Beatrice Ruhli spent decades teaching English to Spanish-speaking South Americans as a missionary. She hopes to do the reverse in her new community.

The 86-year-old moved into the Sky Valley from Seattle less than a year ago. In that time, she noticed large groups of neighbors who are unable to communicate with one another; she believes even greeting people in the same language can create a deep bond.

“It makes friendships very fast,” she said.

Ruhli grew up in a small rural community in New York, not far from Niagara Falls. She was raised on a farm, and knew by 14 she would work abroad and teach others about God. Two years earlier, she had purged her life of any habits that did not align with her faith, including her Superman at Batman comics. Giving up movies was the hardest, she said.

“I was the heroine every night,” she said. “I would go home and dream of all the heroes in those films.”

Ruhli graduated high school, and then went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in religious education. It was as far as she went before running out of money. She eventually enrolled in a missionary dental institute. Two years later, she went back to work as an assistant, and attended a New Tribes Mission boot camp.

The international missionary nonprofit, now known as Ethnos360, was holding its annual gathering in Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania, that year. It is where Ruhli met her husband, Arnold. She was 25, “an old spinster,” and he was seven years older.

A month later they were engaged. Ruhli’s fiancé traveled back to Switzerland, where he grew up, to say goodbye to his family. The former mechanic made his way to the U.S. years earlier to amass his fortune; he did not foresee his future was to be enriched through experiences and his bank statement would stay low.

The couple was married in Oregon, after Arnold Ruhli returned from his three-week trip. Within a few years they sold their personal items and headed to Peru. They spent the next 40 years there as husband and wife.

Arnold Ruhli was fluent in Swiss and knew English, German and Italian by the time he headed to South America. Learning Spanish was a vacation for him, Ruhli said.

“He had lots of fun while I was crying in the corner, not being able to figure out how to make those sounds,” she said.

For the first few years, Ruhli hated her new life, the country, and the language. She didn’t like the food. She found herself in the middle of the jungle, struggling to adapt. The lack of plumbing was the hardest to get used to.

Ruhli recalls going on long bus trips. The prevailing attitude appeared to be the bathroom was anywhere a big enough bush could be found.

Sleeping at night was bearable because Ruhli was with her husband. She firmly believes partners should have cohesive values and complementary backgrounds. Arnold Ruhli was also came from an agricultural background, and found religion later in life. As a young man he was invited to be an usher during a three-week lecture series being hosted by the late Billy Graham in Seattle. The experience solidified his interest, she said.

The couple got along famously, despite their polarized personalities, Ruhli said. Arnold Ruhli was exacting with everything he set his mind to, which is common in Swiss culture, she said. He was stoic, and rarely laughed, but was also patient and made many friends.

Ruhli still surprises herself by how much she has to say. She said all she has to do is look at someone or something crosswise, and will erupt into giggles. Arnold Ruhli remembered the dates and details she could never hold on to.

They moved around to a new location in Peru every five years. The couple did dentistry work and built relationships. After four decades, they retired and headed back to Seattle.

Two years later they sold their belongings once again and headed back to South America. Peruvians are very special, she said. If offered a plane ticket, she would be back there tomorrow, she said.

Arnold Ruhli’s deteriorating health made it so that the husband and wife, after a few more years, had to return to the Pacific Northwest. They landed again in Seattle. Ruhli began teaching Spanish to people who wanted to learn.

Her husband has since passed away, and Ruhli is learning how to live on her own. She hopes to continue to pass on her skills in the Sky Valley. She said because she learned Spanish in the jungle, where people are not in a rush, her pronunciation is slow, which makes her a better teacher.

One in every 10 people in Snohomish County is Hispanic or Latino, according to the most recent census data. That number is closer to one in every five or six for Monroe, according to the City of Monroe.

Ruhli said recently she greeted a group of people who spoke Spanish, in a home she now shares with another family, outside Sultan. It quickly became a joyful interaction, she said.

“Right away we belonged to each other because I could speak their language,” Ruhli said.

Ruhli can be reached at 206-713-3814.