Thursday, April 12, 2018
Ruth Wenzel lived a long life of dedication and service.
She was deeply committed to her family and friends, church, community and to thousands of Marshfield Clinic patients over the 49 years she worked at the Clinic and the 20 years she was a Clinic volunteer.
Wenzel died at the age of 102 on March 23 in Marshfield. With her job and volunteer work, she is one of only few who have reached such a milestone of longevity.
When Ruth was 99, she was interviewed about her life shortly before the Clinic's 100th anniversary. Her comments share a glimpse into her gentle life, as do fond memories from her brother, retired Clinic Executive Director Frederick J. "Fritz" Wenzel.
"She," he said, "led such a long and productive life.
Fritz went on to say, "Ruth spent her entire career at the Clinic and that was really first and foremost in her mind. She contributed in her own way to the care of patients. That's what she really wanted to do and was very successful at it. Her staff was loyal to her as she was loyal to them. I doubt there was any request from any doctor that she didn't fulfill. She was a role model."
Ruth was born in Marshfield, where she lived her entire life. After high school she began her career in 1934 in Medical Transcription. It was meant to be a temporary job for the summer "and I stayed 49 summers after that."
She had several jobs then, "since you didn't have just one job" because there were only 12 physicians and 25 employees. She knew the Clinic's founders and was a stenographer, taking notes in shorthand in physicians' offices. "I thought I might like to be a nurse but this is where I ended up."
Wenzel had fun memories of early times, for example, her first "paycheck." "We got paid once a week, in a little brown envelope, and it was $11.54. That amounted to $50 a month and that was for about two years." At the time, a good dress cost $5 as did a good pair of shoes.
She saw great change during her career, from stenography to Dictaphones to electronic records. "So many changes she shepherded through the Clinic," Fritz said. "She dealt with issues before they got to be problems. That was a real contribution. While she and her staff did not have direct contact with patients their whole objective was 'the patient is No. 1.' That was their main focus."
In 1975 she became Medical Transcription manager "and that was a big step for me," she said. "I trained many girls. Some went on for higher jobs and I was kind of proud of that. If they wanted to step up that was fine because they were well-trained."
There were 48 girls in the department when she retired July 27, 1983. She chose to retire after 49 years because she didn't want to hit the 50 mark.
"At 67, I thought 'no way was I going to see 50 years.' I was really needed at home with my mother and I was ready to retire."
After retirement she volunteered at the Clinic, Marshfield Clinic Research Institute and MCHS Foundation. She could be seen at Marshfield Center's information desk and bringing communion to the sick at Saint Joseph's Hospital.
"I've always viewed Ruth as 'the big sister,'" Fritz recalled, "although in later years I became the big brother. I was very happy to care for Ruth along with many others including our niece Kris Herr."
She developed many close friends during her career and they traveled far and wide. One group was "The Girls." Another was the "Board of Directors."
"When we were at the Clinic," he recalled, "I was the boss and she was the manager and we'd deal with each other as any other management team. It worked very well. She was one of the most committed pillars in that place, without a doubt."
Women she worked with "could always talk with her about problems inside and outside the organization," Fritz said, "so in a way she was a big sister to many women who came through the Transcription Department in the 49 years she was there."
People knew her kindness and generosity, describing her as a loving role model who was firm but fair, not only in work at the Clinic but in their lives as well.
"What they saw in her was trust," Fritz said. "She was probably one of the best examples of a leader and manager that I have seen and I viewed that closely during my watch at the Clinic."
Memorials may be designated in her name to Marshfield Clinic Research Institute or St. John's Catholic Church.