Florence Marie Ruf Phariss passed away peacefully in Indianapolis on January 10, 2024. She was born in Florence, Italy January 22, 1929, although her family was French. Her family returned home, moving to Paris in 1933, because of economic and political conditions in Italy. Florence always considered Paris her childhood home and would travel there many times throughout her life.
Much of her childhood was defined by WWII. In 1939, when WWII started in Europe, her dad, Emile was called up to serve in the French Army. The following year, Florence, her mother Marguerite, and brother, Jean, fled to the small village of Boissy le Cutte located about 35 miles south of Paris. They lived there temporarily to safely wait out the German invasion until the French surrendered in 1940. Then, they returned to Paris. During this time, they would go daily to check the posted listings of those French that were POW or KIA. Several weeks later there was a knock on the door and it was her father returning home. They continued to return to Boissy le Cutte for safety at various times during the occupation. They even attended school there at times. Florence told us a Germen antiaircraft gun was positioned on the roof of her Paris school. When Americans were on their way to help liberate Paris in August of 1944, one of their tanks broke down in the village. Florence acted as an interpreter for the French mechanics who were able to fix it. She and her family made it back home to Paris, walking and then hitching a ride on the flatbed of a train car, where someone gifted them some chocolate to celebrate the liberation.
After the liberation of Paris, she met her husband, Harry, an American soldier. Dressed in his paratrooper uniform, he was on leave in Paris and walking along the Champs Elysée. He always said, that when he saw the most beautiful French girl, he introduced himself and convinced Florence to be his tour guide. They were married in July 1945 at the US Army post in Auxerre, France, just before Harry shipped out heading toward Japan to be part of the invasion force.
Florence would reunite with Harry about a year-and-a-half later, sailing to America on a war bride ship with her ten-month-old son, George. Her new hometown was Shawnee, Oklahoma. Their daughter Lu Anne was born in 1948, and son Stanley in 1950. Her brother and parents at various times all came to settle in the United States.
Florence became an American citizen in 1951. She went to college, graduating from Oklahoma Baptist University with a degree in French in 1957. OBU hired her right away. While teaching, she continued her studies, earning a master’s degree in French Literature from Oklahoma University in 1961. Then in 1964, she joined the faculty at Butler University in Indianapolis as a Professor of French. She would teach at Butler for 33 years until her retirement in 1997 as Professor Emerita. Florence loved teaching others her native language. Active in her field, she made several presentations in the US and France. Florence loved her students, and they loved her back. She was known for her sense of style, being named the best dressed professor by students more than once.
Florence and Harry loved to travel and loved ballroom dancing, but most of all, loved their family and friends. In the early 1980s, she helped Harry form the 13th Airborne Division Association, to connect soldiers that had served their country. It grew to several thousand members, holding annual conventions throughout the United States until 2008.
Florence was predeceased by her parents, Emile and Marguerite Ruf and by her husband of 72 years Harry Phariss. She is survived by her brother Jean Charles Ruf (Olga Padron) of Miami, FL, her three children George Phariss (Jana Witmer) of Mundelein, IL, Lu Anne Phariss Conley (John) of Trinity, FL, and Stan Phariss (Libby Lybrook) of Indianapolis, and 8 grandchildren, Kristy Phariss Kennedy (Pat), Kirk Phariss (Jen Mattingly), Steve Goettler (Brandye Smith), Marie Goettler Garver (Graig), Logan Goettler (Amanda Cook), Emily Phariss Johnson (Dave), Bart Phariss (Laura Hale), Alison Phariss Moran (Steve), 21 great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and cousins.
A celebration of life will be held at the Flanner Buchanan - Carmel, 325 East Carmel Drive on Wednesday January 17, at Noon to 1pm with the service at 1pm and the interment to follow at Crown Hill Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, please donate to a veteran’s organization of your choosing.