Norma Bartel Klassen Ruff, beloved daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, passed away peacefully on February 16, 2016, in Kansas City five days shy of her 99th birthday. The loss of this cherished matriarch is grieved by a large community of family and friends.
Born Norma Esther Bartel, to Leonard F. Bartel and Emelia Schroeder Bartel, Norma was raised on their farm near Hillsboro with her two sisters, Lenora (Neufeld) and Betty (Jost), and brother Carl Bartel. Norma is survived by her sister Betty with whom she remained best friends and confidante, the two sharing nightly phone calls throughout her last years.
She met the love of her life Theodore (Ted) Klassen near Hillsboro. They were married on July 17, 1938. Ted was a school teacher, then became a mortician and worked at Moody’s Funeral Home (now Peterson’s) before he and Norma established their own in Buhler. He served in a hospital unit in WWII, and finally accomplished his lifelong goal of becoming a medical professional by establishing a dental practice in Newton in 1949. This enabled Norma and Ted to make many friends with whom Norma kept in touch much of her life.
Norma is survived by the three children that she and Dr. Ted Klassen so lovingly reared. Wayne Klassen, a retired businessman, currently resides in Mesa, AZ with his wife Shirley. Daughter Joyce Salisbury, a retired school administrator, lives in Santa Cruz, CA with Gordon, her husband of 45 years. Darla Drosselmeyer, in the last year of her distinguished career as a teacher, lives in Shawnee, KS with her husband Bob, whom she married in 1974.
Her children blessed her with numerous grandchildren, Bryant Klassen-Gregory (Kris), Kristi Klassen-Box, Dylan Salisbury (Grace), Rachel Drosselmeyer Johnson (Justin) and Lindsay Drosselmeyer Mitchell (Jonathan). In turn, Norma is also survived by 8 biological great grandchildren, Faith, Joy, Andrew, Ashley, Chloe, Chance, Wes, Johnny and Rowen, who is due to arrive any minute as her 10th.
Along with her sister Betty, Norma is also survived by several nieces, grandnieces, nephews, and grandnephews from both Ted and her side of their families.
After Dr. Ted Klassen’s untimely death in 1967, Norma worked as a medical business administrator in Newton for several years. In 1974, Norma met, fell in love with, and married Ret. Lt. Col. Herman Ruff. Herman’s family welcomed her into their family and together they enjoyed many years of life, including traveling abroad and spending time with his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Herman passed away in January of 1997. His children Donna Jane Mackay and Michael Ruff and some of their children remained in touch with Norma until her death.
On one serendipitous day in March of 2000, Norma ran into Jim Peters of Hillsboro, who had been a high school sweetheart. They instantly renewed their special relationship and enjoyed many adventures, including extensive travel with Jim’s son Mike and daughter-in-law Sharon for the next 10 years prior to Jim’s death. Jim’s children Tom (and spouse Carole) and Dana (and son Adam), kept in close touch with Norma until her death.
Norma’s life was characterized and memorialized by her art. She loved to sew, but she was more than a seamstress. She had the skills of a trained tailor. She hand-made a 3-piece suit of beautiful English-imported wool for Ted to wear at his graduation from Kansas City Dental School. She made tailored suits and dresses for Joyce and Darla throughout their youth. She even enjoyed sewing clothes for granddaughters Lindsay and Rachel as babies and children.
Norma’s skill as an artist also extended to ceramics, and especially the creation of porcelain dolls. She would cast the parts for the dolls in porcelain, assemble and paint them, then tailor beautiful elaborate costumes for the dolls. Over a period of approximately 20 years, Norma made made more than 100 dolls, which are now considered classics. She joked that she sold a few, just because “it was good for my ego.” Most of the dolls are in the possession of family and friends.
Norma’s life was also characterized by community service. She was an active member of the Newton Lioness Club, Twentieth Century Club, American Legion and the Newton Arts Club.
Additionally, while living in Newton she was a devoted member of the Salem United Methodist Church. She taught Sunday School. She was a Primary Superintendent and a member of both the church’s Administrative Board, and of the Pastor Parish Committee. She and Ted were Youth Fellowship Sponsors for many years. She also held offices in the United Methodist Women’s Organization.
Before Herman’s death Norma became active with the Newton Hospice program, now named the Harry Hynes Memorial Hospice. There she met Carole and Bob Hull who became and remained close friends with her until death. Carole will officiate Celebrant for Norma’s internment and memorial on March 5th.
Norma took special pride in the fact that she and Ted literally built their own home at 820 South Pine in Newton. With help from 4th-grader Wayne and 2nd-grader Joyce, she installed the insulation after the house had been framed. Ted and she did all the finishing woodwork, dry wall, papering and painting of the house, inside and out.
Despite her significant vision loss, Norma spent the last three years at Brookdale Rosehill Assisted Living in Shawnee, KS earning the title of unofficial new-resident greeter and friend. She was loved and admired by everyone. Norma’s final 7 days were spent at the Kansas City Hospice House, where her comfort and needs, and those of her family, were so well met and nurtured.
The message that she wanted her children to send to the world at the time of her passing was: “Love is the strongest force in the world, and it is one of the few things you can give away and gain more than you had.”
All who knew and loved Norma are invited to her internment at Greenwood Cemetery at 10 a.m. on Saturday, March 5, 2016 and to her Memorial commencing at 11 a.m. at Petersen’s Chapel.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the Foundation Fighting Blindness (http://www.blindness.org/ ), or an email with your recollections of Norma (which will be displayed and shared in a book at her memorial) sent to:
I remember when my Uncle Herman married Norma and she became a member of my family. What a lovely lady! She was truly a “lady” In all sense of the word. I have fond memories of my husband and children’s visits to their home in Newton. In later years when she moved away to be closer to her daughters, we kept in touch although not as much as we should . I remember one time we came over and took her out to dinner and then returned to her home for a wonderful visit and sharing of her stories. Her dolls and sewing skills were a beautiful gift. She was so happy to be close to her daughters and their families and spoke of her love for them. I always called her on her birthday and we caught up on our lives. For some reason I missed this years birthday call even though I had it clearly marked on my phone . I told my husband that I had forgotten to call Aunt Norma and that I would do that tomorrow. Yesterday I received the news of her passing and was very saddened. She was always so kind to me and I am great-full to have known her. I’m sure heaven is blessed even more to have her.