This story is about two Gretna sisters who were lifelong residents, respected for their grace and high intellect. They were very active civically, visible everywhere from City Council meetings to cultural and social events, devout members of Gretna Historical Society and Friends of the German-American Cultural Center. The sisters were called “the Ziifles” and beloved by all who knew them. Ruth Claire Ziifle departed this life on Jan. 27, 2021 peacefully in her sleep of natural causes at the age of 95. Her baby sister, Myra A. Ziifle Thalheim passed in the same way on Sept. 27, 2019 at the age of 92.
Because they had so much to tell about their lives in Gretna, in 2016 a publically broadcast oral history video documentary was produced called “Growing up in Gretna” featuring Ruth Ziifle, 91 and Myra Ziifle Thalheim, 89.
The video was produced by Jefferson Parish Public School System Communication Dept. Production Coordinator Keith Paolini. The video can be seen at https://vimeo.com/184900581.
A story about the Ziifles was written on Oct. 22, 2016 by Sevilla White Finley that can be seen by clicking here.
Their ancestors came to Gretna in 1854, from Wurttemberg, Germany. Their parents, William and Leonora Giboney Ziifle had six children, Leonora, Robert, Harold, Hilda, Ruth and Myra. Four additional siblings died in infancy. The family lived above their grocery store at the corner of 6th and Lavoisier Streets, adjacent to St. Joseph Church, but were lifelong members of Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Their father, William Ziifle, was among the benefactors who donated land in 1930 for Gretna’s City Park on Gretna Boulevard of which the sisters were very proud.
The sisters seemed joined at the hip, to the point that four and a half- year-old Myra followed six-year-old Ruth to school where Lily White Ruppel, a cousin was principal and their older sister, Leonora was a teacher. Myra was allowed to stay in class as long as she was quiet and did the work, which she did. Ruth and Myra went all through school together in the same class, always at the top of their class, from elementary through Gretna High and Newcomb College (now Tulane University). When they graduated from Gretna High in May 1942, Myra, 15 was the valedictorian and Ruth the salutatorian.
Ruth and Myra attended Newcomb College in 1946 with majors in Physics and minors in Math. Their brilliant sister, Hilda graduated three years earlier from Newcomb with a major in Math and a minor in Chemistry.
Amazingly, while in college Hilda’s physics professor invited her to become her assistant in Chicago to work on a highly secret WWII research project, but her father wouldn’t allow her to go. It was later discovered to be the Manhattan Project that developed the Atomic bomb.
Unusual for the times, Hilda Ziifle was employed as a physicist at Higgins Aircraft, a government-owned plant at Michoud during World War II. Until her retirement, she was an associate physicist at the Southern Regional Research Laboratory in New Orleans, a U. S. Department of Agriculture division Hilda went on to work as a research chemist at the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Southern Regional Research Lab in New Orleans
Her work involved research of the physical-chemical nature of cotton cellulose and the application of statistical techniques. Hilda Ziifle’s independent research of the effect of a new chemical on cotton cellulose led to her invention of the formula for “wash and wear fabric!”
After World War II, foreign countries, particularly China, Poland and Germany were especially interested in Hilda Ziifle’s method. As a result of her work, Hilda was invited to Washington, D.C. where the USDA presented her with an award for her accomplishments in this field.
She was honored for her work in the journal, “Leaders for American Science, 1964-65,” in “Who’s Who of American Women” and in “American Men of Science, 1967.”
Hilda was later married to Julius R. Jung Jr., who preceded her in death. Hilda Ziifle Jung died Jan. 18, 2011 at the age of 88.
After college, Ruth went to work for renowned cardiologist, Dr. George Burch, Chairman of the Dept. of Medicine at Tulane University Medical Center. She spent 45 years as Dr. Burch’s assistant and edited all of his hundreds of papers and textbooks.
After college Myra married Richard Thalheim, a young Gretna attorney. She chose to teach so she could be home earlier with her four children. Her oldest child, Margaret was 15, Richard was 13, Mark was 11 and William was 8 when her husband died suddenly of a heart attack at age 45.
Her son Richard was already a student at Isodore Newman, a private school and ranked first in his class. His tuition had already been paid for the year when her husband died in August. She went to the school to ask about a scholarship and learned that the faculty’s children were given full scholarships. She took the teaching job that Newman offered and said she felt “the Lord’s hand was in all of this.” She taught Algebra there for more than 25 years.
Born in Gretna before it became a city, older brother Robert Ziifle was born in 1912, just a child when the Storm of 1915 knocked down the steeple of St. Joseph’s. Robert was in the last class to graduate from McDonogh-Jefferson High School, his class the first to use the new stage in Gretna High School’s auditorium. A graduate engineer from Tulane, he headed up the Transportation Dept. of NOPSI, New Orleans Public Service. Robert Ziifle died on May 3, 2012 at age 99.
Few families enjoy such accomplished lives and careers, yet offer so much to a community. The Ziifle family did just that. An era is over. The Ziifles will be long remembered in Gretna.