Through sickness and health

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This love story--of Fred and Geneva Ruble--spans more than half a century of Valentines

By Lisa King

After 56 Valentine’s Days together, Fred and Geneva Ruble are still sweethearts.


When they wed on July 23, 1955, they embarked on a love story that has never waned. “Freddie” and “Neva” (their nicknames for each other) have really lived up to their marriage vows, especially the part about “in sickness and in health,” said their daughter, Renee Ruble.

“In more than 50 years of marriage, they have never been apart for more than three or four days,” she said.

In their youth, from the time Freddie had to borrow money from his employer to buy their marriage license, they have been inseparable.

Fred Ruble, who was Shelby County Sheriff in the 1970s and ‘80s, and Neva, who was a secretary at First Baptist Church, were active in the church and in the community and often took trips together.

Now Freddie is battling throat cancer, and Neva is suffering from an ailment that has rendered her incapable of walking and makes speaking difficult, so their children, Wesley and Renee, are telling their story.

When Freddie developed throat cancer last summer and had a total laryngectomy, he had to be in the hospital for 10 days.
“This was the longest they had ever been apart,” Renee said.

“When he came home with his first growth of beard ever, with his hair all messed up and looking pretty rough, she just touched his face and smiled at him and said he looked like a movie star. And she meant that.”

Wesley Ruble agreed.

“You can see how much they enjoy being with each other, especially after one of them has been in the hospital,” he said.

Then, last November,  Freddie had to have a second operation, and Renee recalled her mother tenderly touching the bruises on his arm from all the needles, as well as the staples in his neck.

“They are both still living at home,” said Renee, who shares care-giving duties with three others.

Freddie now speaks through a voice box device and gets around with the help of a walker, and Neva uses a motorized wheelchair.

But even as their health is failing, their love remains a constant force between them, Renee said.

“They can often be found sitting beside each other holding hands,” she said.

Wesley Ruble said that kind of camaraderie has been present ever since he can remember.

“We grew up on a dairy farm, and they worked hard on the farm and raising us kids, but they did it together,” he said. “And I never remember there ever being any arguments or disagreements between them.”

That kind of caring has only deepened with the years, Wesley said.

Now that Freddie is ill, his wife, even though unable to walk, never leaves his side, returning the devotion he showed her when she first became ill 10 years ago.

It was then that she began having problems with her balance and was mistakenly diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Within three years, she had lost the use of her legs and was confined to a wheelchair.

Then the family discovered she really had hydrocephalus – or fluid on the brain.

“A shunt was placed in her temple, which drains the fluid into her stomach,” Renee said. “The shunts remains in place to this day, but the damage was already done to the muscles, and she would not be able to walk again.”

Then Freddie began taking care of his Neva, buying the groceries, cooking the meals, dressing her and taking her to appointments and attending patiently to her every need, Renee said.

“Many times, he could be seen around town getting her in and out of their SUV, putting her in a wheelchair and pushing her,” she said. “He continued to manage the crops in the field, stayed active in the community but would not leave his wife for more than a few hours at a time.”

The year 2009 brought even more troubles to the couple – troubles that once again – they weathered together.

Neva had to have two kidney stone surgeries, and Freddie was diagnosed with throat cancer. Doctors told him the 28 radiation treatments he must have would leave him weak and unable to drive or care for his wife, she it was decided, would go to Crestview Rehabilitation and Nursing Center while he was having his treatments.

But doctors underestimated the depth of Freddie’s devotion. Not only did he drive himself to his treatments, but he drove to Crestview everyday to see Neva.

“Most people wouldn’t have been able to do that, but he did,” Wesley said.

Renee said that this Valentine’s Day, even though both of her parents were too ill to go out, he made sure she got candy and a card.

“Dad had me to go get it this year, and he told me to be sure to pick out a pretty card that played music,” she said. “And when I brought it home, he signed it and made sure he was the one to give it to her.’

Renee said when she watches them together, both sadness and joy well up inside her:

“It makes me so sad to see what shape they’re both in, but it brings tears to my eyes when she pulls her wheelchair up next to his chair and looks at him the way she does.”