SPEARFISH — Dick Ruddell wore many hats during his 96 years of life.
Just ask any of his friends — and the list is long — or those involved in the many civic and volunteer activities to which he dedicated so much time over the years. That list is also long.
G. Richard “Dick” Ruddell, 96, of Spearfish died surrounded by his family on Friday evening, Feb. 3 at the David M. Dorsett Health Care Center in Spearfish.
He was born in Roanoke, Va., on Oct. 18, 1915 and was raised in Bluefield, W. Va., as the eldest of four children. He was an outstanding high school scholar and athlete. Although offered a full college scholarship, he instead went to work as an apprentice optician, helping to support his widowed mother and younger siblings.
He met his wife, Jo-Marie Thompson, in 1937 when she was the religious education director at his boyhood church, and diligently wooed her away from her physician boyfriend by quietly leaving an apple a day in her mailbox. They were engaged in 1937.
Ruddell was drafted during World War II and performed alternative service to his country as a conscientious objector on religious grounds. He served with other Quakers in the Civilian Public Service (CPS) as a forest firefighter and health worker at Byberry State Mental Hospital in Philadelphia, Pa. He also served as a volunteer in medical research protocols, including a hepatitis study for which he and the other research subjects received military commendations.
Dick and Jo-Marie married in 1944 and lived in Philadelphia until the end of the war. In 1946, they volunteered with the American Friends Service Committee and were assigned to China on a post-war relief.
He also reconnected with baseball by umpiring games between military and other teams.
When the couple returned to the United States with their 1-year-old daughter, they directed a project called Interns in Industry based in South Philadelphia. In 1951, the family, now with a new infant and two toddler daughters, moved to Rapid City.
After moving to Spearfish in 1954, Ruddell entered Black Hills State University, taking courses while working full time with the South Dakota Lung Association to eradicate and prevent tuberculosis, particularly among Lakota populations. Upon earning his degree, he continued his career at the Lung Association, eventually becoming the chief executive officer for the state association.
His passions were many, and he devoted his time to countless activities from serving on the Spearfish City Council to founding the Spearfish Investment Club, membership in the Optimists club and helping special needs children and the Native American community. He dedicated many years to the board of the Northern Hills Training Center and was active in his church.
Ruddell was probably best known for his love of baseball, a sport he mastered as a youngster and dedicated 40 years of his life as an umpire for Black Hills State University teams, the minor Basin League in Sturgis and Rapid City, and countless amateur and youth teams in Spearfish and statewide.
Ruddell continued to umpire into his seventies.
A Spearfish ball field bears his name, as does the baseball press box at the community athletic field complex, for which he fulfilled a long-held dream by saving, over time, to sponsor.
Kay Jorgensen first met Ruddell when she was 11 years old. Her brother Spike had introduced Jorgensen to Ruddell’s wife, Jo-Marie, and the two became close friends.
Jorgensen, her brother Joe, her son, Christopher and daughter Meredith helped care for Ruddell after Jo-Marie’s death 12 years ago, and after he broke his back in January 2006 and was confined to a wheelchair. They continued as friends and caretakers after Ruddell was moved into the Dorsett Home in March 2006.
Jorgensen has so many fond memories of her friend over the years she said it was hard to summarize just a few.
She fondly recalled many road trips with Ruddell, and their countless stops at Common Grounds for a Java shake — his favorite. Common Grounds was on Ruddell’s list of daily “to-dos” for years, she said.
“Dick’s influence was practical and compassionate. He wanted us to get to be the best we could be so that meant highly educated, both formally and informally through travel, and he encouraged and assisted every way he knew how,” said Jorgensen.
Jorgensen said he loved to talk about the magic of compound interest. “Be frugal with your money, invest well and take advantage of the resources that makes your money grow” was his advice, she said.
She chuckled as she recalled her friend’s ability to sell raffle tickets for his many causes, even to those who weren’t interested. “You couldn’t tell him ‘No,’” Jorgensen said. “I finally learned just to buy a bunch of them the first time he asked.”
Jorgensen said she loved and admired Ruddell for so many things, but was especially in awe of the extraordinary respect and gratitude he showed to everyone who helped care for him at the nursing home.
She is especially grateful for Ruddell’s compassion toward her children, and in particular, son Christopher. “Dick and Christopher (Pangburn) had a very special bond, and I will forever be grateful for that,” she said. “Dick was the first person to treat him like an adult.”
Jorgensen said she feels fortunate to have had such a wonderful person in her life, and will feel a void in her heart.
“We all mourn his loss. It’s an enormous loss to all of us,” she said tearfully.
Pangburn shared in his mother’s grief.
“Dick Ruddell was a promoter of the community, and he made that a very important part of his life,” he said. “He showed me that nothing was ever too late, and that in the end, he was just my friend.”
Ruddell’s nature, innate wisdom and good humor touched the lives of countless others, from the many children who called him “Uncle Dick” to the steady stream of international students, Training Center clients, fellow congregants, and the untold numbers of baseball players, umpires and fans who visited or lived in the Ruddell home.
Fred Romkema has fond memories of Ruddell from the days they served together on the Spearfish City Council, as a fellow member of the investment club and Ruddell’s years on the board of the Northern Hills Training Center, where Romkema has served as CEO for many years.
Romkema referred to his friend as kind and wise, and said he admired Ruddell for so many things, but mostly because he always looked out for the people who are less fortunate.
Romkema also mentioned Ruddell’s passion for selling raffle tickets to help raise funds for his favorite charities. “He raised more money than anyone else $1 at a time,” said Romkema.
Ruddell’s nephew, Preston Ruddell, remembers admiring his uncle as he played baseball and basketball with Preston’s father, Joe. Athletics runs in the family.
He was so proud to have played an amateur baseball game with his uncle as umpire.
“It was such an honor to be in the same field with him,” said Preston.
The younger Ruddell also admires his uncle for treating him as an adult when he was just 21 years old and a guest in his uncle’s home. Their relationship grew over the years, and they discussed everything from politics, baseball and sports to relationships and life in general.
He is honored to have shared in the life of such an influential man, he said.
“Our relationship meant the world to me. I will never forget the time he told me he would never leave Spearfish because it was a place a man could stretch his soul,” said Preston.
Jorgensen is a staunch Republican and Ruddell was a devout Democrat so the two had many a political debate. But their friendship remained strong.
The Ruddell home on Kansas Street was a popular hangout for politicians, and became campaign headquarters for many Democratic hopefuls — from George McGovern to Tom Daschle. One of Ruddell’s proudest moments was attending President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in Washington, D.C. as Daschle’s personal guest.
Daschle wrote in Ruddell’s online memorial guest book that he considered Ruddell a dear and treasured friend.
“We had many, many wonderful times together. And we shared many of the same perspectives on politics, South Dakota and life in general,” Daschle wrote. “I will miss him dearly.”
Jorgensen recalls one road trip that ranked among Ruddell’s most treasured political moments.
“We took him to see Barack Obama when he was campaigning in Rapid City,” smiled Jorgensen. “We got him to the front row and they shook hands. He vowed to live long enough to vote for Obama as President of the United States. And he did.”