She doesn't bowl, he doesn't paint,
This year Judy and Dick Ritger of River Falls will have been married for 48 years. Add to that the seven years the two high school sweethearts dated prior to their wedding day, one comes up with a 55-year relationship that's so far produced four children, 13 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
But that isn't all the Ritgers have accomplished during those five-plus decades. Judy and Dick, both in their very early 70s, have become nationally recognized in their individual fields -- she as a skilled folk artist and he as a bowling professional and educator.
And just because they are now of retirement age doesn't mean they've stopped working.
"What counts is what you do tomorrow," says Dick about his work ethic.
"We do what we love," said Judy about the couple's desire to continue their life passions.
Both agree they will remain as productive as possible, their physical and mental health statuses permitting. Keeping true to that conviction, Judy has, in retirement, learned and perfected a new artistic technique called kolrosing, while Dick has adapted his educational bowling program for armed services therapy use with returning wounded warriors.
How did this devoted and talented couple get to this point?
Dick used the word "innate" to describe wife Judy's artistic talent. He said it's a natural ability that she's always had.
Judy said her parents recognized her talent at a very early age. As a child, "They even let me paint on the walls," of their house, Judy said. She described images of the wind she drew blowing across a wall in one room while she painted angels floating on another.
Besides those early decorative additions to her family's home, Judy's first serious artistic works focused on handicrafts, like sewing projects, quilting and embroidery.
It wasn't until she and Dick moved to River Falls from their native Hartford home, and she took a class at the suggestion of a friend, that Judy discovered the world of rosemaling.
"I had never even heard of it," said Judy about the traditional Norwegian art style. "But I took that class and I loved it." That was in the 1970s.
Today her work is in high demand and people travel from all over the United States to take classes that she teaches mostly in Decorah, Iowa, at a Norwegian-American museum.
"I'm only one year behind now," said Judy about her work schedule. She admitted that so many people want her artistic pieces that at times she's been closer to two years behind.
In 1995 Judy took a study tour trip to Norway to attend a rosemaling class, hoping to enhance her already well-established technique.
"The instructor told me, 'Judy, I do not want you to take my class. You are a much better painter than I am. I want to teach you something new,' and with that he introduced me to kolrosing," she said.
Judy defined the art of kolrosing as: "...incised line carving in which you do not remove any wood. Darken it and that's it. It's basically surface line decoration."
Since that tour Judy has become quite skilled at kolrosing and works on wooden pieces of all shapes and sizes. She's recently completed a "tine" (pronounced tee-nah), an oval bent-wood box with a lid that has a wooden handle. The intricately line-carved box was done with drawings based on the children's classic tale "The Three Billy Goats Gruff."
Other pieces Judy has decorated include spoons, bowls, plaques and more.
Judy collects the wooden items she intends to carve from several self-employed woodworkers around the country, mostly using bass or birch woods, draws the patterns free-hand, carves the lines to an approximate 1/32-inch depth with a specially designed knife, then darkens the lines with finely ground, almost powdery, coffee beans.
Traditionally, ground bark wood is used to accentuate the carved images, but Judy said one day she tried the coffee beans which worked just as well.
"Grinding the coffee beans is less messy than bark," she noted.
Judy gets her carving knives from a crafter in Bemidji, who has expanded his business to include the professional production of DVDs that highlight and educate others about various kinds of wood techniques. Upon learning of Judy's talent for kolrosing, the Minnesota crafter hired her to produce a DVD that could teach it to others as well.
That venture in turn led to Judy being recruited to write an article on kolrosing for the national publication called Woodcarving Illustrated, "a how-to magazine for carvers."
Judy's story, "Kolrosing: Norwegian Line Carving," can be found in the magazine's spring 2008 issue, and features nine photographed steps she's outlined and explained how to complete a kolrosing project.
The article also includes photos of some of Judy's works and an interesting fact about her: "Despite her strong interest in the Norwegian arts, Judy Ritger, of River Falls, WI, can boast of no Norwegian heritage, being half German and half English."
The side note telling a bit about her also mentioned her association with the Iowa museum: "Judy teaches painting and carving around the country, mostly at the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, IA."
It's for that same museum that Judy has donated some of her works to be auctioned off and, in turn, assist with the museum's fundraising efforts.
"One of my last pieces that I donated went for about $9,000," she said about the value of her hand work.
And what drives her to continue crafting the delicate and precise works of art?
Judy said, "I find it very satisfying to create something people like, something that makes people happy. Art has been a constant in my life. And I find it very relaxing, unless there's too many orders on hand," she joked. "It's definitely a stress-reliever."
