Milford couple celebrates 71 years of marriage

Richard (Dick) Herman remembers the first time he saw his wife.

“She was a little 15-year-old freckle-faced girl” who had been sent by her mother to pick him up at the train station so he could start working at the Trumbull Hotel in Milford.

Ruth-Ann Herman remembers when she first saw him.

“He got off the train wearing a trenchcoat, white buck shoes and carrying a tennis racquet,” she said.

They didn’t say it was love at first sight, but that first meeting would lead to a romance that blossomed into 71 years of marriage.

Dick and Ruth-Ann Herman planned to celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary last August, but Tropical Storm Irene came instead, and they had to cancel their sizable family and friend celebration at the Milford Yacht Club.

“The Yacht Club was under water,” said the couple’s daughter, Nancy.

This year they turned down their daughter’s requests to plan another big party, and instead decided to celebrate with a small family dinner on their anniversary date — today, Aug. 28.

It was the 1930s when the couple met. He was 17 and at City College in New York. He’d just finished his first year and was looking for a summer job.

“My friend was offered a job by Ruth-Ann’s mother at the Trumbull Hotel,” Dick said. “But my friend had a summer job already, and so he said, ‘I have a friend who might want to work for you.’”

Ruth-Ann’s mother, Bess Magen, hired Dick as a night clerk, and thus the meeting at the train station was set in motion.

The two started dating by the end of that summer, and a couple of years later Ruth-Ann was living in New York, also attending college. The young couple continued dating as they pursued their studies.

Dick had enlisted in the Army, not content to wait until he was drafted. His draft number, he said, made it a sure bet that he’d be drafted sooner than later. That number made it hard for him to switch jobs, which he really wanted to do, because would-be employers knew he’d be called soon to serve his country.

It was August 1941 when Dick came home on a furlough from Fort Bragg, N.C. Ruth-Ann met him at Grand Central Terminal.

Here the story pauses. Richard, 93, looks at Ruth-Ann, 92, as she sits in the living room of their house on Shell Avenue, which overlooks Long Island Sound.

“Is it all right if I tell this part?” he asks.

She thinks and says, “no,” and then of course everyone in the room has to know.

She gives in.

“OK — I proposed to him,” Ruth-Ann says.

It wasn’t exactly like that, but close.

Back to the train station: Ruth-Ann, 20, with short dark hair and a winning smile, met her boyfriend, the young and strapping 22-year-old military man, at the train station, they embraced, and she said, “Let’s get married.” He immediately responded with “OK.”

They married two days later at the Hotel Carlyle in New York, surrounded by a few family and friends who managed to make a wedding on such short notice. She wore a dark greenish suit — skirt, jacket and hat — that she bought at Lord & Taylor. He wore his Army uniform, and a rabbi performed the ceremony.

Dick served in the Army from 1941 to 1946, and early on went to officer candidate school to become a commissioned officer.

“In between there, we got into the war,” he said.

The young couple traveled quite a bit, as Dick went from radio school in Pittsburgh, officer candidate school in Texas, and to Louisiana, California and overseas several times. When he was stationed in the States, she met him — like in Texas for a year when they shared a tiny apartment and she found work doing some sewing in a small town. When he traveled overseas, she returned to New York and picked up temporary jobs.

After the Army, they settled in California, where Ruth-Ann taught kindergarten in Santa Monica, and he got a job as a buyer for Sears.

Then fate brought them back to Milford. They were both starting to miss family here when Ruth-Ann’s mother called Dick and said she bought the Seabreeze Hotel in Milford, and she wanted him to be her business partner.

“I said ‘yes’,” Dick said.

So that was the next part of their lives. They bought a house in Fort Trumbull Beach, Ward Street, and lived there about 30 years. He was working at the hotel, and she was teaching at the old Fort Trumbull School. Dick went back to school and received a master’s degree in teaching from Yale University. In 1949, he got a job teaching history at Milford High School. Ruth-Ann continued to teach and raise the couple’s daughters — Elizabeth, born in 1950, and Nancy, born in 1953. Dick taught until 1953, then served as Milford High’s vice principal for five years, principal for 11 years, and then assistant superintendent for Milford’s secondary schools for 12 years.

Ruth-Ann spent 25 years teaching at Fort Trumbull and then Seabreeze School, from which she retired.

They’ve both been retired more than 30 years, and they enjoy each other’s company as much as ever. Ruth-Ann said they played tennis together up until a few years ago, they’ve sailed together, traveled, and they like to just sit and talk, sometimes about politics.

They still grieve for their daughter, Elizabeth, a much-loved teacher at Meadowside School, who died in 1999. That was very hard, they said.

Their marriage, though, has been happy — and they beam when they talk about their four grandchildren.

They are happy.

Their secret?

She suggests it was the foundation: Love. That’s why they got married.

He adds, “We have similar interests and similar backgrounds, and she’s even learned to like the Yankees.”