This is the type of story that never leaves you.
I still think about the Oger’s to this day. Before I left Tucson, I actually tried to find Tom Oger to see how he’s been since he shared his remarkable story with me. I didn’t have a cell phone number for him anymore so I went back to his home, hoping he stilled lived there. I was told he moved into a nursing home and I hit a dead end after that. Much to my despair, I learned recently that Tom Oger passed away. But at least now he is with his beloved Ruth.
I met the Oger’s during an apprenticeship at the Arizona Daily Star. The Oger’s were about to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary, and as a gift to his wife, Tom bought a billboard in Tucson declaring his love.
This is their story.
November 1, 2010.
As Tom Oger reads the message he wrote for his wife, Ruth, he begins to cry.
“I love you, Angel. We have been together for 60 years and you are my dream come true. I may not always say it, but I feel it every day. You are so true and tender in every single way. I love you,” he wrote.
As a way of celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary this Friday, Tom paid for a billboard to display that message for all of Tucson to see. The billboard is signed “Jim,” because that is how Ruth knows her husband, who also has the name James.
“I’m proud of being married for 60 years,” Tom said. “I want to do something to let everybody know. Whether they know me or don’t know me, I want them to know.”
The billboard, on North Stone Avenue, north of Blacklidge Drive, displays the message for Ruth as well as two pictures of the couple.
Tom said he paid for space on the billboard after he and his daughter, Debby Keller, decided not to have a big party because of Ruth’s health condition.
Ruth was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis in December 2009 and was told she had three weeks to live. Since then, she has been in hospice care at her home. “Sometimes I look at her and I say, ‘She’s going to get better,’ ” Tom said. “If she’d just eat and put on weight. . . . I know she wants to get better.”
The Ogers met in 1950 at an outdoor roller-skating rink in Tucson. Ruth was 16, and Tom was 19. After four weeks, they decided to run off and get married.
“In those days, you didn’t shack up with anybody,” Tom said. “You either married them or forgot about them, if you loved them that much. I asked her if she’d marry me, and she said yes.”
Tom took Ruth to Lordsburg, N.M., with his paycheck of $27 from Krueger Air Conditioning Co. They met a judge in a restaurant, and he made it legal.
Tom said that when they returned, Ruth’s parents weren’t too happy with them.
“Her mother didn’t dislike me,” he said. “But she didn’t like me.”
They lived most of their lives in Tucson, and Tom said that since their marriage, they’ve never parted.
“She was born an angel to look after me, and I think that’s why the good Lord put her on this Earth,” Tom said. “That’s why her and I have been living together all that time – because I need somebody to look after me.”
Before they both retired, they ate lunch together every day for 35 years.
“Not if, but when something happens to her, I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said.
Tom said their secret for a lasting marriage was just to understand each other.
“To have a happy marriage, you do need each other,” he said. “Everybody needs somebody. You need to give and take, not just take all the time, but you have to give a lot, too.”
Tom wants to hold out until their anniversary to tell her about the billboard, but Ruth’s health is worsening every day.
“The first thing she’s going to say is: ‘How much did you pay for it?’ ” he said.
The billboard will remain on display through the end of this week, and it could be there longer if the space is not sold, said Brian Ashby from Clear Channel Communications, the sign firm.
Tom said he and Ruth have had a good life, and he thinks it’s wonderful they’ve been together this long.
“I just love everything about her,” he said. “I’ve been the most fortunate guy in the world.”
To read this article online, and see pictures of Tom and Ruth please click here.