Triumph over Tragedy

Ruth Goble's husband was killed four years ago.

But life goes on and she knows it.

By Kathy Barberich
The Fresno Bee

(Published September 19, 2000)

FOWLER -- Ruth Goble wraps her generous smile and long arms around you, making you feel at ease, if not at home. When she says she's glad to see you, you believe her.

She's just made some peach jam and wants you to take home a bag of fresh peaches. Don't you want some tomatoes, too?

That's her way.

Her husband, Ivan, used to tell their son, Ron, that she never met a stranger. If anyone would know, it was Ivan. He and the former Ruth Neel were married 56 years.

Ruth misses Ivan.

She misses watching the sunsets with him from the front yard of their rural home. She misses trips with him to Cayucos. She misses him humming along while she plays hymns on the living-room piano. She misses him not being in the house when she brings clothes in from the line. She misses him oiling the cooler fan each spring.

William Ivan Goble died four years ago on a July afternoon at age 81. Shot to death. Murdered inside the Fowler house he and Ruth built in 1960.

The same house where four grandchildren played and Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners were served.

The same house where family photos hang from walls and top tables.

Seeing three people in a car in her driveway that day, Ruth Goble went out through the open garage to see if they were lost. Someone grabbed her from behind and dragged her kicking and screaming into the house. She was pushed to the floor. She prayed out loud. She was told to shut up. A hand was tight over her face. She bit it. She was hit in the head with the butt of a handgun. There was bleeding. She was scared. Really scared. She continued to pray silently.

There was lots of talking. Noise. What were they going to do? What did they want? Her old wedding ring on the kitchen counter? Money? She would give them whatever she had.

Then it was quiet. They were gone. Where was Ivan? She walked uneasily to the back of the house. She found him on the floor of a bedroom where he had gone to file a car maintenance receipt. Ivan was very precise. Very methodical. His tools were always clean and in place. A tape measure was always in his pocket.

Ivan was dead. Ruth hadn't heard the gunshot. She reached for the phone to call 911. The phone was pulled from the wall. Forgetting about the wall phone in the kitchen, she ran to the car to get the cell phone. The 911 operator kept her on the phone, talking. Her throat was sore from all the screaming.

A sheriff's detective was not far away when he heard the call. He was at the Goble house in less than five minutes. Soon others arrived. She tried to be helpful. Tried to recount everything as best she could.

What had these intruders taken? Besides her husband's life? Several dollars out of her purse. Police arrested Steven Andre Barber, 23, of Fresno, formerly of Fowler, just four months ago. A trial is scheduled for Sept. 25. Three suspects are still at large.

Ruth misses Ivan.

At age 79, she knows that life goes on after someone you love dies. Ruth and Ivan Goble learned that in 1951 when their youngest child, Ralph, died of polio. Her eyes grow wet as she remembers the last time she held Ralph. They were riding in the family car from Fowler to the polio ward at Fresno County Hospital where he was placed in an iron lung. He died 10 days later. Few people attended the graveside services. County health officials worried that others, including Ralph's kindergarten classmates at Marshall Elementary School, might be the next victims.

Ruth misses Ralph. She blinks quickly, not wanting the tears to fall. Uncrossing her ankles and jumping up with the exuberance of someone half her age, she points out Ralph in a family photo.

At 5 feet 8 inches, she is tall, slender, graceful. Her short-cropped white hair is neat but casual. Easygoing like she is. And there is that smile. A smile that fills the room.

That's her way.

She has lived through the worst, she says, losing a child. And she is living through this latest blow that life has dealt. No, she doesn't like the blow but she loves life. She has choices.

She chooses not to be angry or bitter. She chooses not to let a horrible incident that happened in her home erase the loving memories built there. She chooses not to let fear drive her away from the house she shared with her husband. She chooses instead to fill her house with happiness and laughter.

That's her way.

