Even though Charles "Peach" Rippey, 100, and his wife Sara Rippey, 98, perished in the devastating California wildfires on Sunday, their love "will always endure," says their eldest son, Mike Rippey.
The longtime couple, who first met as kids almost 90 years ago, were fast asleep in their Napa Valley home, when the . What was left of their bodies was discovered in the rubble, only feet away from each other.
"They were an inspiration for what love should be like and their legacy will live on," says their son Mike, 71. "They never fought, never a harsh word, and, until his dying day, dad looked at mom like she was a goddess, he called her his 'Queen.' "
He adds: "The only thing giving us comfort is knowing that they left this Earth together."
High School Sweethearts
Peach (named after his "peachy" colored cheeks as a child) fell in love with Sara the minute he laid eyes on her at their Hartford, Wisconsin, primary school. Peach was in sixth grade and Sara was in the fourth grade.
"From that moment on, there wasn't a time that they weren't together, emotionally," says Mike. "Dad would tell us the story about meeting mom as a kid and being infatuated with her.
"That love never ceased, all they ever thought about was each other, even when they got older."
The couple were high school sweethearts while at Hartford High and attended the University of Wisconsin together. Peach studied engineering and Sara took classes in literature. They married on March 20, 1942.
Through Thick and Thin
Shortly after saying "I do," Peach enlisted in the Army. A WWII captain stationed in North Africa, he oversaw the building of bridges for troops to cross bodies of water. He traveled to Italy, France and, finally, Germany, before heading back to the U.S.
Meanwhile, Sara worked for a factory in Milwaukee that produced wartime supplies like clothing and gas masks. She was an assistant secretary.
The couple exchanged letters during their time apart, reminding each other of their undying love and commitment.
"She kept those letters, but sadly they burned up in the fire," says Mike. "Every letter was filled with things like, 'I can't wait to see you again,' and 'I love you every day more and more,' and 'Every day lasts forever without you.' They were quite beautiful."
Almost exactly nine months after Peach returned to the U.S., the couple welcomed their first child, Mike. At the time, Peach worked as an engineer for Firestone rubber company in Akron, Ohio. The gig took his family all over the world, including Sweden and Argentina, before they settled back in Akron. The couple had four other children: Chuck, Liz, Mimi, and Susy.
At the time of their death, they had ten grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren.
Moving to California
The lovebirds moved to the Napa Valley 30 years ago, to be near their kids, who had all settled in California. They spent their days hitting up wineries together, playing golf, and going on daily walks. And when Sara suffered a stroke while playing bridge five years ago, Peach became her full time caretaker.
"He brought her breakfast every morning in bed and read her the newspaper," says Mike. "They were very much in love until the day that they died, dad still bought her jewelry and flowers every month."
On Sunday evening, Peach and Sara went to sleep in separate rooms (a decision they made after Sara's stroke). Around 10:30 p.m. the wildfire blazed through their modest home, killing them both and destroying all of their belongings. The fires have barreled across the region, leaving at least 17 dead.
"The night of the fire, officials found dad's body halfway between his room and her room," says Mike. "It appears he saw smoke or fire and was going down the hall to her room, but that's as far as he got."
Mike says a coroner told them that his parents likely perished from smoke inhalation. They are planning a service in the following months.
"They exemplified what true love looked like," says Mike. "This was the real thing, they'll be together forever."