Ruth McNeill had been in the United States for more than 30 years when she answered a call from federal officials in med-February. After procrastinating for years but eventually passing the 10-question test she called “basic,” the German-born woman traveled to Philadelphia, following the call to receive her U.S. citizenship.
Why even apply for citizenship after putting it off for so long, some people might wonder?
“So my husband couldn’t deport me,” McNeill said, laughing. The former executive secretary in Munich clarified, saying she wanted the American right to free speech and to vote in the country that had become her home.
Only a dramatic event, however, made McNeill feel a sense of patriotism toward the United States.
“Germany was my home country,”
she said. “Then Sept. 11 came. It was such an important day for me. I realized, ‘this is where I live.’ I had to do something.”
In what might seem like a previous life, McNeill grew up in a small Bavarian town named Ottobeuren in the shadow of World War II. Born in 1945, though, she doesn’t remember the war, just the will to survive her elders displayed in the years that followed.
After finishing the schooling in her hometown, McNeill moved to Munich, where she worked as an executive secretary for BASF. While working in that position, the then-Ruth Wagner met her husband.
In the late 1960’s, Bill McNeill was stationed with the U.S. Army in Germany. After Ruth met the person she calls her “one true love,” in 1968, he finished his service in Germany and returned to the United States.
More than five years later, though, Bill returned, “to find me,” Ruth said.
“We ran into each other by accident,” Ruth said. She then made the decision of her lifetime. “I said, ‘How ’bout we get married?’ He agreed. I packed my bags and came over here.”
On the heels of a two-week visit “to make sure he had a bank account,” Ruth moved with her soon-to-be husband in August of 1975 to the little town of Red Lion, Pa.
After spending most of her adult life in a bustling city in Germany and around its open-minded people, Ruth said that adjusting to slower “country” life was her biggest test in moving to the States.
She said the feeling would be “just like living in New York and going to West Virginia. I missed the public transportation. I missed the openness. When you are from Munich, to come to (rural) Pennsylvania, it’s quite different.”
But McNeill adjusted to living in that small town, at least for a few years. She and Bill bought property in Ocean View in 1981. And in 1984, Ruth moved full-time into a house in Ocean Way Estates.
Following a stint as a restaurant manager at a small Ocean City establishment, Ruth took a test and entered the usually bustling world of real estate in the Coastal Delaware area.
She has worked for Coldwell Banker for 14 years and continues to sell homes in the area. But she did have to take a day off in mid-February to stand amongst about 75 people, each waving American flags in the city where American independence was founded.
Standing next to another German, several emotional Hispanics and two people from Poland and Russia, she fully understood the momentous occasion, Ruth said.
“People were overwhelmed,” Ruth said, adding that it wasn’t as dire a situation for her because she was married and had been in the country for three decades. But for some of the people, she knew, becoming an American was “a life and death situation.”