Couple makes Veterans Day a family affair

Ruthie and Bert met in 1978 at Camp Pendleton in California. Ruthie, a Marine, worked in retail at the military PX; Bert, serving in the Navy, worked in a dental clinic across the deck from the PX building.

This Marine and Navy Corpsman found common ground and have now been married for 32 years. On Tuesday, they celebrated Veterans Day together with co-workers at Seward, where both are employees.

Bert Luallen, head women’s volleyball coach, has lived in Liberal for nine and a half years, along with his wife Ruthie Luallen, assistant manager of the Saints Bookstore.

Bert really likes that Liberal is a small community. “The community really supports all of the school systems, and it gives you a sense of a community,” he said.

“Liberal is a small rural town, it’s like home,” Ruthie agreed.

Not only did Bert and Ruthie serve in their respective branches of the military, but they continue to serve and work with others in their everyday lives at Seward County Community College. Both said they enjoy the time that they have available to spend with students.

“I enjoy working with the young players and seeing them grow, develop, and move on,” Bert said of his coaching role. “I try to build the students up and look at everything as a challenge and not a problem,” Bert said. While Bert is part of the volleyball team effort, Ruthie finds herself as part of the team at the Saints Bookstore, where she says she enjoys interacting with students.

Jerri Lynn Lyddon, director of Saints Bookstore, has known Ruthie since she started working at the bookstore in September of 2006.

“Ruthie is a team player. She does what you ask of her, and she is genuine to the students and very concerned for them. Ruthie tries to take care of the students the best that she can,” Lyddon said.

The Luallens have two daughters, Jessica, a student at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville studying international relations, and Victoria, a graduate of New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, N.M., who lives in Liberal and works at Trailers and Trails.

The Luallens began their married life in 1982, after dating while they were in the service and after for four years. When it came to the decision of joining the Marines and the Navy there was no question that both Ruthie and Bert both wanted to join their desired branches. They both respected the lifestyles that they would soon be living.

Ruthie chose the Marines because her big brother had served as a Marine. “I wanted to be like my big brother,” Ruthie said.

Bert saw respect and pride as factors. “I was raised with respect of military and pride in serving,” he said.

Bert’s dad served in World War II and in the Pacific, which also had some impact on Bert’s decision to serve in the Navy. Bert was living in Emporia when he enlisted in the Navy in 1972. He served eight active years and 17 years in the reserves for a total of 25 years combined.

Ruthie was living in Templeton, Calif., when she enlisted in the Marines. She served a total of 12 and half years, four and a half active and eight years in the reserves. Even though Bert and Ruthie left for boot camp at separate times and for different branches, the couple agreed that when they were leaving for boot camp they were scared.

“Being away from home was a reality check,” Bert said, “Boot camp is very structured and for me it was really about getting to the next day.”

Ruthie felt boot camp was more than that. “I wanted to be there, it wasn’t a matter of getting through it, it was a great opportunity,” Ruthie said.

Both she and Bert were active when the Vietnam War was going on, but they never were called for duty in Vietnam. Looking back on memorable moments, Bert cites when he made Chief Petty Officer. “It took a long time and a lot of hard work and sacrifice to earn the promotion,” he said. The highest award that Bert received was the Navy Achievement Medal.

Also when he was enlisted, he was a Senior Supervisor and his unit was picked as Top Medical Unit of the Year in 1993.

One of two most memorable moments for Ruthie was when she was awarded the Humanitarian Ribbon. “It’s from when we brought the Vietnamese over from the war,” Ruthie said.

The other most memorable moment for Ruthie was “getting to go home and having my big brother see me in my uniform. He teased me about being a jarhead like him,” Ruthie said.

Family has played a big role in the Luallens’ lives. While Bert was away he stayed in touch with his family by writing letters in the beginning and then later on phone calls.

Ruthie also stayed in touch with her family that was back in Nebraska by phone calls, letters, and cards. “There were lots of phone bills,” Ruthie said.

As for the food, “military food is great, almost too good,” Ruthie said. Bert felt that the food was good with a few exceptions. “Generally the food was good, I wasn’t very picky, but I didn’t care for runny or uncooked scrambled eggs,” Bert said.

For entertainment Ruthie usually would run or work out, go to the PX, they went to the beach a lot, and sometimes shopping. Bert enjoyed participating in sports, such as golf and volleyball in his free time. The two each had 30 days of leave a year, and they both usually went home to visit when on leave.

Bert did most of his traveling when he was in the reserves to such places as Hawaii, Portland, and Seattle. When he was in active duty he went to San Diego. Ruthie on the other hand only had orders to stay in Camp Pendleton. The day that Bert’s service ended, he left California to return to Kansas.

“I was accepted into Emporia State in early January; on New Year’s Eve, Emporia had gotten 17 inches of snow,” Bert said. He faced quite a transition from sunny skies and nice warm weather to snow and colder weather.

Since the two had been dating while they were in the service, it was time for Ruthie to meet Bert’s family. She went to meet them on her last day of service. Bert went to Emporia State to play golf and Ruthie went to Emporia for a short time and then eventually went to Wichita State. The couple dated for four years after they returned to civilian life, then married in 1982.

While the Marine and Navy days are behind the Luallens, they both remain active in supportive organizations.

Bert joined the American Legion, a local organization, and Fleet Reserved Association, which is a national organization. Both are involved with the Veterans Club on campus. Bert attends American Legion Memorial Day Services at the cemetery every year.

Looking back, the Luallens see the effect of the military in their lives. “It helped me grow up and taught me discipline,” Bert said.

Ruthie’s experience while she served in the Marines also had a major effect. “It gave me confidence that I didn’t have as a young girl,” Ruthie said.

“The time I went in is a lot different than what it is today. I went in shortly after the draft. Life in general is different today than what it use to be,” Bert said.

Ruthie is known for her kind heart and for the help that she provides daily to students. Both Ruthie and Bert have given many people plenty of memories, but Lynn Gerstenkorn merchandising and marketingfor the Saints Bookstore, and Lyddon have some of the best memories with Ruthie. “Ruthie is extremely patriotic, she loves God and Country,” Gerstenkorn said.

Lyddon explained that she doesn’t feel that she could have served and said, “I have a lot of respect for both Ruthie and Bert for their ability to serve and everyone else that was able to serve.”

It’s important, Ruthie said, “we never forget the sacrifice veterans have made, both lives and limbs.”

Ruthie & Bert Luallen
Crusader Photo / Makiah Adams
Bert and Ruthie Luallen are pictured at the Veterans Day lunch on Tuesday. The event was organized by a Seward group to honor local veterans.
"It’s important we never forget the sacrifice veterans have made."  — Ruthie Luallen
“It’s important we never forget the sacrifice veterans have made.” — Ruthie Luallen
Bert Luallen
“I was raised with respect of military and pride in serving.” — Bert Luallen