Resident Profile: Ruth Peterman

A senior woman wearing glasses smiling and sitting on a couch

“This is the best hotel in Madison!” one of Ruth Peterman’s neighbors at Oakwood recently told her, and she agrees. “The staff are really caring,” Ruth adds.

She is a resident in Tabor Oaks assisted living on the University Woods campus, having moved early 2021. Prior to her move to Oakwood, Ruth lived in Milwaukee, where she and her late husband Bill raised their family.

A Family Business

Following his service in World War II, Bill bought and sold a nightclub, and dabbled in real estate, only to find it didn't suit him. Bill and Ruth then bought a fruit stand, which they built out into a freestanding building that would become their restaurant, The Pizza Wagon.

Having the family work together in the restaurant was “an education you can’t get in books,” according to Ruth. Believing in the power of hard work, Ruth and Bill ensured that the kids didn’t receive any special treatment while working at The Pizza Wagon.

“It was a real family undertaking,” Ruth says of the venture. Once the kids graduated and went off to college, Ruth and Bill closed The Pizza Wagon, and reopened as a steakhouse called Bill’s Coach House.

After 20 years of restaurant ownership, the Petermans sold Bill’s Coach House, following the onset of health problems for Bill.

It’s clear that Ruth and Bill successfully passed along their strong work ethic. Their eldest son is a Harvard graduate who has been on Broadway. He went on to work in television, and is a three-time Emmy winner.

Their youngest son went to law school at the University of Wisconsin, later accepting a prominent position at a large corporation in Las Vegas.

Their daughter, Shelley, lives in Madison. She has worked in television, was a columnist with the Wisconsin State Journal and has written numerous books. Ruth also has nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Since her brothers live out of state, Shelley brought Ruth to Madison.

A senior woman sitting on couch smiling looking to the side

“The staff are really caring. Everyone has treated me beautifully here.”

The Move to Madison

Shelley describes the period before bringing Ruth to Oakwood as “probably the most stressful time of my life.” Ruth’s health issues had landed her in the hospital in Milwaukee. When they couldn't figure out a diagnosis there, the family decided to bring Ruth to Madison to the University Hospital where it was discovered that she had a broken leg. She was never able to return to her condo in Milwaukee.

"Mom has always been an anchor in my life, and even more so after I was diagnosed with a progressive form of multiple sclerosis 43 years ago. We learned many lessons together that have helped her make the transition to assisted living. It's been a joy that I have the energy to handle all the arrangements and to be there for my mother, like she always has been for me."

Ruth did end up living with Shelley and her husband for two weeks immediately after her rehab stay, as they had not yet lined up arrangements, but they knew this was not a viable long-term situation.

“When I spoke with Oakwood, I knew it had a great reputation, and they had five rooms for us to choose from,” Shelley says. “When do you ever hear of that? We were thrilled to be able to choose one with a beautiful view. It’s like God intervened.”

“All mom kept saying was ‘I can’t believe this. I can’t believe this.’ And I couldn’t believe it either.” When move-in day arrived, everything went as smoothly as it possibly could have, according to Shelley.

Shelley’s siblings have been pleased with Ruth’s experience at Oakwood as well. “They think I walked on water to find this place!” Shelley says with a laugh.

A New Life at Oakwood

Ruth has been settling in and staying busy. She does the jumble every day from the newspaper, enjoys word games on her iPad and iPhone and always has a book going. The scenic bus tours provided by Life Enrichment this summer have been a fun way for Ruth to get to know the Madison area better.

“I couldn’t ask for a better place to live.”

Two senior women sitting and looking upwards

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