Ruth Radtke, 92, a longtime resident of the Washburn/Bayfield area, passed away November 12, 2020 at Northern Lights Nursing Home. A Covid-19 patient, she was fortunate to be comforted by her husband of 69 years, James Radtke, and two of her 7 children. She is survived by her husband, James, seven children, and seven grandchildren. David Radtke (Edie Brengel Radtke, daughter Amelia Radtke Milwaukee), Karen Radtke, (David Carlson, St. John, USVI) Susan Radtke (Paul Norris, daughters Kristine and Katie) Joseph Radtke (Karen Bertie), Superior, Wisconsin; Michael Radtke, (Kathleen Olson, children Heather and Shawn), Bayfield WI; Thomas Radtke, (Kristen Johnston, sons Nicholas and Bennet), Minnetonka MN; Debora Radtke, Palm City FL.
Born Ruth Kathleen Murray, in Minneapolis, MN, February 8, 1928, she was an only child raised by her single mother Augusta K McManus, during the depression. By her own admission, she never felt she lacked for anything, even though they often lived in boarding houses and when her mother was traveling selling magazines for Curtis publishing, Ruth lived with friends and relatives. When asked about her upbringing, she would credit her Irish heritage with her optimism and say, “That’s just the way it was.”
Ruth met her husband James Radtke while both were summer school students at the University of Wisconsin Madison. At the end of the term Ruth returned to finish her studies in Superior, graduating with a Bachelor’s degree, and later achieving a master’s in education. The couple endured a two year engagement while Jim finished his studies in Madison. Ruth’s mother gave her blessing to the two but advised that they both needed to finish college and Ruth needed to work 1 year before they got married.
Ruth was aptly named. She never hesitated to follow the love of her life even taking her two first born to Germany and France, to be with Jim during his army deployment in Europe following WW2. During this time, she wrote daily letters home to her mother detailing the life of a young family stationed in countries rebuilding from the second world war, and facing the fears associated with the Cold War hanging over them.
The family eventually settled in Marshfield, WI where Ruth focused on making a home and raising seven children all within 9 years of age. Once her youngest, Debora, had started school Ruth went back to teaching, initially working as a reading specialist in the Marshfield School district, and then teaching high school English and history in nearby Pittsville.
After discovering sailing in the Apostle Islands in 1968, the family built a cabin near Bayfield and made plans to move to the area permanently. In 1974 that plan was realized and Ruth, Jim and the 4 youngest children moved to Ashland. Ruth became a reading specialist in the Ondossagon School district teaching at the Mason and Benoit school.
Ruth always welcomed others into her home, especially any stray kid that one of her seven might bring home. There was always room for one more at her table. All of her kids fondly remember the neighbor boy that would invariably arrive about dinner time amid a chorus of “come on in, have you eaten?” that greeted him.
A self-described political junkie, Ruth welcomed in a group of young people that “Got Clean for Gene,” to campaign for Gene McCarthy during the 1968 democratic primaries. She felt strongly about our right to vote and no matter how difficult it was, voted in every election, including 2020. Involved for many years with the league of women voters, Ruth often worked the polls during the years the family resided in Ashland.
In 1980 with all children out of school, it was time for another change. As empty nesters Ruth and Jim moved to the Twin Cities. Ruth became a technical writer for Perkin Elmer and other manufacturers in the Twin Cities writing operator’s manuals for facilities managers. Eventually she started her own company Comm-Strat Publishing, utilizing the new technology of desktop publishing to write and produce promotional materials for small companies.
In 1990 Ruth finally realized her lifetime dream of living on the shores of Lake Superior. She and Jim had found a very rare piece of property with 300 feet of sand beach, just north of Washburn. They moved back to the area full time. She loved listening to the waves lapping on the shore as she fell asleep, and the sun waking her up early as it glinted off the water. With children raised and on their own, Ruth settled back into being involved with her community. She volunteered for Big Top Chautauqua and was an early member of Keepers of the Light. She continued with Comm-Strat publishing and was an active member in the Bayfield Chamber of Commerce.
Even with all that, Ruth’s greatest pride was her family. She always wanted to introduce friends and acquaintances to any of her children that might be present. During her time at Northern Lights any staff member that entered the room would be asked, “have you met my_____?” pointing to whoever it was that was visiting. She also took great interest in those around her, and in the last year had been working with Murph (Kim Murphy) the activities director, on a memoir. During the shutdown for COVID-19 when family could not get in to visit, the highlight of her week was the time Murph would be in to help her write her story. Her eyes lit up as she told us about what part of her life they had talked about and how that related to some part of his family’s story.
We got to know the staff at Northern Lights through our mother. She appreciated all of those that cared for her as we do.