When Pearl and Fritz Ruccius bought a newly constructed farmhouse Colonial on a meandering side road in Malvern 17 years ago, they were hardly thinking of it as a refuge.
With only one other house visible, it was isolated, but only in the physical sense.
Fritz would soon be flying around the country as a development officer for Thomas Jefferson University, and Pearl was teaching elementary school. They kept an active social life, dreamed of grandkids, and traveled together to such places as Wyoming, where Fritz has considered — or perhaps fantasized — about moving.
But now, in the time of pandemic, the house and their own ingenuity have combined to help the couple accommodate a very new lifestyle.
It starts at the crack of dawn, before the day’s heat hits.
Fritz, who had long been happy to delegate landscaping and yard maintenance to people he hired, is usually seen walking around the property, pulling weeds, trimming, pruning and planting.
“I pull every little weed I see,” Fritz says, “trim the bushes and deadhead the flowers. I’ve developed quite an eye for weeds.”
The half-acre property has azaleas, cone flowers, crepe myrtles, hostas, hydrangeas, and dogwoods, and there is an open space in the back that is shared by the community.
Fritz bought an electric wood chipper to break down the trimmings for mulch and burns the larger pieces in cressets, basket-shaped containers on a pole that the couple found in Colonial Williamsburg to provide additional light in the backyard.
Although he formally retired five years ago as senior vice president for development of Jefferson, Fritz had continued to travel around the country, speaking to alumni groups about Jefferson’s history and contributions to medicine.
But now he spends more time in his study, designing new and more elaborate presentations for the time when he feels comfortable taking to the skies again.
And he has plenty of time to try the new scripts and PowerPoints on Pearl. “I’ve heard the presentations a million times,” she says.
“And I always thank the audience for listening to my stories, so that Pearl does not have to hear them again,” her husband replies.
The swimming pool and basketball hoop, nice diversions for the four grandchildren who live nearby, have become a vital part of their newly restricted lives. There are also ball games in the common area, and Fritz and Pearl have turned the basement into a playroom with an air hockey table and other diversions.
“With nowhere to go and nothing to do,” Pearl says, “it’s an outlet for exercise and fun.”
Soon, the house will become an academic outpost, too, with Pearl returning to her teaching life by tutoring a 9-year-old grandson whose school is holding classes online this fall.
Fritz now has more time to relax in the “Wyoming Room,” a decorating tour de force by Pearl, who turned an upstairs bedroom into a Western-style man cave for her husband — his very own slice of Wyoming in Chester County.
She enjoys summer visits there, she says, but the rugged mountain winters hold little charm for her.
So she put up pictures of the old West — Wild Bill Hickok, a stagecoach, other staples of American mythology — to go with sheepskin-covered rocking chairs and cowboy motifs on the lamps, the bathroom shower curtain and the towels.
“Now he can sit up there and watch cowboy movies,” she says.
Preparing for fall, the couple has ordered two stuffed lounge chairs to replace a sofa and turn the living room into a quiet, television-free reading area.
The room has excellent outdoor views, Fritz says, and “it’s nice to sit there and watch the world go by.”
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