RUTH UHLIG, THE PASTOR’S WIFE
The beautiful young bride was breathless as her handsome husband carried her over the threshold. Ruth Tietjens of St. Louis, Missouri on February 20, 1938 had married John Uhlig, minister of the Lutheran Church in Okawville, Illinois. Her life would never be the same. She was now to be known as “the pastor’s wife.” This large white wood, two-story nine room house was to be her new home. As the parsonage, it was also the home of the 250 members of the congregation. Fortunately Ruth did not know that.
Ruth had met John in 1933 at a basketball game at Concordia Prep School and College where John was a student. John does not remember this meeting. He does remember the afternoon that Ruth came to his house with her date. John called her the next day and they dated for the next four years. They talked about marriage but they could not announce their engagement. Concordia Seminary, where John was a student and intern for the next four years, did not allow the ministerial students to get engaged or married. So they waited.
Ruth was active in her church and youth groups. However Ruth never dreamed of being a pastor’s wife. She had no idea of what she would be expected to do.
John had been called as pastor to the church in Okawville in April of 1937. His salary was $75.00 a month. He had been living in the nine-room parsonage for the past ten months without much thought to the furnishings and other comforts of home. Aside from his desk and books, John did not need much else. Ruth upon a quick survey of her new home knew they would need a few basic pieces.
“Honey,” she said with a smile, “I do think that we really need to buy a bed.”
John agreed and they bought a new bed and mattress for $35.00. Slowly bits and pieces of old furniture began to arrive from family and friends. Members of the congregation, made up of the families of the German farmers, contributed sturdy pieces that still had some years of wear in them.
Among the wedding gifts was a washing machine that was operated with both hands, pushing and pulling a large plunger. Several months later a friend donated a hand operated clothes roller ringer, which made it a little easier for Ruth.
In the living room where Ruth entertained the women of the congregation that came to call, were a worn mohair couch and a big brown chair. Later a rocking chair and a straight back chair were placed around the potbelly stove in the center of the room.
There was a wood table and several un-matching chairs in the dining room. The highlight of the room was the built in china closet where Ruth displayed the few pieces of china she had.
The kitchen, which to a wife is the most important room of the house, was not quite what Ruth dreamed of. She wondered how she would be able to cook and bake so that she could entertain members of the congregation as expected. There was an old kerosene cooking stove which smelled stronger than anything she could bake. Her sink featured a hand pump which required priming and fast pumping to bring up the cold water. A small table and two chairs provided a work space and a place to eat. The old wood cabinets on the walls held her supplies.
A larger gasoline stove that had to be pumped in order to be lit replaced the malodorous kerosene stove. John was so frightened by the stove that he always left the room when Ruth began pumping. Fortunately Ruth managed to keep the stove from exploding and burning down the house. It was indeed a day of rejoicing when a member of the congregation donated a used electric stove to the pastor’s wife. Ruth was in heaven!
Ruth did not extend the Salvation Army decor to the bathroom, as there was no bathroom. There was a cute little outhouse just beyond the house within walking distance. Visits were kept short in the cold, dark two-seater.
After a wait of two years, the congregation voted to install running water and a bathroom in the house. John was thankful for the modern conveniences to make life easier for Ruth who was now the mother of a son born in 1940. After taking baths in the kitchen in a big galvanized tub for two years, they loved their new bathtub even though is was so small they had to kneel in it, because it was impossible to sit down in it.
The bathroom now had a flush toilet. Some members of the congregation felt it was theirs also. They would walk into the house and head straight for the bathroom without an invitation. After an embarrassing experience of being invaded in the bathroom, Ruth decided to lock the front door.
Ruth quickly learned that as a pastor’s wife she was to be involved in every activity in the church life in which women participated. The church was the center of social activities for the community, so there were plenty of things to keep her busy.
John’s salary included his teaching at the church’s one-room schoolhouse. Ruth also worked there as a teacher’s aid in phonics and reading. She helped get the stove burning so the children who had walked over three miles to school in the cold and snow could thaw out and warm their fingers and toes. Ruth was not paid for her work as it was expected that the good pastor’s wife would be happy to help her husband.
When the apples were harvested, Ruth with the other women pared and cut apples all day long in her kitchen. The next day the apples were cooked and spiced to make apple butter. The apples were cooked in big copper kettles. The apple butter was canned in glass jars and sold in town as The Lutheran Church Apple Butter. It was hard work that lasted for many weeks.
Once a week Ruth was hostess to the Quilters Group. This was a popular social gathering. The women worked together making beautiful quilts. Ruth served homemade cake and coffee. It was an excellent opportunity to report on local gossip. Ruth learned the fine art of quilting and made many quilts for her family.
Next to the parsonage was a large garden. Ruth, raised in the big city of St. Louis, had to learned how to grow her own fruits and vegetables. The farmers’ wives were happy to show Ruth how to plant and tend to her plants. They also showed Ruth how to can fruits and vegetables and make jellies and jams. Raising her own food helped Ruth to live on her budget of fifty cents a day that John allotted to her.
Every summer the churches in the community held the Mission Festival. Ruth found herself responsible for setting up a lunch and dinner when her church was the host. This was hard work and Ruth recruited many volunteers. Her organizational as well as her supervising skills developed quickly. She continued growing in the food service field, as potluck suppers were frequent social occasions at the Lutheran Church.
Teaching Sunday School was also one of Ruth’s duties. She usually taught a large class of primary grade children who loved her very much. In addition, Ruth was called upon to work with the Youth League. The young people loved to put on plays. Ruth found fame in Okawville as a successful director. Her play, Jumping Jewels, was such a success that it played to a full house for two nights in town.
John had two worship services every Sunday. The morning service was entirely in German. The evening service was in English. There was also the Wednesday night prayer meeting. Ruth attended every service even though she did not understand German. She dutifully sat with her baby in the women’s side of the church dressed in her “Go To Meeting” clothes. John admitted he was always proud of “the good looking preacher’s wife”.
Of course Ruth sang in the choir. That was no easy task in the summer months when the oat bugs invaded the church. These tiny bugs were like flees and bit as hard. Soon everyone including the preacher were scratching and spitting out the pesky bugs.
Because Ruth was never paid for all the work she did for the church, she took extra jobs to supplement John’s income of $75.00 a month for their family of three. John needed a car in order to make calls on the families in his congregation. He bought a 1930 Ford that required payments of $25.00 a month. Expenses included gasoline at twelve cents a gallon and needed repairs. To have some money for Christmas, one year Ruth took a job in St. Louis as a clerk. She stayed there with her family and weekends she made the fifty mile trip to Okawville to be with her husband.
Another time Ruth worked for the county demonstrating to the farmers’ wives how to use the new commercial size pressure cookers. Demonstrations were held in homes in the surrounding communities. Ruth received the sum of $100 for her three months of hard work.
After seven and a half years John was called to the Lutheran Church in Centralia, Illinois with a salary of $125.00 a month. Ruth would have even more duties as a pastor’s wife without pay. But Ruth did not complain, as she was happy to be the wife of Pastor John Uhlig and mother of son, Ron.
Ruth continued to serve in the Lutheran churches until John retired in 1983. Ruth Uhlig had devoted forty-five years in Christian service. Through her work, many life long friendships were formed and many happy memories were born. As a pastor’s wife she touched the lives of thousands as she gave fully of herself with a smile and lots of love. Here at Carlsbad By The Sea, at the side of John, she continues her special ministry.
* * *