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A feat 100 years in the making

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The story of Ruth Kramer’s 104 years brings up names from history books and images from black and white photographs: horse-drawn carriages, Eleanor Roosevelt, nurses in crisp white uniforms and caps. But her story doesn’t end after World War II. 

The centenarian enjoys hearing weather forecasts and jokes from her digital assistant, Alexa. Years ago, she learned how to play Nintendo with her grandson. 

It’s getting harder for her to leave her Arlington apartment these days, but she still loves catching up on news from her longtime parish, Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Arlington. She enjoys drinking coffee and looking over her balcony to see the Capitol, the Washington monument and the Potomac River.

Kramer was born Evelyn Ruth Beaver in Ontario, Wis., Nov. 7, 1913, to John and Virginia. She was the second of three daughters. Her father was the “jack of all trades” in their small town, she said, taking care of animals and laying bricks. She was baptized at St. Patrick’s Mission and the family later joined Sacred Heart Church in Cashton. Though she couldn’t be there to celebrate the parish’s 100th anniversary, she sent the pastor a letter of her memories from that time. 

“Father (William) Jeuck held Mass at St. Patrick’s one Sunday of every month. I believe it was one of the happiest times of my childhood,” she said. “When it snowed heavily, he would come to church riding in a one-horse sleigh. It created a very festive and elegant scene.” Kramer sang in the choir with four other girls led by Father Jeuck. They even learned one song in Latin to sing for Christmas Mass. 

When Kramer was still young, her mother contracted tuberculosis and had to limit her exposure to her children. She died at age 33 when Kramer was 10 years old. Her last wish, spoken to Kramer’s father, was that the girls would complete their education. All of them did. 

Kramer considered being a math teacher, but ultimately went into nursing. She graduated from St. Francis School of Nursing in 1935. While at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., she met a patient from Alaska, and mentioned that she always had wanted to visit. Just then the doctor, a Navy captain, walked in. “Well, if you join the Navy we’ll send you to Alaska,” he told her.

So she did. Kramer was one of the first 400 women to receive an appointment to the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps in 1936. But she never made it to Alaska. “Years later, I was in Philadelphia on duty at the Naval Hospital and Dr. White was there. I said, ‘You didn’t do a very good job sending me to Alaska,’ ” said Kramer.



From 1936 to 1939 she worked in Portsmouth, Va. It was the first time the Midwesterner saw the ocean. Then she was sent to Washington, where she had box seats for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inauguration and was able to attend two garden parties he and Eleanor hosted for military members. She spent a few months in Philadelphia, and then was one of seven nurses sent to study diet and disease at George Washington University in Washington. 

Around that time she met her husband, Ellsworth. “(My date and I) were going to a Halloween party down on the Eastern Shore. He brought this man with him. That was the man I married,” she said. They were wed Nov. 11, 1941. As married women couldn’t keep their jobs, she left the Navy shortly afterward. Her husband served in the Office of Strategic Services in the U.S. Army and was awarded the Bronze Star for service in combat.

Their two children also joined the military. Ellsworth Rocque served in the Marine Corps and Eve Regis, who lives with and takes care of Kramer, served in the Air Force. 

Kramer is the oldest member of her hometown’s American Legion post. Recently, the group sent her a red, white and blue quilt with the Navy seal in the middle. The gift moved her to tears. 

As proud as she is of her military service, she might be most pleased that she finally completed the First Fridays Devotion. In 1939, she was attending St. Patrick Church in Washington when she decided to receive Holy Communion on the first Friday of every month for nine months. She made it to the lunchtime Mass for eight months, but her bus did not arrive in time for the ninth. When the Mass was over, she explained her predicament to the priest, but he just told her to try again next time. 

Her next attempt was 77 years later. Father John H. Melmer, parochial vicar of Our Lady of Lourdes, heard her story and agreed to bring Communion to her home for the next nine months. On the final Friday it was supposed to snow. But thankfully it only rained and Father Melmer made it there. He’s continued to bring her Communion since then.

Kramer relayed the nine Fridays story in a letter to her fellow St. Francis nurses. “If you want to accomplish nine first Fridays in less than 103 years,” she wrote, “find a sympathetic parish priest like Father Melmer.”


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018