Ruth Elizabeth (Vitrano) Merkel

November 23, 1931January 8, 2019

Ruth Elizabeth (Vitrano) Merkel

Ruth was born on November 23, 1931 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Justus and Grace (Parfitt) Vitrano. She died January 8, 2019 in Ooltewah, Tennessee at the age of 87 years, 1 month and 16 days. She and L. Eugene Merkel were married on June 10, 1956 and celebrated their 60th anniversary with all their children and grandchildren present in the summer of 2016. Preceding her in death were her parents, Justus and Grace (Parfitt) Vitrano, her sister, Genevieve Marilla Serns, her brother, Dr. Steven Parfitt Vitrano, and her nephew, Roger Vitrano. After completing school at Fresno Union Academy in Fresno, California, Ruth graduated from La Sierra College with a two year secretarial degree in May 1954. She then attended Emmanuel Missionary College (E.M.C.) in Berrien Springs, Michigan, where she met her husband. Gene was in the U.S. Navy when they were married at the Seventh-day Adventist church in Milton Junction, Wisconsin where her sister lived. Dr. Floyd O. Rittenhouse performed the ceremony. After finishing hospital corpsmen school, Gene was sent to work in the Naval Hospital in Yokosuka, Japan. Since it was peace time (between the Korean and the Vietnam Wars), Ruth could join him in Japan. After getting settled in their home, Ruth applied for a civil service position at the Naval Hospital, and became secretary to Captain Ira C. Nichols, M.D., Chief of Neuro-Psychiatry. He was third in command of the entire base, and Ruth got paid more than Gene! They moved to Berrien Springs where Gene graduated with a B.S. in Business in June, 1959. While he was studying at E.M.C., Ruth was hired to be the secretary of Dr. Floyd O. Rittenhouse, President of the college – the man who’d married them! Gene graduated with a B.S. Degree in Business. When Dr. Rittenhouse left his position as president of the college to become president of Andrews University, Ruth worked for a few months as secretary to Dr. Fabian Meier, Dr. Rittenhouse’s replacement at E.M.C. Then she decided to become a stay-at-home mom. They raised their two daughters, Elaine and Marcia, while they lived in Lansing, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, and Berrien Springs, Michigan, where Gene completed his Certified Public Accountant License, earned a Master of Business Administration degree, and a Master of Science in Taxation Degree.

When they moved back to Berrien Springs in 1976 where Gene opened an accounting office, Ruth worked as secretary to two more Andrews University presidents – Dr. W. Richard Lesher and Dr. Niels-Erik Andreasen. This made her secretary to four different presidents of Emmanuel Missionary College/Andrews University. Ruth graduated with her Bachelor’s degree from Andrews University in June 1990 and her boss, the university president gave her the degree! Ruth was a member of the Algonquin Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Michigan. She had two Revolutionary War ancestors: Esek Eddy and Peter Cutler. When her granddaughter was born, Ruth wanted Erin to know of the family legacy and history. So began an adventure of writing six books which told of Erin’s heritage as a sixth-generation S.D.A. girl, as well as a 13th generation American girl. The Review and Herald published the series of books entitled, “Hannah’s Girls.” Ruth has been a member of the Pioneer Memorial Seventh-day Adventist church since 1976 until her death in 2019 – a total of 43 years. Survivors include her husband, L. Eugene Merkel; two daughters, Elaine Gracelyn Hotelling and Marcia Louise Irwin; and four grandchildren Erin Castelbuono, Benjamin and Bradley Hotelling, and Rachel Irwin; one great granddaughter, Quinn Hotelling, a great grandson on the way, Theodore Castelbuono, one niece, Joyce Vitrano Dirnberger; three nephews, Edwin Vitrano, Donald Serns, and Richard Serns and their families. Visitation hours will be from 10:30am-12:30pm on Friday, January 11, 2019, followed by the funeral from 12:30-1:00pm at the Chattanooga Funeral Home, Valley View Chapel in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The graveside service will be held from 1:30-2:00pm at the National Cemetery in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Instead of flowers, memorial gifts may be sent to: Historic Adventist Village, P.O. Box 141 Battle Creek, MI 49016. Please share your thoughts and memories online at Arrangements by Chattanooga Funeral Home, Valley View Chapel, 7414 Old Lee Highway, Chattanooga, TN 37421.


  • Visitation Friday, January 11, 2019
  • Funeral Service Friday, January 11, 2019
  • Committal Service Friday, January 11, 2019

Ruth Elizabeth (Vitrano) Merkel

have a memory or condolence to add?

Dann Hotelling

January 16, 2019

Ruth was my mother in law. From the time I first started dating Elaine, she and Gene warmly welcomed me into their home. And when Elaine and I were married I immediately felt like I was a part of the family.

She was loving, kind, and supportive. She was a wonderful grandmother to our children too.

She walked the talk on a Christian life. I can remember countless times where she just reminded us to let Jesus be our guide and she was right on that.

I look forward to seeing her again. What a hope and promise to cling to.

Adell Haughey Claypool

January 11, 2019

Ruth's loving and warm friendship blessed me first in Milton Junction, WI, when she visited sister Genevieve as early as 1945. She spent several days--weeks?--of the summers with the Serns family, giving us opportunity to become well acquainted as youth. Her dignity and demure personality were a treasure, and I've always been proud to call her a friend.

