Seventy years ago today, a couple of South High students named Fred and Ruth slipped away late in the afternoon and got married.
That night, they attended the school prom — and didn't tell anyone they were hitched, surely not their parents.
Then the new husband and wife — he was 17, she was 18 — separately went back to the homes where they had grown up a block apart, near 36th and Madison Streets.
In spite of that unusual start, they meant it when they pledged themselves to each other “until death do us part.”
Seven decades, four children, 13 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren later, Fred and Ruth Kudym finally have parted — she died on March 17.
“It's lonely,” Fred said. “I miss Ruth. Many times I wake up and ask, 'Are you still sleeping?'”
The story of Fred and Ruth doesn't date merely to May 28, 1943, in the midst of World War II. They had known each other since they were toddlers, Fred said, because their parents were friends.
The boy and girl grew up together. And in eighth grade, they were cast in a play — as a married couple.
“That kind of triggered it,” Fred said. “She was a beautiful girl, with a beautiful smile almost up to the day she died.”
During high school, Fred stacked 72-pound loads of ham at the Cudahy meatpacking plant and took classes in Army ROTC. A recruiter, meanwhile, signed him up to become a Navy aviator.
Like a lot of others during wartime, the young couple decided not to wait on marriage. Said Fred: “I knew I'd be away for a long time.”
Borrowing his father's car for prom night, he first picked up a friendly ROTC instructor and his wife, who served as witnesses for the wedding in Papillion before a justice of the peace.
“He just took the money,” Fred said. “No one asked for proof of my age.”
A few weeks passed before the couple told their parents, and then Fred moved in with her at the home of her family, the Bradleys.
In August, he was called to active duty. He learned to fly and served stateside for the duration.
Ruth sometimes would travel to where he was stationed. They celebrated the war's end in Pensacola, Fla., and soon returned home.
Fred worked again at Cudahy and graduated from Omaha University. Then he embarked on a 40-year career in insurance — 14 with Metropolitan Life, 26 with State Farm.
The family loved the outdoors. Fred was active in the Omaha Fish and Wildlife Club and served as president of the Nebraska Council of Sportsmen's Clubs.
The children and then grandchildren took part in fishing, camping and hunting. Ruth was always there.
The couple's older son, also named Fred, said his mother would arise at 5 a.m., fix a full breakfast and pack a lunch.
“She'd clean birds,” he said, “and walk a field with us.”
“Believe it or not,” said Fred Sr., “she was quite a sportsman. She'd go fishing and pheasant hunting. She even went turkey hunting up in Chadron. Ruth and I were very compatible.”
From 1951 on, they lived in a frame home near 46th and Mason Streets. They added on a kitchen, a half-bath and a laundry room.
They suffered, too. In 1997, their 19-year-old grandson, Joel Kudym, son of Fred Jr. and Judy, was shot and killed.
On Highway 50 north of Interstate 80, a stranger inexplicably had thrown “bottle rockets” at his car. When Joel pulled alongside to ask why, he was shot. The shooter was sentenced to prison, at least until 2024.
Fred and Ruth were able to spend the past 19 winters in Arizona. But they weren't 17 and 18 anymore, and endured health problems.
Fred goes to dialysis three times a week. Ruth's health already was failing, and in January she fell, fracturing a leg.
She died in Arizona and was buried in the Omaha area.
The couple never were extravagant. For years on their anniversary, they would celebrate at Red Lobster — and that's what family members will do today with Fred.
He's in assisted living now, but he doesn't need assistance with everything. At 87, two months shy of 88, he enjoys his laptop computer and his Facebook page, he communicates on Skype and he reads the paper daily and watches TV.
Fred, though, wants to move back to their home of 62 years, which he still owns.
He misses their house, he misses old times and he misses his Mrs. — the girl he grew up with, the prom date with the beautiful smile who loved the outdoors and slept next to him for a lifetime.
Now he awakes and asks if she is still sleeping, and the answer is sadly the same.
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