Five days after celebrating their 71st wedding anniversary, Ruth and Bob Kretschmer died within minutes of each other in hospice beds just feet apart.
Their children say it’s a story of devotion, love and courage.
Only two weeks ago, 92-year-old Bob said that even though he was fighting cancer, he had to persevere for his 90-year-old wife because he didn’t want her to go into an institution, according to their daughter Bobbi Boston.
Lung cancer had spread to his bones and liver, said their daughter Ruthann Koenig. His wife had Alzheimer’s disease.
“I’m going downhill,” he told a friend, “but I have to hang on because I can’t let Ruth go to a home.”
Their children took turns caring for them. They also hired devoted helpers.
But Mr. Kretschmer still worried as the couple spent their final days next to each other in hospital beds in their Medinah home of 60 years.
Just before 10 on Friday morning, Mrs. Kretschmer stopped breathing, Koenig said. It was as if her husband sensed it, relatives said.
A caregiver “was holding dad’s hand, and she [the caregiver] was crying. He asked her what was wrong, and she said, ‘Ruth’s gone,’ ’’ said Boston. “And his hand went limp.”
Within 20 minutes, a hospice nurse arrived at their home and pronounced Mrs. Kretschmer dead, Koenig said. “She said, ‘She’s gone,’ and she stood up, turned around, and said, ‘Oh my God, he’s gone.’ ”
“It was as if he was released from his duty. As soon as he heard mom declared at 10:25, dad was declared at 10:26,” Koenig said. “I believe to the bottom of my soul he hung on for her.”
For Mr. Kretschmer, an Army veteran with two Purple Hearts, Koenig said, it was “End of Watch.”
The couple met at the old Hub roller rink near Harlem and Irving. He had grown up nearby. She was from Bellwood and attended Proviso East. They married after Mr. Kretschmer returned from World War II. By 1955, they were settled in the home he built in Medinah, along with a cow, horse, rooster, Irish setters, bunnies and a goat named Billy.
Young Bob, who attended Crane Technical High School, was once a scrapper, according to relatives.
As his family put it in his death notice, “He was fond of telling stories of his youth in which, in the end, someone always gets hit with a brick or a two-by-four.”
“Mom was very, very driven,” Koenig said. “We all said he’s the life of the party.”
Mrs. Kretschmer’s children remember stuffing envelopes with her for the DuPage County GOP when they were little. She was elected to the DuPage County Board. In 1983, Gov. Jim Thompson appointed her to the Illinois Commerce Commission, where she served 20 years.
“She was a fierce advocate for fair pricing for Illinois citizens by utilities,” said RTA chair Kirk Dillard, a former Illinois state senator and former DuPage County GOP chief. “Ruth was a loyal Republican, but fiercely independent and always did her homework.”
In 2000, in her plainspoken style, she told ComEd officials she’d noticed there were fewer outages by saying, “Last year, I always had a lot of candles on hand.”
“Ruth was a trailblazer and role model for women elected and appointed to office,’’ Dillard said. “The utility industry was a pretty male-dominated industry when she served.”
Mrs. Kretschmer earned a bachelor’s degree at DePaul University. After her children were grown, she took courses at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. And she traveled to the then-new republic of Kazakhstan to help in establishing its utilities.
In World War II, Mr. Kretschmer “fought from Normandy till the war ended; he was in Czechoslovakia,” Koenig said. His unit worked on the construction of many bridges and fought in the Battle of Metz in France.
“Once, he was in a foxhole with two of his buddies, and he went to get a cup of coffee,” Koenig said. “And while he was gone, a German shell came in. They were killed. He was saved by a cup of coffee.”
“He told me, ‘War is so random. I don’t know why I survived and the others didn’t.’ ”
Mr. Kretschmer worked for a railroad and did carpentry before entering the plastics industry. He helped make geodesic domes and plexiglass structures, Boston said. He also served as a deputy in the DuPage County Sheriff’s office.
He loved a good rare steak, Boston said. Mrs. Kretschmer loved desserts — “the more whipped cream, the better,” Koenig said.
They are also survived by their son R. David Kretschmer, eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. Services have been held.