Alan Reutter, pastor of the Fowler Presbyterian Church, says Ruth's presence fills up the church, where she is known as the historian. She has been a member since moving to Fowler from Cambridge, Ohio, with her parents at age 2 months. Each Sunday she greets churchgoers, laughing easily with them and making each feel welcomed. Ivan used to stand in that same spot, at the back of the church, left aisle, handing out bulletins and shaking hands. She is a hugger.

That's her way.

She plays piano at a local nursing home and bakes angel-food cakes for residents who participate in bingo games. And, because she is acquainted with grief, she encourages others who are coping with loss.

Rhonda Duncan, the Fresno County deputy district attorney prosecuting the Goble case, says Ruth Goble is one tough cookie. A salt-of-the-earth woman who speaks openly and candidly. The first time she met her (after Barber's arrest), Duncan drove away from the Goble house thinking, "Wow!"

DA investigator Melinda Ybarra, who was at the house soon after the killing and has continued to visit, says, "Ruth Goble is a treasure. Her strength and perserverance, her courage and stamina are to be admired."

Homicide detective Chris Curtice says, "She's good people. Like family."

She was numb after Ivan died, but the tranquil look on his face brought her peace. Her first thought when she realized her husband was dead was that a 5-year-old in heaven now had a father. One day she will join them. But not today.

Today she is getting ready to can peaches. Today she is quilting a quilt top that was made by her grandmother who died in 1899. She points to some stitches in the quilt that her granddaughter, Andrea Goble of Visalia, a great-great-granddaughter of the quilt's creator, is contributing to the project. She is pleased with the threads that bind her family.

Ron Goble says his mother's forgiving nature and her resolve to go on with life have tempered the anger felt by grandchildren. They've learned a lot from her.

Ruth relies on projects to busy herself when she has down time, like the nights she can't sleep. Sleeping alone isn't easy. Handwork and quilting remind her of her mother, who taught her daughter how to use a needle and never took out her daughter's stitches because they were less than perfect.

There are lots of treasures in this house. Trunks that belonged to her parents are filled with memorabilia, including love letters her father wrote to her mother during World War I. A rocking chair that Ruth has had since childhood is in the living room. She pulls a copy of a 1925 Fresno Morning Republican newspaper from an old desk and laughs about an article that says Thompson seedless and muscat raisin grapes are selling for 21/2 cents a pound.

For years the Gobles farmed Thompsons and muscats on the 25-acre parcel of land that once belonged to her parents. Land that now grows nectarines for another owner. The house with the attic where she played during much of her childhood still stands, just a few hundred feet from the home she and her husband built.

The Gobles sold the farm along with the old house in 1976. A year later she retired as a secretary in the Fowler Unified School District. The couple bought a fifth-wheel trailer to pull behind their pickup truck and traveled more than 75,000 miles throughout the country.

When invited to make a quilt square in Ivan's memory for the Victim Services quilt that is displayed each year to publicize Victims Rights Week, Ruth embroidered a picture of the fifth-wheel trailer and truck on the square. There's also a cross and a Bible verse from Deut. 33:27:

"The eternal God is thy refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms."

She has strong arms. Long arms that reach and embrace and support. Victim Services advocate Debra Gorham says, "Ruth Goble is a woman with a lot of goodness in her. She helps other victims."

Where does this goodness, this strength come from? Doesn't she ever want to stay in bed? Pull the covers over her head? Bawl her eyes out? Of course. And if she feels like it, she does. But mostly she gets up and goes. Her strength comes from her faith in God, a faith she grew up in, with. And from family and friends.

While others marvel at her steadfastness, her daughter does not. Barbara Volker says Mom has always been strong. Always been a woman of faith. "I want to be just like her," she says.

Standing under a Modesto ash shade tree in the front yard, Ruth Goble eyes her roses. Ivan used to take care of them. He's not here now so she tends the bushes herself and thinks about him.

Ruth misses Ivan.

She smiles. Are you sure you don't want some tomatoes? How about a hug?

That's her way.



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