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Seventy years and counting

August 2, 2012

Ellen Ruth Headden was born in Mt. Vernon, NewYork, July 23, 1918. John Wesley Churchill was born Feb. 11, 1920, in New York City. On Aug. 1, 1942, the two became husband and wife and began their married life together - a life that has now spanned 70 years.

Friends and family gathered at Off Broadway in Broken Bow Sunday afternoon, July 29, to wish the Churchill’s a happy 70th wedding anniversary - a feat few couples accomplish. But then these two people have a history of a strong resolve that sets them apart.

Education was an important part of Ruth’s upbringing. Her family moved to Younkers when she was ready to start school, mainly because of the good school system there. By the time she graduated from high school, the country was in a great depression. Her father, who was a bank auditor, had lost his job at the bank, and was eventually able to land a job building sidewalks to put food on the table. College was not an option for Ruth at that time. She got a job at WJ Sloan department store to help make ends meet for her family.

Ruth met John Churchill at a Methodist Church young people’s youth group event. The two began dating, and Aug. 1, 1942, they were married. Like his wife, John grew up with education playing a vital role in his life. His older brother taught in a private school, and when his parents separated John’s brother suggested he go to high school at a private school in Lennox, Mass. John was the youngest in the family, and his older brothers and older sister, Edna, were instrumental in raising him.
He returned from Massachusetts and graduated high school in Mt. Vernon, N.Y. John and Ruth laugh that they later discovered they only lived
about a block apart when they were young, but didn’t know each other.

After graduating from high school, John went to work at Bronx Savings Bank, until he was drafted into the Army in 1942. His first year was spent in maneuvers in Tennessee. Shortly after entering the Army John got very ill with pneumonia, and Ruth was summoned to stay with him. She remained with him that first year of his military duty in Tennessee.
They describe that year as an “interesting” one.

Life there was very primitive, Ruth says. “It was still just like it was in the Civil War days. We had to get water by lowering a bucket into a
well, but it didn’t have a crank on it - you had to lower the bucket down on the rope and pull it back up with water,” says Ruth, as she demonstrates the action as if reliving it.

The couple was able to find “an old shack” to rent, as housing there was hard to come by. At the end of that year, they returned to New York. John shipped out on the Queen Mary in 1943, bound for Europe. Ruth moved back in with her mother and got a job in the credit department at
Chase Bank.

John recalls the trip across the ocean on the Queen Mary. “The ship was zig-zagging across the water, because we were all alone out there. Usually there were ships that traveled together, but we were alone, so we had to try to avoid the U-boats.”
The ship landed in northern England, where John served as a cook in Battery A, 793rd Field Batallion. They went into Normandy just 12 days after D-Day, and also into Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge. John also served in France and Germany.

He was deeply moved by what he saw in Europe, and in particular by the people in the prison camps. He documented his thoughts and emotions through writings and pictures, many of which are now housed in the Holocaust Museum in Boston, Mass.

John returned to the U.S., landing in Boston in 1945. He was discharged from the Army Dec. 22, 1945.
The couple continued to make their home in New York, where John worked in the credit department at U.S. Steel during the day, and went to school at night. He eventually went to work as the credit manager at Roy Rasol Oil Company, a job he held for about 30 years.

In the meantime, Ruth had gotten a job for Gotaas-Larsen, LTD, a Norwegian company that owned and operated very large crude carriers, liquid natural gas carriers and chemical carriers. She started out as a secretary in the company, but through hard work and dedication was promoted through the ranks, eventually becoming coordinator.
In her job, Ruth was responsible for overseeing the purchasing of supplies for the ships. She also worked very closely with the captains of the ships, planning and coordinating the routes for pickup and
deliveries, etc.

A very humble woman, Ruth is not comfortable talking in great detail about her duties in her job. However, she does acknowledge that she was a pioneer of her time, working in a male dominated industry and achieving such high status. She says that did not set well with some of the men in the company. However, most of those she worked with had a great deal of respect for her, seldom if ever questioning her judgment.

The company eventually pulled most of their staff from the New York office and returned to Norway, leaving just a skeleton crew in the U.S.
Ruth says she decided that was a good time to retire, and after nearly 25 years she left Gotaas-Larsen.

John and Ruth have two children; Christian John, who lives in Florida, and Ellen Ann (Thomas) of Broken Bow. They moved to Broken Bow 7 1/2
years ago to be closer to Ann, and say they love it here.

John and Ruth are a very Christian couple; John served as church Elder and Trustee for many years while Ruth taught Sunday school and Bible studies. They say they have been very blessed in their lives, and view each day together as another blessing.

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