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Issue Date: My Turn NE February


Chapter Two

Life comes full circle for two high-school sweethearts.


By Steve Herrick

Jay and Anna Ruoff believe there’s no end to the wonders life offers and the surprises waiting around every corner. For although the 82-year-olds have been married for only five years, their story begins in the 1940s, when they were freshmen at Mt. Healthy High School in Cincinnati.

“We were sweethearts through school,” says Anna. “We didn’t date anyone else.”

Upon graduating, Jay joined the Marine Corps, and was deployed to Guam during World War II. Anna enrolled at Ohio University.

“We wrote to each other,” Jay says. “But by the time I returned home, we had gone our separate ways.”

Each went on to find new loves and lead active lives.

When the war ended, Jay earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history from Ohio University and Syracuse University. He married and moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked as an administrator for the U.S. Department of State. He and his wife, Mona, had four children and traveled the world, living in Pakistan, France, Turkey and Africa as Jay ascended the career ladder. He also completed two tours of duty in Vietnam during the 1960s, and was there aiding refugees in 1975, when Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese. Jay was among those evacuated by helicopter from the roof of the American embassy.

“That experience really made a difference in my life,” he says. “I left a lot of friends behind in South Vietnam, whom I’ll never forget.”

Upon his retirement in 1982, Jay and his wife moved to Peninsula, where he penned five books — including a tome on China for The Kent State University Press –– and served as the town’s mayor from 1986 to 1994.

Anna, meanwhile, earned her bachelor’s degree in health and physical education from Ohio University in 1948. She married college classmate Robert Allen, had three children and taught at Avon Lake High School for 15 years before retiring in 1986.

It was in June 2003 that fate stepped in, and two paths became one again: Jay and Anna got reacquainted at their 49th high-school reunion. Jay’s wife had died that spring. Anna’s husband passed away in 1991.

“When Jay and I saw each other, it didn’t take very long for us to realize we should be together again,” Anna says. “It’s really quite wonderful that we knew that.”

The couple married on October 25, 2003. Anna’s youngest son, Todd, a Presbyterian minister, officiated. That same day, they moved into a two-bedroom, two-bath ranch-style home at Wesleyan Meadows, an independent-living community in Sheffield Village.

“I sold my house and moved 40 miles,” Jay jokes, “and Anna sold hers and moved 5.”

The couple appreciate the lifestyle the community offers.

We like the idea of being independent,” Jay says. “But we’re also mindful of the fact that if our health needs change, there may come a day when we’ll need help. Since our community is part of Wesleyan Senior Living’s continuum of care, we have peace of mind in knowing we’ll get the continuing-care assistance we might need.”

The location is also ideal. Since the couple enjoy attending Cleveland Indians games and Cleveland Orchestra concerts, they appreciate the fact that Interstate 90 is only a minute away from their doorstep.

“It’s nice to feel like you’re living in a small town, yet be close enough to a good-sized city to enjoy its benefits,” Jay says. The Ruoffs’ church and library are also nearby, and doctors and dentists are right down the street.

“This is the first time since I was 17 that I live close enough to actually be able to walk to my doctor’s office,” Jay says with a laugh.

For the Ruoffs, staying active is the spice of life. Jay presents seminars on world history at Lorain County Community College’s Center for Lifelong Learning. Mornings find Anna walking the college’s track and volunteering at St. John West Shore Hospital. The couple also participate in a variety of activities at Wesleyan Meadows, which range from Bible-study group meetings to movie nights.

“We’ve found,” Jay says, “that you can indeed live a good life in your 80s.”


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