'Ruth' will live on in legend

People still ask, 'Who is Ruth?'

For quite a while, I have ended my columns with "Hey Ruth, you hang in there!"

I don't intend to stop, but now an explanation is once again in order.

The "Ruth" in question was Ruth Goethel. She was the wife of Arno Goethel, the former executive sports editor of the St. Paul Dispatch and Pioneer Press.

They had been high school sweethearts at Duluth Denfeld High School. Arno and Ruth moved to St. Paul in 1961 when Arno was transferred from the newspaper in Duluth to cover the Twins who had migrated to the Twin Cities from Washington.

Many years ago when "Alzheimer's" was first becoming identified as a disease, it was a word that people did not want to say out loud. It was a disease no one wanted to believe was happening to someone they loved.

Arno became afflicted with the dreadful malady. It was a prolonged and disappointing diagnosis.

Ruth and Arno were family friends, and I accompanied them on several visits to clinics for evaluations of his increasing "memory lapses." Ruth did not want to accept the diagnosis and still could not say the word "Alzheimer's" and only referred to it as "dementia."

Eventually, Arno - a World War II veteran - was accepted into the Veterans Home at Fort Snelling.

It was then that Ruth began a vigil of her lifelong friend and soulmate. From her home in the Highland Park area of St. Paul, Ruth would drive across the Ford Bridge to the Vets Home to visit Arno.

Not only did Ruth visit him, she did it on a daily basis.

Alzheimer's was an agonizingly slow but constant "robber" of Arno's mental capacities, and the disease's heartbreaking reality of finally forgetting who you are happened to Arno as well.

Six-plus years was a long time

He no longer recognized or understood who Ruth was or what she meant to him, but that did not diminish her devotion or thwart her visits.

For the six-plus years that Arno spent in the Vets Home during his lonesome life of forgetfulness, Ruth made the daily excursion across the Ford Bridge.

Figure it. Six years, every day, rain or shine, snow or ice - close to 2,016 days if you throw in a couple of days for leap years - Ruth made the trip.

She became the epitome of what truly is a "Care Giver." She came to represent every "Care Giver" who has had - or is still in the process of accepting - the burden of caring for a loved one, whether it's Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, heart failure, cancer, or any number of life-ending ordeals that people endure until death finally relieves them of the suffering.

Then comes a further heartache. With the death of a loved one comes the relief of knowing the person is no longer in pain.

But there's also the feeling of finality and life changes brought about by death. All who realize that loss and cope with the loneliness that the change brings about, understand the further necessity to "Hang in there!"

So it was that on the morning of Oct. 1, I received the sad call informing me that Ruth had passed away the night before.

Her death does not mean that her legacy does not live on. Unfortunately, there remain all too many of you out there who are devoted "Care Givers."

Ruth may have passed away, but for all you "Ruths" who are caring for someone you love, the need to "Hang in there" is still relevant.

So while I bid Ruth a fond farewell, to all of you who remain, let me continue to devote this space to you.

Hey RUTH, you hang in there!

Wally Wakefield can be reached at wwakefield@lillienews.com.

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