In April 1966, America was embroiled in an increasingly unpopular war half a world away while the No. 1 song in the nation was “Ballad of the Green Berets,” by U.S. Army combat medic Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler.
Other popular music acts included the Beach Boys and Rolling Stones, while that year’s television programming featured numerous shows that would be nostalgically adapted into future big-screen versions: “Mission Impossible,” “Batman,” “The Wild Wild West,” “Star Trek,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Bewitched” and “Get Smart.”
Amid this background of domestic tension and shifting popular culture, 17-year-old Ruth Schirra first came to work at Landstuhl’s second General Hospital (precursor to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center) as an administrative specialist.
They say the more things change, the more they stay the same, and 46 years later, America was engaged in an increasingly unpopular war half a world away, the Rolling Stones and Beach Boys were still around, another 1966 TV show was revamped as “Dark Shadows” played in cinemas, and Ruth Schirra was still coming to work at LRMC.
“The corridors look exactly the same,” she said, adding that sometimes she gets flashbacks of how things used to be by just walking down those unchanged hallways.
At the end of September, however, the longest term civilian employee at LRMC will walk in the medical center doors and through the halls for the last time. After nearly half a century, Schirra officially retires Sept. 30.
“Time has just gone by so fast, it’s hard to believe,” said the pharmacy department secretary who has spent just as much time using a typewriter on the job as she has a computer.
Her first position at the hospital was with the dental service, where the nearby born-and-raised Hermersberg native applied after high school on the suggestion of a friend who worked for the Americans here.
“My English was good,” she said, “but it was the British English, so I got a lot of funny looks at first. Now, I speak English more than my own language.”
Along with her adopted language, “her sense of humor and attitude sometimes make you wonder, is she really German?” said Harry Raith, LRMC chief of safety and Schirra’s colleague since 2001.
“She is always very positive,” he said. “However, she manages to fool you with an absolute straight face.”
Raith cited an example from a 2004 employee trip to Trier. It was June and 98 degrees Fahrenheit, yet Schirra convinced her fellow staff that she had spent the day figure skating at an ice rink.
“She has touched many lives here,” said Raith, who has spent many years as a member of the LRMC German Works Council. “Working at LRMC without her is hard to imagine — almost like France without red wine or Wisconsin without cheese.”
Through the years, Schirra has worked in several areas of the hospital, including the now-defunct automated data processing branch, nuclear research, and the radioisotope section (now nuclear medicine), before joining the pharmacy staff in 1993.
Asked what it was like working here back in the ’60s and ’70s, she laughed and said, “Not as hectic, that’s for sure. It was a different pace back then.”
“The mission of this place is patients,” she said, and with two major combat operations going on for the better part of the last decade, that mission has unfortunately grown. “The administrative staff across all departments is integral to the mission and we have a great team here. I’ll miss the friends I’ve made and I’ll miss the challenges and having a structured routine.”
She’ll certainly be missed by those who have come to rely on her job expertise, continuity and friendly attitude, said Lt. Col. Rodney Jorstad, the director of the pharmacy.
“She has an incredible memory regarding programs and people,” Jorstad said. “Just imagine how much knowledge and history we are losing. Quite simply, she knows everything and everybody and is loved by everyone who has had the pleasure to work with her. She always has a positive and caring attitude, big smile, and puts others’ needs before hers. People don’t just think of her as an outstanding person to work with — they consider her a friend.”
Schirra plans to stay occupied in other ways once retired.
“I have a family, a house and a huge dog that will keep me busy,” she said. “I’ll also do some traveling and work on my genealogy research.”
After six decades at LRMC, she could easily do a facility-related “genealogy” project.
“This used to be pathology,” she said of the pharmacy area, “and the pharmacy used to be by the front doors where patient administration is now when I came to the section. The basic infrastructure hasn’t changed overall, and the DFAC (dining facility) has always been where it’s at and the church is still the same.”
One thing that will soon be different, however, is the corridors will have one less long-time fixture in them.