Love story’s final chapter

Married 70 years, couple dies hours apart
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Contributed Photo Ruben and Betty Giese, shown on their wedding day in 1946, met at a school dance in Gresham and settled on a farm north of town.

Contributed Photo Ruben and Betty Giese celebrated their 70th anniversary in May and then passed away just hours apart in hospital beds side by side Thursday.

Over the course of their marriage, Ruben and Betty Giese had stayed by each other’s side through good times and bad for 70 years.

So neither was going to leave the other alone at this moment.

The Gresham husband and wife passed away side by side, just hours apart Thursday, in what family members say was a final act of love and devotion.

“They didn’t want to be apart,” their daughter, Linda Clemins, said. “They wanted to go together.”

Both dealing with health issues, Ruben and Betty Giese were residents for the past two years at the Atrium Evergreen nursing home of Shawano.

Although they lived in separate rooms at the facility, they were virtually inseparable day after day. And when Betty’s health deteriorated and then Ruben began to decline, too, nurses put the couple in beds side by side.

Surrounded by family, Betty died shortly after 12 a.m., and Ruben joined her just eight hours later. She was 88; he was 90.

Debbie Buss, activity director at the Atrium Evergreen center, said she has heard stories about married couples passing away at nearly the same time. But she has never witnessed something so extraordinary in 40 years of work in the health care business.

“It was touching,” she said. “We’re all happy they went together. That’s just a nice love story.”

The story began in 1945 when Ruben and Betty, both teenagers, met at a school dance in Gresham. They were married the following year and soon settled on a farm north of town.

They raised six children together and managed to make ends meet through hard work on the farm, along with Ruben’s salary as a hardware store employee. The couple enjoyed eating at restaurants, entertaining friends and traveling together to farm bureau conventions.

Family members recall house parties where neighbors and friends would gather to play cards and drink Sun Drop soda or beer.

There were tough times, too, including when the family barn burned down on two separate occasions during the 1970s. Through it all, Ruben kept a sense of humor, frequently telling one of the children, “Go ask your mother if she still loves me.”

“He wanted to hear it all the time,” said their daughter, Shelly Bruch.

As the years passed and the family grew, Ruben and Betty became grandparents, great-grandparents and even great-great-grandparents.

Both enjoyed relatively good health until Betty suffered a heart attack in 2014. During her hospitalization, Ruben began to exhibit worsening symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, family members said.

Before long, both were residents at the Atrium Evergreen center, where they played bingo, attended other activities and enjoyed meals together.

“They always did everything together,” Buss said.

Their son, Rick Giese, recalled that when his mother’s health worsened in recent days, his father sent signals that he had no plans to continue without her. Ruben stopped eating and seemed to will himself to be prepared to follow her when the time came.

“You could just tell — he knew,” Rick Giese said. “It’s just a connection they had.”