Scenes from a Life - Ruth’s Story - 1943-44

In my last blog post about Ruth’s story, set in 1943, Ruth’s father, William, was very ill. Via correspondence, he and Abby Sutherland agreed that Ruth should attend two years at Ogontz Junior College after her graduation from Ogontz High School (in May, 1943), in order to, as Abby wrote, “prepare her for something she wants to do later.” The Ogontz Junior College was a rigorous two-year college preparatory program. Abby’s opinion was that Ruthie was not a serious student, though Abby told Ruth’s father, “she is trying to the limit of her strength.” But Abby also wrote that she had “a deep desire for [Ruth’s] success and for her future” and reminded Ruth’s father that, “We have had Ruth with us now during her growing childhood and girlhood and I want to be sure that we have done everything we can to help her get into college.”

So, in September, 1943, Ruth entered Ogontz Junior College, taking an extensive course load that included courses in psychology, college math, and “Semimicro and Macro Organic Chemistry” among others.

Meanwhile, her father’s health continued to decline. William owned the Lancaster Pretzel Machine Company, with a factory on North Concord Street in Lancaster. The Lancaster Pretzel Machine Company had been in operation since at least February, 1919, as evidenced by an invoice from Geo. W Neff, Drayman, for moving some pretzel baking equipment for the company.

Ruth’s father held a 1927 patent on a pretzel baking machine, and appears to have been a successful business man, though Ruth later wrote that the Great Depression and the invention of a pretzel twisting machine had taken heavy tolls on her father’s business.

It may be that the war also took a toll on his business, and on William’s health as well. On September 14, 1944, just before Ruth was to enter her second and final year at Ogontz Junior College, William Ehrhart died at Lancaster General Hospital, of heart trouble. He was 66 years old.

Though Ruth’s parents had separated over a decade earlier, Ruth’s mother, Marie, was listed as his wife in the memorial book from William’s funeral. Two of Marie’s brothers, Roscoe Eshelman and Frank Eshelman, were pallbearers. Fred F. Groff, Inc, handled the funeral arrangements, and William was buried next to his first wife, Cora, in the Greenwood Cemetery in Lancaster. The Keystone Pretzel Company later purchased his factory on Concord Street.

Ruth was 19 years old. Though she’d spent very little time actually living with either her mother or her father throughout her childhood, it seems it was her father who made most of the decisions related to Ruth’s education and general welfare, he paid the bills for her schooling at Rydal and Ogontz, and he made sure Ruth got to travel to special places with him during school holidays.

After William’s funeral, a cousin named Elsie sent Ruth an envelope filled with sugar cube wrappers that Ruth had collected on trips with her father back in 1937, the year Ruth turned 12 years old. Ruth had left the collection of wrappers, which she kept in a small tin, at Elsie’s home years earlier, and Elsie had saved them. Ruth had made careful notations on each wrapper, in pencil, of the date, location and occasion where Ruth and her father had traveled. Here’s a sampling:

Bahl’s – a restaurant in Philly: “a favorite of Daddy’s – folded napkins”

The Pittsburgher: “on trip after camp”

Hotel Taft in New York: “one night – June 11, 1937”. Ruth also noted that she added the sugar to Ovaltine, and later wrote that drinking Ovaltine was the advice of “nurse I used to travel with”

Criterion Restaurant and Grill, in Asbury Park, NJ, where Ruth noted “had fun” at Asbury Park where she rode in the boats. She wrote, “I zigzagged as Daddy shouted instructions from bridge”

The Swiss Tavern, Pompton Lakes, NJ.

A sugar wrapper from aboard a ship run by C & B Transit Co is dated August, 1937, though there’s no notation of where they were going.

Another sugar wrapper from August 1937 says “Niagara Falls”.

And before taking Ruth back to Ogontz for the start of 4th grade in September, 1937, soon after her 12th birthday, her father had taken her to Van Tassle’s, a French restaurant in Philly, which she described as “special.”

In late September, 1944, after her father’s funeral, Ruth, now age 19, returned to Ogontz alone, on the train, and began what would be her final year of studies there.

Posted by Melanie Tagged as: city life lancaster pa ruths story

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