Helping America's wounded warriors
Just as Dick Ritger described wife Judy's artistic talents as being innate, he had a different word to define his talent: "Environmental," he said.
"My dad owned a bowling alley," Dick said. "We lived right above it and me learning how to bowl was right in my environment."
Dick said his mother would tell the story about remembering young Dick going downstairs to the bowling alley early many mornings, still in his pajamas, to bowl and bowl again. Dick said that was in the days before automatic pin setters or automatic ball returns.
The establishment had 10 lanes. Dick explained that he'd set up all the pins on those 10 and go right down the row of long wooden alleys, rolling balls down each one, then start over again several times after resetting the same 10 lanes.
Dick became such an accomplished bowler by the time he was in college, at UW-La Crosse, that he was a member of six different leagues. Everyone wanted the talented bowler on their team.
At La Crosse, when Dick wasn't bowling, he was also working on a degree in recreation and physical education. Though he didn't put his degree to work right after college, it proved to come in handy later.
Following his graduation, Dick joined the Professional Bowlers Tour, and was a competitive professional bowler from 1966 through 1981. During that time he traveled all over the United States earning national recognition in the sport.
In 1999 he was featured in an issue of Bowling Magazine in an article called "20 Best Bowlers of the 20th Century." In a brief biographical summary, the article listed some of his accomplishments: "ABC (American Bowling Congress) Hall of Fame in 1984; PBA (Professional Bowlers Association) Hall of Fame in 1978; became the fourth to win 20 PBA titles; tow-time ABC tournament champion; led 10-year ABC tournament average list from 1975-79; owns 12 other ABC tournament top 10 finishes; ABC tournament 20-year average of 207; and has become one of the world's most prominent instructors."
It was during his stint on the PBA tour that Dick had an epiphany of sorts when he realized that there was no marketed bowling teaching method written on the sport.
No one was out in the field teaching bowling techniques, but wherever Dick went to promote bowling on behalf of the AMF Company (manufacturers of automatic pin setters and other industrial products), he says he kept hearing, "How do I do this? How do I do that? How? How? How?"
So as he was thinking about the future, he said, "I thought I'd take the sport, break it down, put a series of skill drills together and devised a program."
In another more recent magazine article, Dick explained his educational insight in more detail:
"It came as a surprise to many when Ritger took up his teaching mission. said the author. "'I didn't really drop out,' (Ritger) said. 'I transitioned. I was with AMF while I was on tour and we did a lot of appearances and clinics. At first the question-and-answer portion would be one hour, then it became two hours. That's when I realized there was a market out there to help people enjoy the game and get better.'"
That was taken from the January 2008 issue of International Bowling Industry magazine from an article called "Touching Eternity: If That's What Teachers Do, Dick Ritger Is Shaking Hands With It."
Today Dick is in his 31st year of teaching bowling techniques at the Dick Ritger Bowling Camp held every July and August in New York State. For the last 28 years it's been held in Ithaca, N. Y., and just three years ago was moved to Canandaigua, N.Y. And during those last three decades, the camp has attracted more than 24,000 campers.
Still very active in the sport of bowling, in addition to running the camp which includes 14 other instructors, Dick also gives clinics throughout the United States and delivers coaching seminars to persons interested in coaching the sport of bowling.
Upon occasion Judy will accompany Dick to his various clinics around the country. She shared that after a bowling fan learns that she's Dick's wife, she's often asked if she's a good bowler too.
"I tell them, 'No, I don't bowl and Dick doesn't paint, either,'" she said with a chuckle.
In 1994, the United States armed forces, which includes the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and National Guard, mandated that managers of bowling facilities on military bases needed to be certified. It was Dick's educational bowling program that was incorporated for those managers to achieve their certification.
And now his latest accomplishment, yet another take-off on his basic educational bowling program, will assist another group of bowling enthusiasts: The wounded warriors returning in increasing numbers from Iraq.
It was at a recent conference where Dick was speaking to an Army personnel member, when the topic turned to wounded men and women and the life-altering disabilities some of them had ended up with from active duty. The light bulb clicked on again when Dick realized he could modify his program to fit the needs of those disabled.
Bowling could be incorporated into the physical therapy many of the wounded were now receiving in hospitals across the nation. Taking the "U.S. Army Basic Coach Training Program" Dick had written, he re-wrote them in a modified version to fit almost any disability.
"I'm proud and happy that I've developed a way to give back and help those who have protected us," Dick said.