Ruth E. Merritt

Ruth E. “Betty” (Landholm) Merritt, died peacefully with joy and contentment in her heart, in her lovely home in Keene, on Monday, Memorial Day, May 27, 2019, at 3:08 a.m., with her daughter Susan at her side and her family close in spirit. She was 98½ years old.

Elizabeth, as she was known in her youth, was born at home on Nov. 19, 1920. She was the oldest of five children raised on a homestead farm in West Point, Neb., during the Depression. Her parents, the late Ruth Wilhelmina (Persson) Landholm and Edwin Landholm, were both of Swedish descent. At the age of 9 she saw her aunt dressed in her nursing uniform and cap and knew that she wanted to be a nurse. She graduated from Oakland High School in Oakland, Neb., in 1938.

There was no extra money for college, but she held onto her dream. Her mother asked her if she would like to go out to California and help her grandmother, who was bedridden with arthritis. Up for the adventure and to help her decide if she really wanted to be a nurse, she boarded the train for Kingsburg, Calif., with food for the three-day journey and newspapers to keep warm, just in case the train broke down in the Rockies.

She returned to Omaha a year later to study nursing at Creighton University’s St. Joseph’s Hospital School of Nursing. In the course of her schooling, she ended up in the hospital with pleurisy. That sounds bad, but while there, a friend of hers introduced her to her future husband. The friend was dating Ray Merritt, but couldn’t pursue the relationship because he was Protestant, so she encouraged Elizabeth to “check him out.” When Ray went off to officer’s training and then to do clean-up on Guadalcanal, they wrote many letters to one another. She graduated in 1945, and while he was overseas, she returned to California to be a registered nurse in the Samuel Merritt Hospital in Oakland, Calif. Upon his return to the states, they had their first official date on her 25th birthday at the Lake Merritt Hotel in Oakland, Calif. Through the letters, she felt she knew him pretty well, that he came from a good family, so when he proposed, she said yes. She was up for the adventure of moving to Norwell, Mass., having never been east of the Missouri River, and she became Betty. Ray’s sister was called Betty, so Elizabeth became the second Betty Merritt. His sister married and became Betty Keene.

Betty and Ray exchanged vows on Jan. 12, 1946, in Omaha, Neb. The marriage between two people-lovers, an outgoing nurse and a gregarious, fun-loving Fuller Brush man lasted 53 fun and eventful years. Ray died on March 16, 1999, at the age of 86.

Betty had a 50-year career as a nurse, mostly as a night nurse so she could raise their four children. The family came to Keene in 1960, and she was soon employed at Elliot Community Hospital, where she worked for 12 years. She helped move patients to the new Cheshire Medical Center in 1973. She was a night nurse there for about 18 years, until she retired in 1991. Upon retirement, she immediately started to volunteer at the hospital, her second home. For many years, she was Thayer Kingsbury’s sidekick at the reception desk on Monday and Friday mornings. In 2014, Betty was awarded a commendation for her many years of service from the then-N.H. governor, Maggie Hassan.

Betty was a cornerstone of the First Baptist Church in Keene for 58 years, her other second home. She held various titles, filled many roles and was on every possible committee there: soprano in the choir, bell choir member, church clerk for 20 years, Spire Club member, Women’s Fellowship president and member, attended Bible study, headed up the kitchen for various events at the church, volunteered with Christian Education and intergenerational activities and supported all the mission efforts. For years, she baked little loaves of bread which were handed out to welcome first time visitors to the church. With her big heart and kind spirit, she always made a point to take newcomers under her wings, at the church as well as the hospital.

Betty’s hands were never idle. She was a prolific knitter, knitting for the Seamen’s Church Institute and kids sweaters for Oxfam and hats and socks for whoever admired them. She sewed for herself, her daughters and granddaughters. She did a lot of custom sewing for Cedarcrest Center for Children with Disabilities. She was a great cook and baker. For a few years she’d cook two turkeys, the second one for the homeless shelter. Ray and Betty had large gardens, so there was the canning and preserving to manage. Under Betty’s initiation, the family had many foreign exchange students, Frank Simon from Germany, being the nearest and dearest to the family. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, kids from New York City would come up and stay with First Baptist Church families in a program called Camp Friendly. Betty and the family loved Louis Russell, and Louis loved coming up to the country, to the frogs, toads and snakes, and each year he’d stay longer. Betty loved to travel and often marveled that a farm girl from Nebraska got to travel so much. She cherished the memories of trips to Europe and California, many with Ray, and loved her six-week California sabbaticals with her daughters after Ray died.

Betty had a long, productive life, and she lived it with enthusiasm and joy. She sought and found inspiration in the best music, writers, thinkers and doers. Where there was darkness and negativity, she would seek clarity and acceptance of what she could and couldn’t help fix. She was sharp and witty, always had a funny quip or turn of phrase and loved a good laugh. At the hospital, when other nurses ran into a problem they would say, “Ask Betty. She’ll know what to do.”

Betty is survived by her children, James R. Merritt and his wife, Susan Bos, of Westmoreland, Susan R. Merritt and her husband, Larry Ford, of Felton, Calif., Holly E. Merritt and her significant other, Bert Faucher, of Santa Cruz, Calif., and Paul Landholm Merritt and his wife, Cathleen Calmer, of Hancock; two grandchildren, Kristin H. Merritt of Boston, Mass., and Gretchen B. Merritt of Keene; and her dear sister, Lois Swanson of Hudson, Wis. In addition, she leaves many cousins, nieces, nephews ... a large fan club of family and friends. Betty is predeceased by her siblings, Norman Landholm, Charles Landholm and Jeanette Dieckman.

The family is very grateful for the faithful, loving care given by Ronalee Frost, Heidi Ramirez and Debbie Marchetta. Also the family gives a heartfelt thank-you to the hospice nurses and aids who made her final months comfortable. This team enabled Betty to die in her home, as she so wanted.

A memorial celebration will be held on Saturday, June 8, at 11:30 a.m. at the First Baptist Church, 105 Maple Ave., Keene. Burial will be private in the family lot at Monadnock View Cemetery, Park Avenue, Keene.

Flowers will gladly be accepted. However, the family would prefer donations be made to: First Baptist Church of Keene, 105 Maple Ave., Keene, NH 03431; Cedarcrest Center for Children with Disabilities, 91 Maple Ave., Keene, NH 03431; or Home Healthcare, Hospice & Community Services, 312 Marlboro St., Keene, NH 03431

Cheshire Family Funeral Chapel and Crematories of Keene is in charge of arrangements.