In March 1935, Lyle Kyle joined the students at Jordan School, a one-room schoolhouse about a mile from his home on Richardson Farm in Platte County, Missouri.
He was in third grade, and Eltha Henderson taught all eight grades in the room.
It was there he met Ruedene Roberts.
By the following February, to hear Lyle tell it, Ruedene had sunk her hooks in him when she gave him a valentine.
When Elmer Adkins put snowballs down the shirts of the girls of the class, including Ruedene’s, Lyle defended her honor, then promptly got in trouble for instigating a fight.
Theirs is a love that began in elementary school and continues more than eight decades later.
Lyle is still by Ruedene’s side, no longer spoiling to fight a would-be snowball attacker, but don’t put it past him. He’s right there, occupying a recliner just barely out of arm’s reach from Ruedene in a high-ceilinged living room on West Granite Street in Gillette.
Lyle and Ruedene Kyle moved to Gillette a decade ago, and the 94-year-old lovebirds will celebrate 75 years of marriage Monday.
Theirs is a wartime love
Against the backdrop of World War II, the couple’s teenage years are recounted like pure Americana. They progressed through school together, leaving the one-room Jordan School and eventually graduating from Dearborn High School in Dearborn, Missouri.
They both played basketball, and if years of lettering in the sport are any indication, Ruedene was the superior athlete. She lettered in basketball all four years of high school and was the captain of her team. Lyle was a three-year letterman.
There were Saturday nights at one of Dearborn’s two dance halls, Fish Thompson’s or Allen’s. There were trips to St. Joseph, Missouri, to one of its four movie theaters followed by hamburgers and milkshakes at Wickersham’s Diner.
Theirs also is a love that has survived tests of great distance.
In November 1943, not long before he was to graduate from high school, Lyle enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces, the precursor to the modern U.S. Air Force. He wanted to be a pilot, but never became one.
Enlisted service carried him away from his sweetheart, and after stints in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and Biloxi, Mississippi, Lyle ended up in Amarillo, Texas, in early 1945. It was there he was witness to touchstones of American history, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death in April, the end of the war in Europe in May and the end of the war in Japan in August.
Between the end of the war in Europe and in Japan, Ruedene traveled to Texas with his mother to visit. It was during that visit that Lyle decided to take a chance and make a bet that’s been paying off for 75 years.
He stopped by a jewelry store after work, browsed the selections, guessed at a size and paid $20 for a ring.
He got lucky twice — the ring fit and she said yes.
Theirs is a love of resiliency
October 1945 rolled around and Lyle was relocated again, this time to Chanute Field in Rantoul, Illinois.
He was granted three days of leave from duty and decided to go home to Dearborn. A bus to St. Louis, a trolley across town to St. Charles and finally he stuck out his thumb and hitchhiked across the state of Missouri. When he arrived in town, he couldn’t find Ruedene, and by the time he did there wasn’t enough time to get married.
“She never did say where she was,” Lyle recalled with a laugh.
He went back to Illinois, but the following week was traveling again, thumb outstretched and headed west. He hitchhiked straight to her parents’ front door, and in the morning hours of Oct. 19, 1945, he found his bride-to-be.
The wedding seemed like a whirlwind, but then it had to be. He only had a three-day leave.
They rushed to the courthouse to get a marriage license and much to his chagrin, he wasn’t old enough to get married without parental consent even though Ruedene was.
They had to drive back to his parents’ house so his mother could sign the paperwork. Then it was back to the courthouse for the marriage license, a stop at a dry cleaners to press his uniform and finally back to Ruedene’s apartment in Olathe, Kansas, where a minister met them and married them at 9 p.m.
After what seemed like a full life already, they were only 19 years old and the clock on the rest of their lives together, now about to strike 75 years, had just officially begun ticking.
Theirs is a love of mutual support
After his military service, they began a life together. While Lyle went to school and worked part-time, Ruedene worked to put him through school as an order writer at Southwestern Bell Telephone Co.
There were new towns for Lyle’s schooling or career: Topeka and Lawrence, Kansas, Sioux City, Iowa, and finally Denver, where they stayed for 52 years.
“I just tagged along,” Ruedene said.
But she did much more than simply tag along, as they welcomed four children into the world.
“She was the backbone of the family for a long time,” said their son, Larry Kyle.
“My whole life was family,” Ruedene said. “Family and church.”
She’s watched with pride as the family grew. Her four kids gave her 12 grandkids, who in turn have produced 26 great-grandkids.
Lyle has a passion for researching the family’s genealogy, and it’s clear that he views the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren as one of their greatest accomplishments, the addition of more branches to the Kyle family tree.
The couple now reflect and talk about all the places they’ve lived — 11 different addresses across six cities.
They talk about their kids’ paper routes delivering The Denver Post. They talk about church. They talk about cooking and gardening. They talk about traveling.
Theirs is a love made strong through struggle
“In this age of divorce, we haven’t divorced, though I’m sure there were times that we felt like it,” Ruedene said. “I don’t think two people can live together without having some disagreements. You think different.”
A different moment came in 1979, when while in a restroom in the Colorado Capitol, where he worked, Lyle was inexplicably stabbed in the back. He didn’t know his attacker and to this day doesn’t know who stabbed him. He was never caught.
Ruedene remembered the call and someone saying her husband had been stabbed, and she asked the most natural question — where?
“You know, the first thing you do is, ‘Where did they stab him? In the heart?’” she said.
The caller was not on the same page.
“And he says, ‘In the Capitol,’” she said, laughing at the absurdity of it all.
