Tiffin couple marks 65 years of marriage

Just before Thanksgiving, Ernst and Trudy Wahl of Tiffin returned from a four-month stay in Germany. For years, they have made the trip to maintain close ties to family and friends in their homeland. At age 88, might this have been Ernst’s last pilgrimage?

“I hope not. I don’t give up yet,” he said in a recent interview. “It was my 51st trip to Germany.”

The Wahls met in Germany, but they were married at St. John United Church of Christ in Tiffin, shortly after Trudy’s arrival in 1953. Now, they have marked 65 years of marriage, with an anniversary celebration Saturday.

Their family includes two sons, Michael of Colorado and Thomas of Tiffin, a daughter, Karin Wahl Walker of Sylvania, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Family stories and photographs tell the story of the Wahls’ immigration to the United States. Ernst explained his family home and most of the others in his small town in southern Germany were destroyed at the end of World War II.

“In 1945, when we got occupied by the French Moroccans … they came in down the hill and shot into the house,” Ernst said. “At that time, with all refugees, all the other cities were bombed out.”

There were few places to take shelter. He said for about three years, his mother, like many other villagers, went from house to house begging for whatever her neighbors could spare. Farmers traded produce and animal products for other necessities.

Trained as a carpenter, Ernst was able to work in exchange for things the family needed, but he called it “a very bad time.” Fortunately, an uncle and aunt who had moved to Tiffin in 1928 offered an escape from the turmoil.

“In 1946, he came (back) for the first time to Germany, and he asked me if I want to come to the United States,” Ernst said.

At the time, one could not travel freely overseas unless the person had a sponsor in the country of destination. Ernst said he accepted his uncle’s invitation and applied for immigration. His name went on a waiting list.

“You had to wait ’til your number came up, and my number came up in 1951,” Ernst said.

In the meantime, he met Trudy, who lived in a neighboring village. He wanted her to come with him to the United States, but it meant she had to apply and wait, as well. The cost was another problem.

“I said ‘I have no money. If you want me, you have to pay my ticket,'” Trudy said.

Ernst said $600 was the price of his one-way passage when he left Germany at age 21. He found work in 1952, doing commercial building with Joe Haggerty of Haggerty Construction in Fremont. On the job, he also learned to do masonry.

When Trudy’s number was called in 1953, Ernst had saved enough of his earnings to pay her way. Walker said her mom traveled by boat into New York City, where Ernst was waiting.

“He drove to New York to pick her up,” Walker said.

Trudy’s fluent German helped her obtain a job at Ballreich’s Potato Chips. Starting about two weeks after her arrival, she worked there until 1992. The Wahls lived in an apartment on Washington Street for two years until Ernst built a residence in a new subdivision on the south side of Tiffin.

“When I came here, I bought a lot that opened up … for $1,800, I think it was. In 1955, I was building this house. Since then, we live here. I think it was the second house here. I done it all in my spare time,” Ernst said. “It’s 67 years I’ve been (in Tiffin) now.”

Walker said her parents are the only original members remaining in the neighborhood. Her dad still was working when he helped build her home in Sylvania and Michael’s house in Colorado.

“He came on the weekends and my husband and I worked with him. He was 60, and he did all the brick work, all the masonry work on my home, and on Mike’s house, too, my brother’s house,” Walker said.

After 32 years with Haggerty, Ernst retired at age 62. Trudy also resigned from her job so they could travel more and stay months at a time. Walker remembers her first trip to Germany with her parents and brothers.

“In 1965, they took a boat, and the whole family went. We took our car. We had a Vista Cruiser Oldsmobile with us, and we were there for four months,” Walker said. “I have been there many, many times, and my children have gone.”

Typically, the couple would leave in mid-July and return in November. After retirement, they also went in February and stayed into March.

“We drive all over Europe,” Ernst said.

Also, they have cruised on European rivers. In 2018, the Wahls went only once to Germany, but they also stopped in Mexico and Colorado. Ernst said his younger brother still lives in Germany, but most of his 44 classmates have passed away. He remains close friends with many people in his hometown and enjoys the rolling scenery.

“There’s no straight road there. … It looks beautiful, but not only that — everything’s nice and clean, nothing laying around.” Ernst said.

“And the food is good,” Trudy added.

Walker recalled learning to speak German in the home at an early age. While an education major at Bowling Green State University, she minored in German and studied in Saltzburg, Austria.

“I still write in German and I send letters to friends. I have people my generation — cousins, friends of my mother’s that are my age — that I keep in touch with,” she said.

Now that Walker is about to retire, she intends to learn to prepare all Trudy’s family recipes. Although she called her mother “a fabulous baker,” Walker said Trudy can’t do much cooking anymore. Trudy’s cheesecake is a special favorite.

“I’m going to get this cheesecake mastered. This is my goal. … It’s going to take me a couple tries, but I’ll get it,” Walker said. “I actually videotaped her sharing the recipe.”