CEDARBURG — As friends and family members gathered in Cedarburg on Nov. 4 to celebrate Ruth Holman, it wasn’t just to commemorate the Lasata Senior Living resident’s 100th birthday.
It was also an opportunity to recognize and honor a woman who was a pioneer in so many ways — as a member of the United States Marine Corps and as a dedicated single mom.
“Do you recognize this photo?” asked Holman’s son Dan Pierce as he presented his mother with an 8-inch by-10-inch framed print of herself in her Marine Corps Women’s Reserve uniform.
“I must have been about 18 years old,” said Holman, seated in a wheelchair in the West Lounge at the Lasata campus, where she has made her home for the last 12 years. During World War II, Holman was one of roughly 22,000 American women who joined the newly established Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, created in 1942 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The Women Reservists filled a variety of positions — from radio operator to aerial gunnery instructor, cook to stenographer, and everything in between — in order to allow more men to be sent to the front (one of the corps’ recruiting slogans was “Free a Marine to Fight”).
“You have quickly and efficiently taken over scores of different kinds of duties that not long ago were considered strictly masculine assignments; and in doing so, you have freed a large number of well-trained, battle-ready men of the corps for action,” wrote President Roosevelt on to the Women Reservists on the first anniversary of its institution.
And anyone who knows Ruth Holman knows she would have fit right in with the hardworking Marines.
“My mom’s a very strong woman,” said Pierce, who planned the Nov. 4 celebration. “I come from a family of strong women.”
Holman was born and raised in Old North Milwaukee, an area largely settled by German immigrants, and attended Custer High School. In 1944 she enlisted in the Marines, and served mainly in administration. She was discharged with the rank of Corporal two years later.
Holman married a fellow Marine, whom she had met while stationed in Bremerton, Wash. after the war ended; they married and had three children, but the marriage did not last.
“She pioneered the single mom thing,” said Pierce. “She worked when we were kids, and we made do. She encouraged us, she helped us and made sure we knew how to learn. She was very devoted to us.”
Holman worked at the Ozaukee County Courthouse for many years in the management and budget division, and later in the mental health services area. She was proud of her military service, and wrote a newsletter for the Women Marines for many years, said Pierce.
She moved to Lasata in 2010, and though her memory and eyesight are failing, “she’s one of their happier and more active people,” Pierce said. “She gets around with her walker and takes part in things. I always ask her, ‘Ma, what’s the secret? How did you get to be 100 years old?’ She always says, ‘Everything in moderation. And I mean everything — don’t deny yourself anything, just do it in moderation.’” Holman’s Nov. 4 birthday celebration was also attended by representatives of the Cedarburg American Legion and the United States Marine Corps. They sang the Marine Hymn in its entirety, and Holman smiled and mouthed along with the words.
“It was a beautiful thing to see,” Pierce said.