Several of Kermit Ratzlaff’s grandchildren have asked him for advice before their weddings. They have good reason to ask him, as Ratzlaff and his wife, Ruth, will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary in August.
“We both went to Tabor, and that’s where we met,” Kermit said.
Their first date was in February 1942, a few months before they both finished two-year degrees at Tabor. Hillsboro High School was presenting a play, and Kermit asked Ruth to go with him to see it. She still remembers her reaction.
“I was excited,” she said. “He was a studious fellow with curly hair.”
They quickly found that they had good chemistry together, but they weren’t able to spend much time together because Kermit worked with relatives on a farm during weekends.
Each of them moved home after graduation, Kermit to Oklahoma and Ruth to California, but they wrote back and forth frequently. Around Christmas of 1942, Kermit traveled to California to visit Ruth, who was continuing her education. Kermit received notice as soon as he got to California that he had been drafted, cutting short the visit, but not before they got engaged.
Kermit entered Civilian Public Service, an alternative to military service for conscientious objectors. He served in Oregon, and later in Wisconsin, for 3 years, 3 months.
Kermit and Ruth married on Aug. 11, 1944, in a small service in a very small Mennonite Brethren church in Los Angeles, where Ruth and her parents lived. Ruth’s uncle, a Baptist minister, officiated the service. Few of their relatives were able to attend the wedding because gasoline and tire rationing made travel too difficult.
“It was a lovely service, and we enjoyed it,” Ruth said.
They took a brief honeymoon in Sequoia National Park and the San Joaquin Valley before returning to Wisconsin together while Kermit finished his civilian service.
Married life wasn’t always easy or comfortable, especially in the early years. They both worked in the kitchens of a state hospital for children and adults with mental disabilities. Unfortunately, lodging was hard to come by at the time, so they spent two to three months living in a room at the state hospital before they were able to find a better place to live.
They had their first child before Kermit was discharged from civilian service in 1946. They then moved back to California and had four more children while Kermit continued his education.
“I became a perpetual student for many years until I finished my education,” he said.
He received a doctorate in physiology from the University of California, Los Angeles. He then became a professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, where he taught for 30 years. Ruth said one or both of them were always involved in work with churches, and they often were hosts to international students.
After Kermit’s retirement, he spent a semester as a visiting professor at Tabor College, and the couple decided to retire in Hillsboro because it was close to friends and relatives.
“We’ve been thankful for that decision ever since,” Kermit said.
Kermit and Ruth said some of the best times of their marriage have been when they’ve broken routine and done something different, like Kermit’s sabbaticals to Seattle and Washington, D.C.
“Camping was lots of fun,” Ruth added.
They also took a vacation to visit a nephew who was a missionary in Paraguay, a trip they both enjoyed.
They also enjoyed watching their five children — Ken, Ron, David, Marilyn, and Eugene — grow up and start families and careers of their own. They now have 14 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
Over the years, several have asked both of them for advice on marriage.
“In order to have a smooth relationship and a loving relationship, it’s important to be tolerant and forgive each other,” Kermit said.
“If you can’t learn to forgive, you sit on a hot burner,” Ruth added.
They also advise couples to make time for each other and for God every day. Ruth said families should eat at least one meal a day together to stay close, and Kermit recommends reading scripture and praying aloud together every day.