Sara and Charles Rippey first locked eyes at their elementary school in tiny Hartford, Wisconsin, close to 90 years ago. “They’ve basically been together ever since,” said one of their sons, Mike Rippey.
The couple, who were 98 and 100 years old, died together on Sunday in Napa when the fast-moving wildfire whipped into their house and they were unable to escape.
“We kids would always talk about what it would be like if one of them died and the other was still alive,” Mike Rippey, 71, said. “They just couldn’t be without each other. The fact that they went together is probably what they would have wanted.”
Mike Rippey arrived at his parents’ house on Tuesday afternoon, hopeful that he would find something of significance in the rubble.
He could barely make out where the front door had been. There were the remains of the garage and an old Lexus, now a charred heap.
There were few tangible signs left of his parents’ long life together, from their childhoods in Hartford to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where they both graduated, from their far-flung travels during World War II to Charles Rippey’s job as an engineer for Firestone.
The Rippeys got married before the war took him to North Africa, France and Italy; when he returned, they settled down to have children, five in all.
Sara Rippey was always busy, playing bridge, golf and tennis and taking care of the home while her husband worked. Charles Rippey doted on his wife, buying her jewelry and calling his wife “The Queen.” (Everyone knew him as “Peach,” the nickname his mother had given him as a child.)
After the Rippey children grew up, most of them moved to California. Longing to be close to them, the Rippeys followed, moving to Napa.
The couple had celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary in March with family members. They had lived at their house in Napa for 35 years.
Mike Rippey was in London at the time of the fire, but his brother pieced together what happened. A caregiver was at the house that evening and had cooked dinner for the Rippeys. Hours later, when the fire erupted, she tried to rescue the sleeping pair, but the fire was moving too quickly. She managed to get Sara Rippey into a wheelchair and was trying to get to Charles Rippey’s room. Then the roof started caving in.
Mike Rippey saw his parents often, going over for dinner two or three times a week. He was often accompanied by a sibling or one of the Rippeys’ grandchildren. And always a bottle of wine.