Samarkand childhood sweethearts share love story, advice for a long-lasting marriage
“Ruth, will you marry me and have six children with me?”
At merely 18 years of age, this is how Jack Wilson proposed to Ruth, his now wife of 68 years and, indeed, the mother of their six children.
The couple grew up in the New York area, Jack in Manhattan and Ruth in Brooklyn. Their families both moved to Long Island, where they fatefully met in high school.
Jack told the News-Press the story of how they met, recalling a night play rehearsal in which he kicked over a full bucket of paint. The play director came down and asked what was going on, and Jack quickly asked the other students to help him clean up the mess.
He said that everyone disappeared — except Ruth.
“She’s been cleaning up my messes ever since,” Jack said.
When the couple was asked who made the first move, Ruth told the News-Press, “I think I did, but boy, did he want to marry me. I think I started the relationship cleaning up his mess.”
The now 87-year-olds live at Covenant Living at the Samarkand in Santa Barbara, and the Friday before Valentine’s Day, they reflected on their nearly seven-decade marriage and the hardships they’ve endured together.
After they graduated high school, Ruth studied for one year at Bucknell College in Pennsylvania, and Jack attended Hofstra College in New York. They struggled with the distance, so they got married at 18 and 19, respectively, after a four-day engagement. It was a family wedding at a simple church.
After that, they set their sights on California, but neither had a car, so the Wilsons decided they would hitchhike from New York to California, something Jack said he had done before and his parents were OK with. As expected, Ruth’s father didn’t like the idea of his daughter hitchhiking cross country, so his wedding present to them was a car, and their honeymoon was driving across the United States, a road trip they said holds some of their favorite memories together.
Once they made it out west, Jack attended UC Berkeley, but struggled with learning disabilities.
“We were going to have six kids, so that determined that I needed to make some money,” Jack said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do, but when I thought about it, I had good hand-eye coordination, and dentistry has that hand-eye coordination.”
Therefore, he decided on UC Dental School in San Francisco.
However, during this time, Ruth was pregnant with their first child, and they were saddened after the child died after only two days of life.
Soon after, Ruth had their second child, but when she was pregnant with their third, she was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a mysterious disease that can cause paralysis. The syndrome hadn’t even been named at the time. Ruth lost her ability to walk, and while she gained it back over time, her legs were permanently weakened.
To add onto the hardships in the first few years of their marriage, when the Wilson’s second daughter was with a babysitter, she fell down a whole flight of stairs directly onto concrete and fractured her skull.
“Those are things that people, when they go through hardships, either disengage because they can’t handle it or they get closer,” Jack said. “God brought us closer together, but it really took a lot of strength to survive all that.”
By the time Jack graduated from dental school, the Wilsons had their fifth child, and they moved to Santa Barbara in 1960, where Jack had a family practice for more than 40 years.
They had their sixth child in Santa Barbara, and Ruth stayed home with the kids until they were all in school. After that, she went back to school at UCSB and received a BA in psychology and a master’s in counseling psychology.
Ruth began practicing as a marriage family therapist in 1976, and still sees a few clients.
“I became a marriage family therapist because we had so much trouble in our relationship,” Ruth joked. “But really, everybody does.”
“That was really good because when we had to go through hard times together, we worked it out, and working it out was enough training, so she decided she would become a counselor,” Jack said, chuckling.
The Wilsons said that they place God at the center of their relationship, and relied on their faith when the going got rough. Jack said he knows God gave him Ruth, and she showed him a power greater than himself through faith.
When asked what advice they would give to young couples for a successful relationship, Jack and Ruth had plenty to offer.
“Fall in love with each other’s weaknesses, because we all have weaknesses,” Ruth said. “You have to learn how to argue and fight constructively.”
Jack echoed his wife, saying, “You don’t hold anything back, and you tell each other how you feel right down to the core. That’s how you get to know each other more closely and that’s how you can help the other person and the other person can help you.”
Jack said that many people ask him how long it takes him and his wife to make up after fighting, and his response is always, “You can get over it if you work on it for seven years.”
“You have to have perseverance and know that you picked each other for good reason,” he said. “You have to be totally open with each other. That’s a key — no hidden agenda, no hidden things.”
Ruth said she loves her husband because he’s a “can-do guy full of adventure.”
“He’s a great provider. He has provided for us and he helps me,” Ruth said. She shared that just the other night, she fell out of her bed at Samarkand and couldn’t get back up.
“And there he is, so sweet, bringing me the ottomon to work my way up,” Ruth said. “That’s so typical of him. He’s always there for me.”
Jack said he loves his wife because she’s “so understanding” of him and “so steady.” He shared that Ruth was always patient if he canceled on their dates and understanding of his family’s different background, especially as she helped him convert to Christianity.
Now, the Wilsons enjoy facetiming their five children, all of whom are married, 14 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. Since 1977, they’ve been taking a trip to Maui every year and staying for sometimes up to four weeks, snorkeling and simply enjoying the tropics. However, they’re unsure if they’ll be able to make the trip again, as Ruth suffered from an aneurysm two years ago, making traveling more difficult.
That being said, when the couple was asked if they had any plans for Valentine’s Day today, their answers exemplified that of nearly seven decades of true, unconditional love.
“You know what,” Ruth said. “Every day is a celebration for us. We love each other so much that every day is special, and of course on Valentine’s Day, everybody will do something, but not us.”
“We probably won’t,” Jack agreed. “We’re going to stay home on Valentine’s Day, but I might take Ruth out to Chuck’s a day or two after so we can enjoy it without the crowd.”
Ruth added, “But I’m sure we’ll have chocolate!”