Perhaps one of her most deeply appreciated expressions of love was when she and Gene were in Punta Gorda, FL, for about three months in 2004, during and after Hurricane Charley. They graciously helped and supported me making plans for moving and for home restoration. We evacuated together a few weeks later during Hurricane Ivan, and for each of four days found the best Italian restaurants around Atlanta and St. Augustine. She and Gene knew how to find them!

More than ever I look forward to the reunion with Ruth, when we'll celebrate the Gift of Jesus with new bodies made perfect. She's resting for only a short time.

Connie Roger-Smith

January 11, 2019

Dear Family of Ruth Merkel, I was saddened to learn of Ruth's passing. Seems I had just received an email Christmas note from her too. Ruth worked for my father, Richard W. Schwarz, at Andrews as a secretary and he valued her worked greatly. She sent a special tribute to him when he passed almost six years ago now. Also when Roger and I were married I do believe if my memory is correct that Ruth served us a wonderful meal the Sabbath before we were married to accommodate us and our out of town guests. That was 40 years ago last year. She was a precious jewel. Her books were a treasure and pleasure to read. May God bring you all comfort as you remember this precious woman. With deepest sympathy.

Madeline Johnston

January 11, 2019

Dear Marcia and Elaine, I am so sorry to learn of your mother's death. I think we never got an address for them since they moved from Berrien Springs, so we hadn't kept in touch, so this came to me as a sudden shock. Bob and I always appreciated your mother. She was always a warm and approachable human in the president's office. as well as a capable and efficient one. I loved reading her well-written books. And many times we shared our interest in, and findings in, genealogy. We had some common "Mayflower" ancestors, and we had children about the same ages. Also, her brother Steve was a beloved friend and colleague, as were all his family members. We miss them all. May God bless, guide, and comfort you now as you pick up the pieces and carry on.

NicK Sr and Linda Beaumonte

January 10, 2019

We had received an email from Ruth some time ago that she and her husband were relocating to Chattanooga TN. My son Nick Jr and family attend the Mac Donald church, and Ruth asked us to look her up when we came to visit. In 2017 we visited our family, but didn't get to see Ruth at church at that time. I was very sad that I didn't get to see her. Ruth had known my mom (Jean Beaumonte )when she lived in Florida, and when mom moved to Wisconsin to be near us, Ruth wanted to know how she was doing. Ruth was a very caring person. Linda and I are very sorry for your loss. We have the assurance that we will see our loved ones again when Jesus comes . Psa 116:15 says: The LORD cares deeply when his loved ones die. When Jesus comes to take us home and gives us new bodies Rom 8:23, 2 Cor 5:2, it will be a great day. God loves you Eugene, Elain and Marcia and will be with you during this sad time. God bless you all.

Karen Roeder

January 10, 2019

What a privilege it has been to have known Ruth. Ruth is my brother's mother-in-law. I cannot think of a more loving example of a Christian woman. Her quiet and gentle spirit was evident to all. She will be missed, but I look forward to our reunion in heaven one day.

To her immediate family, keep her alive in your heart by thinking of her often. You will remember her in a song, nature, or many other ways. She is just a sweet memory away.

May God continue to bless you all.

Doris (Lyberg) Mayer

January 10, 2019

I had recently read Ruth's christmas letter, and how sad to read of her death. Back in the early1940s we were pals at the Portage, Wisconsin campmeetings. Her dad and my dad were both ministers in Wisconsin at the time. Then in 1960 we moved to Milton Jct., WI, where my husband built a house on Serns Road and we became friends with Gen Serns and her family who lived on the same road. In 1978 Earl and I moved to Greenville, SC. and I just moved back as a widow to Janesville, WI a few months ago. So nice to be near my family again. I have one of Ruth's book written about the early 1940s (still packed). So interesting!

God bless all of you as you learn to live without your wife, mother, and grandmother. We'll have a wonderful reunion some day soon when Jesus comes! Doris Lyberg Mayer

Dorothy Boward

January 10, 2019

I enjoyed learning more about my family history through cousin Ruth.
She kept telling me to join the DAR. I was working and rather busy. One day she came to me with the papers made out and said now you can join.
It was fun realizing through the years we had similar taste in many things.
I am so thankful we can plan on a great family reunion in heaven.
Dorothy and Dean Boward

Robert Johnston

January 9, 2019

Ruth and Gene were our contemporaries and shared many experiences with my wife Madeline and me. Ruth and I were almost the same age, and we were married in the same year. Ruth graduated from Fresno Union Academy. I taught at that academy 1956-58. It was my first employment in the SDA church. Ruth and Gene went to Japan. Madeline and I went to Korea. We all came back eventually to Andrews University when I accepted a teaching position there. Ruth and Gene were among the first friends we made there. I remember a Sabbath we spent at their house, which had been designed by a noted architect. When my mother died it was Gene who helped me get her financial records and tax returns into shape. Ruth was unfailingly helpful and cheerful, a wonderful person. We are blessed by her memory.

Bob and Madeline Johnston