Ruth Andresen Bickel

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Ruth Andresen Bickel, a resident of Cottage Grove Place in Cedar Rapids, died peacefully on Aug. 6, after a short illness. She was surrounded by family at her death.

Ruth was born Sept. 12, 1920, in Flensburg, Germany to Antonia Panitz Andresen and Claus August Andresen. Her father was a violinist and landscape painter who, with Antonia and Ruth, immigrated to the United States aboard the Westphalia. They arrived at Ellis Island July 4, 1923. Shortly thereafter they made their way by train to Dysart, Iowa where Claus Andresen’s brother owned a house painting company. 

During her childhood Mrs. Bickel became an accomplished pianist and tennis player. She maintained her fluency in German, an asset that served her well throughout her travels and her life. Her parents lived on a small acreage on the edge of Dysart where they maintained a household filled with music and art and good food, given Mrs. Andresen’s earlier training in Berlin as a pastry chef. 

Mrs. Bickel entered Coe College in 1937, and graduated with the Class of 1941. Throughout her life the friendships established during her Coe years remained among those most closely associated with her, including many friends through her college sorority, Alpha Gamma Delta and the “Round Robins.” College summers were spent as a camp counselor at Camp Hitaga and the Alpha Gamma Delta camp in Lansing, Mich. During her years at Coe she met John Philip Bickel (Coe Class of 1943) and they were married in Sinclair Chapel Nov. 28, 1942. While Mr. Bickel finished Coe, Mrs. Bickel worked for National Life of Vermont’s office in Cedar Rapids. 

After Mr. Bickel’s military service the Bickels established their home base in Cedar Rapids. During the Bickels’ years in Cedar Rapids, Mrs. Bickel was an active member of PEO Chapter LI, a member of First Presbyterian Church, served as a leader in Boy Scouts, Blue Birds and Campfire, and volunteered at Mercy Hospital. 

Upon retiring from Cedar Rapids in 1972 the Bickels established their residence in McGregor where they previously spent summers. They wintered in Ft. Myers, Fla., for 23 years. While in McGregor, John and Ruth Bickel maintained an active social and service life with special note of the Mississippi River Hall of Fame housed in Dubuque, Iowa, which they founded in 1985. 

Throughout earlier years they had archived memorabilia and personal collections from many riverboat captains and other luminaries off the river. Through their experiences of maintaining stewardship for these historical artifacts they traveled worldwide establishing networks of friends and colleagues who value historic preservation. They hosted frequent visitors at their restored Main Street home in McGregor, The American House. Many, if not all, of the Stern Wheeler river boat captains stopped by McGregor to enjoy the Bickels’ hospitality. 

An accomplished hostess who could take any size gathering in her home in her stride, Mrs. Bickel was known for hospitality and grace up and down the river. Following the sale of American House, the Bickels moved on to a houseboat for the summers. They gave that up in 2001, but upon Mr. Bickel’s death in 2003, Mrs. Bickel acquired another houseboat where she continued to spend many summer hours. Mrs. Bickel was an active volunteer at Aging Services, Inc. well into her nineties. Because of her own vision impairment and her accomplished lifestyle regardless, she remained instrumental in mentoring people who faced vision problems until her death. Her remarkable tenacity in facing blindness served as a role model for countless others. She remained an accomplished pianist until her death inspite of her blindness.

Mrs. Bickel is survived by three children, John M. Bickel (Mary Ellen Maresh), of Cedar Rapids, and McGregor, Iowa; Inge Marie Bickel Osborne (James Robert Osborne), of Hamden, Conn., and Chesterfield, Mass.; Bonnie Bickel James (Edwin A. James), of Tilghman Island, Md., and McGregor, Iowa; seven grandchildren: Kristin Bickel Clark, John P. Bickel II, Edwin Bickel James, Ruth Ellen James, Alan Owen Osborne, Devin Andresen Osborne and Carly Alice Doii Osborne; and six great-grandchildren: Abigail and Mirabella Clark, Jack and Will Bickel, Claus James, and Edwin Charles James. Mrs. Bickel also remained in close touch with many of her German cousins and traveled frequently to Germany to visit her extended family. 

Mrs. Bickel was preceded in death by her parents; her husband; and great-grandaughter, Olivia Nicole Clark.

A Celebration of Ruth’s Life will be held Saturday, Sept. 15, at Coe College Clark Alumni House at 11:30 a.m. In her life, Ruth was an ardent supporter of The National Rivers Hall of Fame, under the auspices of The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, 350 East Dubuque Street, Dubuque, IA 52001; Coe College, 1220 First Avenue N.E., Cedar Rapids IA, 52402; and Mount Mercy University, 1330 Elmhurst Drive N.E., Cedar Rapids, IA 52402.


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