Ruthie and Harold “Doc” Knapke spent more than 65 years of their lives together and, in the end, they died just 11 hours apart.
“I think we all agreed it was no coincidence,” said Carol Romie, one of the Fort Recovery, Ohio, couple’s six children. “When mom became ill, we tried to make it clear to dad that mom wasn’t going to make it, and he seemed really agitated for a day or so, at first. And then he became really calm, and I think he decided, ‘No she’s not going without me.’”
Harold Knapke died on Sunday, Aug. 11, at 7:30 a.m. at the age of 91. Ruth Knapke died later that evening, at 6:30 p.m., at the age of 89, according to Romie. They both passed away in the room they’d shared for the past two months in a nursing home near Russia, Ohio, where they’d moved about six years ago to be closer to their daughter, Pat, a nurse.
“Mom had said so, in as many words, that she didn’t want to be here without dad,” Romie said. “They were just so devoted to one another.”
The Knapkes raised their six children – Carol and Pat, along with Margaret, Ginny, Ted and Tim – in Fort Recovery, where Harold Knapke worked as a teacher, principal and coach in the local school system and Ruth Knapke worked as a school secretary after being a stay-at-home mom.
The couple met during World War II when they became pen pals after Harold Knapke met Ruth Knapke’s brother-in-law, Steve, while serving overseas, and discovered, thanks to letters from his future wife, that they came from nearby hometowns.
“Uncle Steve said, ‘Well why don’t you write to her?,’ and they started writing,” Romie said.
The Knapkes would have celebrated their 66th wedding anniversary on Aug. 20.
“It’s one of those love stories you don’t see in the movies,” said Romie. “Theirs was definitely a love just not the glitzy, Hollywood side. They worked at it and they knew they needed to work at it and it worked.”
Following their deaths, the couple’s six children, 14 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren laid them to rest together in a cemetery in their beloved Fort Recovery. The funeral procession made a stop at the home where the Knapkes raised their children. The family that lives there now lowered the flag outside the home to half staff.
“Mom and dad said while they were living in Russia, [Ohio], that they just wanted to go home,” Romie said. “The fact that they stopped the procession in front of home meant a lot to us that day.”
Now Romie and her siblings are left to cherish the memories of their parents and their love affair that lasted, literally, “until death do us part.”
“When they were at the house in Russia, the caregiver would get mom tucked in each night and then dad would go in and bless her with holy water and give her a kiss. That was part of their ritual,” Romie recalled, calling them “very affectionate.”
“Saturday nights, when they watched ‘The Lawrence Welk Show,’ they’d sit on the couch together and hold hands,” Romie said. “We would help mom up so she could sway because she loved to dance. Dad used to say that mom could make any man look like a good dancer because she was so good.”