Obituary for Ruth Elizabeth Merkel

   Life Stories | Posted on January 10, 2019

Ruth Elizabeth (Vitrano) Merkel was born on November 23, 1931, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Justus and Grace (Parfitt) Vitrano. She died on January 8, 2019, in Ooltewah, Tennessee, at the age of 87 years, 1 month and 16 days. 

She and L. Eugene Merkel were married on June 10, 1956, and celebrated their 62nd anniversary with all their children and grandchildren present in the summer of 2018. Preceding her in death were her parents, Justus and Grace (Parfitt) Vitrano, her sister, Genevieve Marilla Serns, her brother, Dr. Steven Parfitt Vitrano, and her nephew, Roger Vitrano.

After completing school at Fresno Union Academy in Fresno, California, Ruth graduated from La Sierra College with a two year secretarial degree in May 1954. She then attended Emmanuel Missionary College (EMC) in Berrien Springs, Michigan, where she met her husband. Gene was in the U.S. Navy when they were married at the Seventh-day Adventist church in Milton Junction, Wisconsin, where her sister lived. Dr. Floyd O. Rittenhouse performed the ceremony.

After finishing hospital corpsmen school, Gene was sent to work in the Naval Hospital in Yokosuka, Japan. Since it was peace time (between the Korean and the Vietnam Wars), Ruth could join him in Japan. After getting settled in their home, Ruth applied for a civil service position at the Naval Hospital and became secretary to Captain Ira C. Nichols, MD, chief of neuro-psychiatry. He was third in command of the entire base, and Ruth got paid more than Gene!

They moved to Berrien Springs where Gene graduated with a BS in business in June 1959. While he was studying at EMC, Ruth was hired to be the secretary of Dr. Floyd O. Rittenhouse, president of the college—the man who’d married them! Gene graduated with a BS in business. When Dr. Rittenhouse left his position as president of the college to become president of Andrews University, Ruth worked for a few months as secretary to Dr. Fabian Meier, Dr. Rittenhouse’s replacement at EMC.

Then she decided to become a stay-at-home mom. They raised their two daughters, Elain and Marcia, while they lived in Lansing, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, and Berrien Springs, Michigan, where Gene completed his Certified Public Accountant License, earned a Master of Business Administration degree, and a Master of Science in Taxation degree.

When they moved back to Berrien Springs in 1976 where Gene opened an accounting office, Ruth worked as secretary to two more Andrews University presidents—Dr. W. Richard Lesher and Dr. Niels-Erik Andreasen. This made her secretary to four different presidents of Emmanuel Missionary College/Andrews University. Ruth graduated with her bachelor’s degree from Andrews University in June 1990, and her boss, the University president, gave her the degree!

Ruth was a member of the Algonquin Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Michigan. She had two Revolutionary War ancestors:  Esek Eddy and Peter Cutler. When her granddaughter was born, Ruth wanted Erin to know of the family legacy and history. So began an adventure of writing six books which told of Erin’s heritage as a sixth-generation SDA girl, as well as a 13th generation American girl. The Review and Herald published the series of books entitled “Hannah’s Girls.”

Ruth has been a member of the Pioneer Memorial Seventh-day Adventist Church since 1976 until her death in 2019—a total of 43 years.

Survivors include her husband, L. Eugene Merkel; two daughters, Elaine Gracelyn Hotelling and Marcia Louise Irwin; and four grandchildren Erin Castelbuono, Benjamin and Bradley Hotelling, and Rachel Irwin; one great-granddaughter, Quinn Hotelling, a great-grandson on the way, Theodore Castelbuono, one niece, Joyce Vitrano Dirnberger; three nephews, Edwin Vitrano, Donald Serns, and Richard Serns and their families.

Visitation hours will be from 10:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 11, followed by the funeral from 12:30–1 p.m. at the Chattanooga Funeral Home, Valley View Chapel in Chattanooga. The graveside service will be held from 1:30–2 p.m. at the National Cemetery in Chattanooga.

Instead of flowers, memorial gifts may be sent to: Historic Adventist Village, P.O. Box 141, Battle Creek, MI 49016.

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Arrangements by Chattanooga Funeral Home, Valley View Chapel, 7414 Old Lee Highway, Chattanooga, TN 37421.