ESCANABA - Ruthie Vinette always knew her husband was special. But while recently going through some of her late husband's collection of memorabilia after his death in July 2010 at the age of 95, she was once again reminded just how special Dale was, not only to herself, but to the community he served for so many years.
Dale served as chairman of the Escanaba Planning Committee for 14 years and was a member of the Delta County Historical Society.
With obvious pride, Ruthie shared newspaper clippings that were featured in the Daily Press in December 1963, the headline of which touted Vinette as a "Very Valuable Citizen" and describing his service on the Planning Committee as "invaluable."
Ruthie Vinette looks over an assortment of newspaper clippings lauding the services of her late husband, Dale, to the City of Escanaba. He was a long-time member of the city’s Planning Committee. She also has two books he published entitled “Deep Water Man” and “Reflections — 1915-2002.” (Daily Press photo by Dorothy McKnight)
In addition to his community service, Vinette founded Crooked Iron Works and the T.D. Vinette Company in Escanaba, which built commercial fishing boats and fine yachts. Later the company's name was changed to to Vinette Boat Works.
"Dale created much of the iron work that you see on buildings all around Escanaba," Ruthie said with a smile.
Two other items that are of particular value to Ruthie are two books that her husband wrote during his lifetime. One is a copy of a book he published in 1999 entitled, "Deep Water Man," in which he relates numerous stories he collected while serving as a deep-sea diver during World War II in the U.S. Navy - earning the Navy Cross - and later as a deep-sea diving instructor for the Navy. The second book is more personal. Entitled "Reflections - 1915-2002," the book is an historical account of his family.
"He wrote that book mainly for his children," Ruthie said.
Ruthie and Dale first met when they were married to their first mates. Both couples had an avid love of boating.
"My first husband (Dan Branson) and I were living in Green Bay and I had a sailboat and Dan had a power boat," Ruthie said. "Dan came up to the area to see a steel sailboat built by Emer Kidd." Emerson "Emer" Kidd, she explained, was a former diving tender and long-time friend of Vinette. The pair later went into business together.
In 1969, both Vinette and Ruthie lost their mates to cancer a couple of months apart. Ruthie obtained her insurance license and took over the insurance company her husband owned, but still enjoyed sailing with her children, family and friends whenever she had the opportunity.
"We kept a boat at Sister Bay in Door County," she said. "Once when I was there with my sister and brother-in-law and all our kids, Dale came to the same harbor. He couldn't believe it when he saw we were docked in his slip."
Vinette later invited the sailors onto his boat and was pleasantly surprised to see Ruthie among the guests.
"Years later, Dale told me that when he first saw me that first time after Dan and his wife, Joy, died, he told Emer, 'That's my kind of girl.'"
But the ensuing courtship became complicated. The first time Vinette invited Ruthie to meet him for lunch, she arrived in her own car and brought her brother along.
"I guess I just wasn't ready for dates all by myself," she said.
With Ruthie living in Green Bay and Vinette in Escanaba, they made every attempt to see each other as often as possible.
"We wore out two cars driving back and forth," she said, smiling at the memory. The couple was married in July 1971. However, Ruthie commuted back and forth to Green Bay for the first six months, to work at her insurance company.
"I really liked the business, but I finally made up my mind to sell it," she said. "It was a big consideration for me."
During their almost 30 years of marriage, the Vinettes never lost their love of sailing and made frequent trips together.
"We went as often as we could," Ruthie said. "We never went out in bad weather, but we got caught up from time to time."
She recalls an incident when they were stopped by officers of a drug enforcement agency and their boat was check for contraband.
"I never could figure that out," she laughed. "We just didn't fit the profile of drug runners."
Having to consider the prominence and success of her late husband and their life together during the last 30 years before he died, how does Ruthie live up to that kind of legacy? Simple. She's creating one of her own by serving on the council of Bethany Lutheran Church in Escanaba and becoming involved in a host of hobbies she loves, including swimming, golfing, painting and playing bridge.
"I've learned how to swim properly," she said. "I knew how but never did it right. I couldn't swim and breath at the same time. My boys were good swimmers and swam on teams, but I was always a little bit jealous."
Ruthie began taking swimming lessons at the local YMCA and soon mastered the technique.
"I was thrilled when I could finish a quarter of a mile," she said. "Then I gradually made a half mile and when I could do that easily, I went right up to a mile."
She now enjoys swimming laps and was recently honored after swimming a total of 1,700 miles - an accomplishment that took her several years to complete.
"I could do 36 laps in a little over an hour and I try to swim three times a week," she said. "I'm going to try for at least a 100 miles a year."
When not in the pool, Ruthie can be found on the golf course when the weather accommodates.
"I was never much interested in golf until after we sold the business," she said. "We were boaters - not golfers. But Dale signed me up for lessons once a week, but I still wasn't really into it. I think I was too uptight."
But by her fourth and final lesson, she was hooked.
"Up to that time, I went out onto the golf course and found it to be so much better than hitting a whiffleball into the net," she said with a laugh. "What a difference!"
But she still found she had a lot to learn.
"That first time I 'whiffed' it three times," she said. "It was very humbling."
But Ruthie has found the golf course is a good place to be even when it's not golf season. When snow is on the ground, she enjoys cross-country skiing across the course with her dog in tow.
"Of course, I can't walk the dog any other time, so when there's no snow, we take to the beach," she said.
Ruthie has been a participant in the bridge marathons and partnered with Arlene Smith for 20 years, and more recently with Betty LeMire.
"For a long time, we were on the bottom, but we moved up to the top for a while," she said.
Ruthie is also active participant in the Bonifas Fine Arts Center. She began a love affair with painting about 15 years ago.
"I was always interested in art, even in high school," she said. "I did paintings for the hospital pediatric ward in Green Bay. I still love taking classes."
Although she enjoys using pastels, she finds it easier to "correct mistakes" when using oils.
While many of her art creations adorn the walls of her home, one particular treasure of Ruthie's is not a painting, but a photograph of her late husband along with a tribute to "The Deep Water Man" created by well-known photographer, Christopher Winters, and given to her in Vinette's memory.