Passionate Sight Advocate Gives Gift of Research

Passionate Sight Advocate Gives Gift of Research
Every Life Has a Story

Ruth Bickel

September 12, 1920 - August 6, 2018

Ruth Andresen Bickel was born on September 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 boarded the ship on May 21, 1923 and arrived at Ellis Island July 4, 1923.

The family then made their way by train to Dysart, Iowa, where Claus Andresen's brother owned a painting company. During her childhood, Ruth 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 kept a household filled with music, art and good food. Ruth entered Coe College in 1937 and graduated with the Class of 1941. Throughout her life, she retained close relationships with the friends she established during her years at Coe, including many she met through her college sorority, Alpha Gamma Delta and the "Round Robins."

It was also during her time at Coe College that she met John Philip Bickel (Coe Class of 1943) and they were married in Sinclair Chapel on November 28, 1942. While John finished his degree at Coe, Ruth worked for National Life of Vermont's office in Cedar Rapids, where the Bickels established their home base. Ruth was an active member of PEO Chapter LI, and a member of First Presbyterian Church. She also served as a leader in Boy Scouts, Blue Birds, and Campfire and volunteered at Mercy Hospital.  

Upon retiring in 1972, the Bickels established their residence on the Mississippi River in McGregor, Iowa. While in McGregor, John and Ruth maintained an active social and service life with The National Rivers Hall of Fame, which they founded in 1985. It is now housed in the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque, IA.  

At the age of 70, Ruth began to lose her eyesight and was diagnosed with neovascular macular degeneration, which is characterized by blood vessels that grow under the retina and leak, causing a relatively sudden change in vision resulting in serious vision loss.

Ruth was treated at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences by Dr. Edwin Stone, and agreed to be part of the research study he was conducting to understand how small variations in genes can result in large variations in an individual's vision.

Ruth's son John drove her to her appointments and both he and Ruth established a great relationship with Dr. Stone. John shared that his mother was very committed to Dr. Stone and that he gave them hope that he will find a cure for macular degeneration.

Because of Ruth's passion for helping others with sight impairment, she was an active volunteer at Aging Services through the United Way of East Central Iowa well into her nineties. Aging Services provides a continuum of services to over 5,000 older adults annually in order to help them remain in their homes throughout Linn, Benton, Johnson, and Jones counties. Her remarkable tenacity in facing blindness served as an inspiration for countless others. Because of her accomplished lifestyle in spite of her vision loss, she was instrumental in mentoring people who faced vision problems until her death.

Even after her passing, Ruth remained committed to helping others with blinding eye disease by specifically donating her eyes to Dr. Stone's research program. Her selfless donation will help Dr. Stone and his research team get closer to finding a cure or treatment for those living with macular degeneration.