Dancing inside the towering Nicollet Hotel in downtown Minneapolis celebrating the end of World War II, Ruth Elaine Hartman was on a date in the crowded ballroom when a soldier cut in and spoke fate into existence.
"I'm going to marry you," he said.
Two months later, the newlyweds moved to Detroit Lakes, Minn., where they raised three sons: David, Robert and Morrie.
During the war, Samuel Hartman had been a Jewish soldier who was captured by Nazis and imprisoned for more than four months at Stalag III-A, a prisoner-of-war camp south of Berlin.
Upon his return home to Minnesota after liberation, he had a "seize the day mentality," the couple's youngest son Morrie Hartman recalled in an interview.
"Their meeting was just meant to be, like something out of an old black-and-white movie," he said.
Ruth Hartman died of natural causes Feb. 6 and was buried Feb. 10, on what would have been their 75th wedding anniversary. She was 96.
Hartman said his mother did not die of coronavirus complications, but he said the prolonged isolation took a toll on his mom, an incredibly social person.
"It was always a custom to hold your hand when she talked to you," he said. "We couldn't touch for 10 months."
Hartman, of Edina, was classified as an essential caregiver so he could still visit at a distance, always bringing along a Bluetooth speaker to play Frank Sinatra tunes, to which Ruth would belt out lyrics from her wheelchair and reminisce about dancing to her favorite songs with Samuel.
After she was widowed in 1997, Ruth moved to the Twin Cities and began taking voice lessons at MacPhail Center for Music, performing recitals with the hand gestures and movement as if she was center stage in a cocktail lounge.
Ruth was poised, elegant, kind and unflappable. "My mom was really a model of serenity — as serene as a home could be with three boys playing basketball in the dining room," he said.
She was born in St. Paul but her family later moved to Bowbells, N.D., where her father owned a grocery store. When he died when she was 13, she and her mother moved back to St. Paul.
Ruth was a Cub Scout den mother and once her sons grew up and moved on to college, she spent her free time tutoring grade-school children. She also led the Big Brothers organization to help children who didn't have a father, like herself. Hartman said his mother's volunteerism was without fanfare, with what he described as a "quiet determination."
David Hartman, the oldest brother who lives in La Crosse, Wis., remembers her as calm, pleasant and organized, an excellent listener who rarely got upset — even when raising three sons.
"Mom, how did you survive us? Raising three boys, I don't think I would wish that upon anyone," he said.
Once, David remembers Morrie dumping flour all over the house and "playing in it like sand." When their mom got home, she didn't get angry, he said. Instead, the family has photos of her with Morrie, covered in flour, and she's laughing.
"You'd really have to screw up to set her off," he said. David Hartman said his family was one of the only Jewish families in Detroit Lakes. His mother told the story of how a woman admitted to her over coffee that she'd never met a Jewish person before. "And they became very good friends. Mother provided that education for her," he said.
In addition to David and Morrie, Ruth Hartman is survived by her third son, Robert of Minnetonka. A memorial service and shiva were held virtually.