex and Pau. During her marriage to José Torres, she had three daughters and a son. In a second marriage to Jorge Hyba, she bore a son, Gregorio.
“Ruth is a matriarch of the town. For me one of her most endearing features is that she left everything behind to start from scratch here, which at that time was even more a nothing,” her granddaughter relates. Her “new” life—Mexican life—would have her looking after not only her family, but also the whole world that orbits about the particular space that is her hotel.
“She was the head of our family—she, a gringa, divorced, single. She alone has been our base, our support, our common thread, and our greener pasture,” Mari shares.
Some of the words her daughters use to describe her are “strong,” “hardworking,” and “honest.” Recently Alexandra and Paulina, Ruth’s great-granddaughters, wrote a play for her, inspired by her own life. To the surprise of everyone, when asked what she always wanted to be, she replied, “an artist.”
Art school was left behind when she began the life of a hotelier, but it was never far from her life. Instead, she brought it to everything she did: hotel and restaurant, mothering, and being a businesswoman. She was always a very discreet and friendly element in the community.
At around 80 years of age, she found another passion, the tango. Amazingly, she danced until just a few years ago. Now her body responds better to resting.
Ruth was a volunteer at the Centro de Crecimiento for many years, donating her work and resources when necessary. She was member of the Garden Club, and during the Holy Burial at Easter season, she was one of the volunteers who carried the Sorrowful Virgin for many years, wearing smart heels, a Spanish mantilla, and gloves.
“Ruth is the example of doing things differently, doing things outside the margin of society where we grew up, not placating the societies where we arrived. She is also an example of how to bring art to your life, rather than allow yourself to become subjected to art,” shares Mari.
Ruth is very inspiring. Now her words are fewer, but always sweeter, with a lot of smiles. She gets joy from chocolates, joy at the surviving friends she loves who love her back, joy from a family that idolizes her more and more every day.”