Theirs is a love marked by milestones
Twenty-five years ago on their 50th anniversary, the Kyles celebrated by renewing their wedding vows, and it was the scene of what Ruedene said just might be Lyle’s most romantic act ever.
“Well, we were saying our vows and everything, and that’s enough to make you cry, and we had agreed no presents,” Ruedene said. “We had agreed no presents and so I didn’t get a gift for him.”
Out of nowhere, the minister asked if Lyle had a ring.
“And here he goes down and pulls this ring out,” she said, recalling the gesture made her cry.
“I think he cried, too,” she said. “I saw tears.”
The $20 ring he’d bought for her in Amarillo had served its purpose dutifully for 50 years, but Lyle reasoned she deserved an upgrade.
They drove away with cars all lined up behind them, a message in the rear window reading, “Just married 50 years ago.”
Theirs is a love both old and new
On the cusp of a milestone not many married couples achieve, it’s clear there’s no secret to their longevity together.
The time has been made all the sweeter by their love.
“We’re mighty thankful for our health, our family and the fact that we’ve lived this long,” said Lyle.
After all this time, they also can still surprise each other.
“She had the prettiest hands, the prettiest ears, the prettiest legs,” Lyle said with the twinkle in his eye.
As proof, he held up a picture of Ruedene’s high school basketball team and pointed out his sweetie’s legs.
“She played basketball, so there’s a picture here of her high school basketball team, and you can see her legs in that one,” he said.
After 75 years, it was a new compliment.
“You never told me you liked my legs,” Ruedene said, adding that “he always said I had pretty ears and pretty hands.”
For a moment, she blushed as if she were a teenager again and touched one of those pretty ears as if slightly embarrassed, and suddenly 1945 felt as recent as yesterday.
After recently shutting down inpatient hospice services at Close to Home Hospice Hospitality House, Campbell County Health will reevaluate at the end of the month when to reopen the facility.
The temporary hiatus on inpatient services began at the end of September and was a result of a steady decrease in demand for inpatient hospice services, said CCH CEO Colleen Heeter.
“We have had a significant decrease in the Hospice House inpatients and statistically we’ve been seeing that drop through the years,” she said.
Between CCH’s 2019 and 2020 fiscal years, the number of inpatient days spent at Close to Home has dropped from 1,531 to 1,253. In the first quarter of the 2021 fiscal year, that trend continued with only 107 inpatient days, Heeter said.
Meanwhile, the number of outpatient hospice visits have increased from 1,845 to 2,253 over that same time, she said.
“We’ve seen a move to more outpatient hospice and we have yet to figure out what that’s from,” Heeter said. “Even these statistics happened before COVID. There could be many reasons for it.”
Inpatient hospice services, like what Close to Home provides, are typically not covered by Medicare or many private insurance plans, Heeter said. On the other hand, outpatient hospice services are “covered by Medicare and Medicaid and almost all insurance plans.”
The 10 Close to Home employees affected by the hiatus have been retained and dispersed to other positions in the CCH network, she said.
“We do not intend to formally close the Hospice House,” Heeter said.
Holly Tate said her grandmother, Helen Barnette, is now at Campbell County Memorial Hospital and is an example of one potential hospice patient who will not be able to spend her last days at Close to Home.
“There’s no way she can go home. She needs 24-hour care,” Tate said. “That’s when we were told that the Hospice House was closed.”
Tate said she learned of Close to Home’s closure when she and her mother, Margie Ketterling, were going over care options with Barnette’s doctor at the hospital.
“I don’t care if it’s one person or seven people that need it, it’s there for a reason and it should be open,” Tate said.
She said that the doctor did not know, or did not share, the details of Close to Home stopping its inpatient hospice care.
“When nurses and doctors don’t even know, and don’t know why, there’s no transparency whatsoever,” Tate said.
In a Facebook post, Tate shared an image she made of Close to Home with “closed” typed over the picture. She explained her grievances with Close to Home closing in the post.
The Campbell County Healthcare Foundation indirectly responded Tate by sharing an update on its Facebook page Wednesday explaining that Close to Home’s hospitality wing is open, but that its inpatient Hospice services are suspended.
“I did it (the post) to get the attention,” Tate said. “If I didn’t do that, how many would have scrolled over and not known it was closed?”
Heeter emphasized that Close to Home is not closed, but that its six-bed inpatient services are suspended for now.
Ketterling said that Heeter reached out to her multiple times on Thursday, but as of Friday morning had not returned her call yet.
The hospitality wing of the building — a hotel-like suite for medical guests and traveling health care workers — is still operational while the attached hospice services are inactive, said Nachelle McGrath, executive director of the Campbell County Healthcare Foundation.
Close to Home celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. Since opening in 2010, the facility has cared for more than 3,200 hospitality guests and 570 patients.
Eligible patients who seek inpatient hospice care will be able to receive that at the Legacy Living and Rehabilitation Center while Close to Home remains closed. Those patients will be allowed to have limited guest visits in compliance with CCH guidelines as part of their compassionate care, Heeter said.
Since its closing last month, Heeter said there have not been many requests for eligible hospice patients requesting inpatient services from Close to Home.
“We know of one patient that had some hospice days spent at Legacy instead of the hospice house since we suspended some of the operations,” she said.
When Close to Home may reopen is unknown. Although its status will be reevaluated at the end of the month, its reopening will depend on demand for inpatient services, Heeter said.
“It’s been a tough COVID season for everyone in terms of getting communication out, so if I failed from the hospital side as the CEO to communicate what was truly happening, then I own that,” Heeter said.