Ruth Hass spent a lifetime caring for others, from tending wounded soldiers as an Army nurse during World War II to visiting shut-ins. She died Feb. 8 at age 96.
Hass, who grew up on a farm near Lake Park, Iowa, wanted to be a nurse since she was a young child. She enrolled in the nursing program at the University of Iowa before America entered World War II. After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, she joined the government’s Cadet Nurse Corps and subsequently enlisted in the Army.
Stationed at an Army hospital in Springfield, Mo., Hass helped servicemen undergoing plastic surgery after severe war wounds. She was then sent overseas to care for U.S. and Filipino soldiers in the Philippines.
A few months after Japan surrendered, Hass visited Hiroshima as she waited for a hospital assignment. The devastation was absolute, she told the Pioneer Press in 2014 — the buildings destroyed in battle that she’d seen in Manila had at least left rubble.
“There was nothing there,” she said. “You could see for miles because it was just bare. Everything was gone.”
In Japan, Hass cared for troops who had contracted infectious diseases. She returned to the United States in 1946, where she worked at hospitals in Iowa, Detroit and the Twin Cities, serving as director of nursing in several cases. For decades, she shared a home in Minneapolis with her sister Ruby, who worked as a nurse and nurse educator, as well as a rotating cast of cats.
Hass spent the final 18 years of her career on staff at the Minnesota Nurses Association, where she served as executive director from 1987 to 1989 before retiring.
Liz Voss, a fellow nurse, called Hass “a phenomenal mentor and leader” in the profession, pointing out how she was early to adopt the idea of evidence-based medicine and encouraged her fellow nurses to constantly improve their practice through education and advocacy.
“She was one of those quiet leaders who made a difference, but her impact remains,” Voss said. The Minnesota Nurses Association created the Ruth L. Hass Excellence in Practice Award in her honor.
Ruth and Ruby Hass were active members at Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Minneapolis since 1955.
“She and her sister were legendary in the church,” said the Rev. David Shinn, associate pastor for congregational care. Shinn said he often tapped the Hass sisters for information about elderly parishioners he planned to call on, since their knowledge predated that of even the senior pastor by several decades.
Ruth and Ruby were warm, generous and encouraging, Shinn said. They visited people in need, cooked meals, brought flowers, led tours and wrote text for the devotional. “Other than Sunday preaching and serving as trustees, they did practically everything else,” Shinn said.
The only time Ruth and Ruby Hass missed church, Shinn said, was when they were traveling — to China, Turkey and Africa. Their niece Gerry Shuck, who was inspired by her aunts to take up nursing, said the sisters enriched her childhood by taking her on several trips.
“We went to Mexico, we went to Yellowstone,” she said. “I can’t even remember all the places we went.” The aunts took Shuck to Europe as a high-school graduation gift and passed the tradition on to Shuck’s daughter with a trip to Alaska.
Ruth Hass was as kind as she was independent, Shuck said. And she was thankful for everything she packed into nine decades — even her Army service, based on how she described it in a journal she kept at the time: “It’s been another good year, full of worthwhile experiences.”
Hass is survived by a sister, Pearl Godfrey of Spirit Lake, Iowa. Services have been held.