For years, Ruth H. Bergeson would hurry to house fires in the middle of the night, an emissary of the Red Cross offering the afflicted Twins Cities residents shelter, clothes or food.
Before that, she was a young milliner when World War II broke out, and she joined the American Red Cross and became an Army hospital secretary in Hawaii. That’s where she met her husband, Emory Bergeson. They had three sons.
Once the boys were grown, Ruth Bergeson began a new chapter in her life as a globe-trotting adventurer — one who crisscrossed continents, sailed on a freighter from the North Sea to the Mediterranean, and at age 76, slept in a tent on blustery Isle Royale on Lake Superior.
Ruth Bergeson died June 8 in Austin, Texas. She was 95.
Born in Proctor, Minn., Ruth was only four months old when her father died. Her mother became a successful insurance saleswoman who traveled often. Ruth lived with aunts and uncles in Willmar, Minn., and Lakota, N.D., until fifth grade, when she moved to St. Paul and enrolled in the Oak Hill boarding school.
Bergeson attended the University of Minnesota for three years, majoring in merchandising. She moved to Chicago and worked as a milliner at Marshall Field’s Department Store until Pearl Harbor, then returned home.
“She had heard about the Red Cross, and again, her adventurous spirit thought that was something she could do for her country as well as seeing a little bit of the world.” her son Jim Bergeson said.
The Red Cross sent her to Kauai, Hawaii, to work at an Army hospital. After a year, she was promoted to assistant field director on Oahu, where she and Emory Bergeson fell in love.
The couple settled in St. Louis Park in 1952. Once their sons were in school, Ruth returned to the Red Cross, working in disaster services.
Jim Bergeson, of Des Moines, said his mother would pore over National Geographic and other travel literature to map out where she would go. In later years, she took grandchildren, one at a time, on some of her 40-plus trips to Alaska, Iceland, Norway, New Zealand, Russia, Nova Scotia, Paris and beyond.
“She had a real quest for knowledge, and the best way to learn something is to experience it,” said son Bob Bergeson of Kansas. “And so she would travel to the different places to experience it.”
One of her trips involved going in a plane and circling over an underwater volcano to watch an island being created, Bob Bergeson said.
“She would go to a museum, or see something perhaps in National Geographic about a different land, about something she hadn’t heard of, and she’d say, ‘That’s really interesting. I’d like to learn more about that.’ And she’d go see it,” he said. “She was an extremely intelligent and worldly lady.”
Bad weather would never stop her, Bob Bergeson said, recalling the time she drove from Minneapolis to Green Bay alone on an icy, two-lane road to attend his college graduation.
“She was the kind of lady that if she was going to do something, she was going to do it,” Bob Bergeson said. “And there was very little that would stop her.”
She also was president of the League of Women Voters in St. Louis Park and active in the local book club, the Jim Klobuchar Travel Club, Red Cross Retirees, and volunteered compassionately for years at Methodist Hospital.
Bergeson was preceded in death by her husband, Emory. Other survivors include son Bill, of Austin, Texas; eight grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Services will be 11 a.m. Friday, July 26, at Westwood Lutheran Church, 9001 Cedar Lake Road, St. Louis Park. Private burial at Fort Snelling.