From Germany to Okie
Ruth Stell is NHS’s self-proclaimed “Cafeteria Lady.” If you’ve ever eaten in the NHS Cafeteria, you can’t miss her. She’s tall, speaks with an accent, and seems to never meet a stranger. Not only does she serve food, and bring joy to the eating experience, but she raises money to help feed hungry children in Cherokee County, a service close to her heart.
Ruth was raised as a child in Bad Kissingen, Germany. Her Father was an engineer and her mother was the supervisor of housekeeping at the high-brow, Steinberger hotel.
“It was a five-star hotel which was very picky,” said Ruth. “Can you imagine how she was at home? I have a little bit of that. I drive people crazy.”
Her childhood was filled with family and travel, fishing with her dad or picking mushrooms and blueberries with her grandmother.
“Because of dad’s job, he was always gone all over,” said Ruth. “Through him, I got to see Europe pretty good. We went to Paris and Italy and other places. I still have a friend I keep in touch with to this day that I met on the beach in Italy in the 60’s.”
When Ruth completed school, at age 15, (the common age of school completion in Germany at the time), she wasn’t quite sure what to do with her life. When she turned 16, she was hired by the American Military as a Civilian employee and worked as a Candy Striper.
“I was shy and they wanted me to go work in a different culture,” remembered Ruth. “I saw all those soldiers and thought, ‘Oh My God! They are going to eat me alive!’ They would teach me stuff to say that wasn’t what I meant and it would get me in big trouble. A Sargent took me under his wing and I learned better English.”
Ruth found her way and served in the German Army for nine years.
“I said to myself, ‘I don’t want to be a Candy Striper for the rest of my life,’” remembers Ruth. “I went to school for LPN and worked in the American Military for the 10th SFG Special Forces Group Rangers in Bad Toelz, Germany. That’s where I decided to learn English. I learned some language that gets me in trouble to this day – forty years later!”
Upon leaving the German military, Ruth received a ticket as a thank you. She decided to visit America.
“I met my first husband here,” said Ruth. “Then, we flew back to Germany, because he was a soldier stationed there. I thought he was going to Frankfort, but he was going to my home town! I met him in America on vacation and found out he was stationed in my home town.”
Ruth married her soldier, and when he was released from the Army in 1983, they moved to Cincinnati, Ohio.
“I stayed in Ohio for ten years; had my son in 1985,” said Ruth. “In 1993, I got divorced, and both of my parents fell ill, so I moved back to Bad Kissingen.”
Ruth’s LPN license was expired so she worked in a dairy lab while taking care of her young son and her parents, until their death in 2011.
“My mom went first, and my dad said, ‘Oh hell no! I’m not staying here without her,’” remembered Ruth. “They passed within three weeks of each other.”
Ruth’s life, like most, has had its fair share of trials and tribulations. She cared for her parents for 18 years.
“My mom was a soft spoken gentle women. The last year of her illness she was different. It was horrible,” she remembered. “My dad was the one with the rough edges. We were used to that, but my mom, oh my God, she turned into the devil. It’s just the disease, they don’t even know. She had Alzheimer’s. She didn’t know who I was.
“Trials like this make you grow up and be thankful for what you have; that you are healthy, even if you have a little something. I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. It’s nothing compared to that disease [Alzheimer’s]. When you see somebody wither away. My parents were always beautiful and they withered away to mean old people. It was sometimes funny, but sometimes so sad, when they don’t know who you are or remember they have any children.
“One time my parents were sitting on the side of the bed and my mom said, ‘Who is he?’ I said, ‘He’s your husband.’ She looked at dad and said ‘No way! I’d have never married him. He has no hair. His teeth are on the table!’ Dad would just laugh and say, ‘I’d marry you any day.’”
Ruth spent her time in Germany with an expired LPN license, so she went to work in a dairy laboratory, making sure the milk was safe.
“I stayed there for 18 years, had a couple of paper routs, raised my boy,” she said. “My divorce was horrible and I was determined not to get in a relationship ever again.”
Ruth soon found herself alone in Germany. Her only sibling, a brother, is in the German Military and travels extensively, and she lost both of her parents. She was close to her mother-in-law, even following her divorce, so she decided to come back to America.
“My brother is somewhere in France or Italy. He travels a lot,” she said. “So I said, ‘Well, I really liked Oklahoma, so I decided to go back to Oklahoma. My mother-in-law lives in Muskogee and said ‘Come on over!’”
Ruth found a job in a Muskogee nursing home and that is when her plan to never get in a relationship again failed her.
“There was a tall Native American guy who wouldn’t leave me alone,” she recalled. “He would ask me out all the time so I told him I would date him on December 32nd. He didn’t give up though. I finally thought, ‘I’ll go out with him one time and be real mean to him, but it didn’t work. That was five years ago and we’ve been together ever since. That’s how a German gets to Tahlequah!”
Ruth soon found a job at Northeastern Health System, where she has worked for the past three years.
“I listened around and everyone said, ‘If you want to be someplace for a good place to work then you want to be at NHS,’” said Ruth.
She loved her job at NHS so much, that she would frequently walk 3.5 miles, in the cold to get there.
“I had to come to work and feed my patients,” she said. “What was I going to do?”
Immigrating to another country is not, however, free from trials.
“I grew up when I came here,” said Ruth. “I missed my grandma passing away in Germany, and I missed the Berlin wall coming down, because I was here. But I would never want to go back.”
Ruth is currently working on becoming a U.S. citizen.
“I got my green card in 1985. When I was in Germany for 18 years, taking care of my parents, I had to write to America every six months to let them know I had not abandoned the country,” she said. “I did that so when I returned in 2011 I was able to get my green card again. They said, ‘She must really like America,’ because they never had anyone file every six months. I was making sure. I knew I was going to come back and here I am.”
Ruth says her greatest joys in life are her son, Sammie, and her step-daughter and three grandbabies.
“I really like to go around here in Tahlequah, and go to the river. My favorite spot in the world is to go fishing and cook out. It’s my favorite place to be. I just love it here. That’s life. That’s luxury in life. Sit in the river and watch people fall in. That’s fun,” she said with a laugh.
Ruth doesn’t believe in sitting idle. She is always involved in helping others in some way. Currently she helps raise money for the Backpack Program, a program that sends needy children home for school holidays and weekends with backpacks filled with food. She also helps raise money for Northeast Oklahoma Cancer Center, to help meet the needs of cancer patients.
“In Germany it was the same thing,” she said. “I was always involved, especially my son’s soccer clubs. That’s what I installed in my son, Aaron; to be involved and give back to society. It will make you a happier, healthier person.”
Ever ambitious, Ruth has been voted by her peers as the NHS Rookie of the Month and Rookie of the Year. She also received a medal from the Red Cross in Germany, and she is currently working on her citizenship and taking classes to become a medical coder.
“My biggest dream is becoming a real Okie,” she said. “Tahlequah is my home town now. When I speak of my home, that’s Tahlequah, not Bad Kissingen, Germany. Everybody just needs to wish me luck on my citizenship.”
While obtaining citizenship is a lengthy process, it is one Ruth is sure to conquer. Tahlequah just wouldn’t be the same without its caring, compassionate and funny German Okie!