From Germany to the US, Renate Ingram shares her coming to the U.S. and obstacle to citizenship
For Roanoke Rapids resident Renate Ingram, who became a U.S. citizen 22 years ago, it wasn’t necessarily obtaining a green card or passing the citizenship test that held her up — it was her father.
Born to a German father and French mother in the town of Kassel, Germany, Ingram said her dad was always a very proud man, which made her hesitant to seek citizenship while he was still alive.
So year after year for decades she renewed her green card, from 1964 when she came to the United States until 1995 when her father died and she decided to become a citizen.
“I don’t think my father would have really minded, it was more to honor his memory,” Ingram said.
Ingram grew up in post World War II Germany in what was then the Allied controlled portion of the country known as West Germany. Her mother died when she was just 4, so her father was left alone to raise four children — Ingram was the youngest — in a country struggling to rebuild after war.
“Our house was totally bombed,” Ingram said. “The only thing that was really left was a little bit of our garden. That was our playground and where we grew vegetables.”
Life was tough for the family, she said. “What I hear from my family, it was very hard on everyone.”
Her father worked long hours to put food on the table without a guarantee there would be any. Despite the hardship, he pinched pennies to send Ingram to school, and she was even able to come to America as a teen.
School was a privilege, she said, “matter of fact, it was everything to me.”
She came to Woodbridge, Virginia, as an exchange student during high school then returned to Germany to graduate. After, Ingram attended Heidelberg University and graduated with a degree in creative art and design.
“I always was interested in art, we have a lot of museums (in Germany) thank goodness they were all preserved, thank goodness,” she said. “I was interested in basically everything, and I didn’t make up my mind until 20 years ago that I really wanted to design and make jewelry.”
Coming to the U.S. in 1964, Ingram said she remembers having to be totally examined, from top to bottom, in an American consulate in order to get her initial green card.
Years later in 1991, about the time she discovered her love for jewelry making, she met and married her husband, Ralph. Ralph Ingram is a Roanoke Rapids native who spent time in the Navy and worked for IBM before retiring.
When it came time for her to take the citizenship test in 1995, he said he never worried about her ability to pass it because she spoke better English than he could and knew her American history — in part because her entire family would quiz her on it throughout the day.
“She studied like crazy for the test,” he said.
She added, “My father always told me it was important to assimilate.”
Renate Ingram now spends her time making and selling her jewelry, often traveling to shows and events throughout the area to show her creations.
“For me, it is an adventure to design jewelry,” she said. “If I stop growing as an artist, it doesn’t feel right to me.”