People often ask why the Waskos hold hands so much. Harry Wasko has a simple answer.
“I don’t want to let her get away,” he said with a smile.
Harry and his wife, Ruthanne, have been holding hands for nearly 49 years. Set to celebrate their 49th wedding anniversary June 12, the couple said they believe they know a thing or two about love, what it truly means and how it can be found in the most unlikely of places.
The Waskos, who moved to Ottawa in 2003, grew up in small-town western Kansas. They attended Jetmore High School, but didn’t run in the same circles. Ruthanne was a pretty, popular girl in high school, the couple said, and she scarcely noticed Harry.
“I would never have dated Harry, because he was a nerd,” Ruthanne said lovingly. It was a detail Harry did not refute.
It was the couple’s fathers, who worked together during the Great Depression, who pushed for the two to spend more time together, Harry said. Their fathers were close friends, so they assumed their children would make a perfect pair, he said. But that wasn’t the case — at least not in their teenage years.
“In high school, my dad thought I should get acquainted with her,” Harry said. “Her dad thought she should get acquainted with me ... ”
“My dad never said that,” Ruthanne cut in.
“Not to you,” Harry answered back quickly, laughing.
After high school, the two parted ways and married others. Both of their first marriages ended, however, and they found themselves single again.
But it wasn’t Harry that Ruthanne had her sights set on next — it was his brother, Clark.
“How we got back together was, I was dating his brother in our hometown in western Kansas and [Clark] kept saying, ‘Harry’s been divorced and he’s looking for someone, and he really needs to meet some new people.’ And I was thinking ‘Not me,’ ’cause I was never going to marry again,” Ruthanne said, with Harry adding the same sentiment.
It wasn’t love at first sight, the pair agreed, it was more like “love at about 15th sight.”
“Something clicked,” Harry said, while sitting in their Ottawa home on the couch next to his wife, holding her hand.
“We really just enjoyed being together,” Ruthanne said.
‘LOVE IS HARD WORK’
It was Harry’s patience and humor, Ruthanne said, that attracted her to him after so many years. For Harry, it was Ruthanne’s conservation skills. But it takes more than those attractions to make a long-term marriage like the Waskos’ work, they said.
“Love is hard work every day,” Harry said, shaking his head for emphasis.
Ruthanne added to Harry’s sentiment.
“Love is a decision. It’s not just a feeling. And, so if you’re not feeling loving, it doesn’t mean you can’t,” Ruthanne said. “I hear young people say ‘I don’t think I love him anymore. I just don’t feel anything.’ Well, get over it. Start acting loving and, by golly, pretty soon you’ll feel loving.”
Such knowledge was gained by both the Waskos, Ruthanne said, over time as their maturity grew. Both in their 30s when they entered their marriage, they said they think maturity helped them face the good and bad times with a smile.
Working as a microwave tower serviceman, Harry wasn’t home much during the week, making the weekends a special time for the two. But the difficulty in growing as a couple was compounded by their large family. The Waskos had three children — two permanent foster children and one child from Ruthanne’s previous marriage — and, through the years, the couple has had 28 temporary foster children.
“It was challenge, but it was also very rewarding,” Ruthanne said.
While they said they cannot count the number of good times they experienced in their marriage — because there are so many, they said — one moment stands out as a challenge they had to overcome: when their daughter, Katie, took her own life. Their relationship and family could have gone one of two ways after that terrible moment, Ruthanne said.
“You either grow closer or you divorce. You don’t stay the same. And apparently we worked it out,” Ruthanne said, adding that knowledge came to the couple with time and counseling.
While it might seem cliché to some, the pair truly do finish each other’s sentences, laugh at each other’s jokes and pick on each other like best friends — even after nearly a half-century. Having such a strong connection is an important part of helping to keep the love alive in a marriage, the couple said.
“He’s my best friend, and I can talk about anything with Harry — that’s pretty much the bottom line,” Ruthanne said.
“Life is what you make it, and we’ve made it fun,” Harry said.
Not all marriages will be filled with sunshine and rainbows, they said. An important aspect of any relationship, Ruthanne said, is to never leave a fight unsettled. Even if someone has to admit defeat, she said, just allowing a resolution to be reached will keep a marriage happy.
“Marry your best friend and don’t take yourself seriously and keep your sense of humor,” Ruthanne said, as Harry nodded his head in agreement.