Cumberland Times-News

Columns

July 9, 2014

A man of the Midwest, of Cumberland, and a friend

— His obituary was neither extravagant nor trumpeting. Yet it was a fitting tribute to the man and the life he lived. It was succinct yet sincere. Like the man, it was gracious and understated, and it was filled with love and with warmth, and all of the names of his family and the things in his life that made him memorable.

It said the man was a veteran of the United States Army and he served during the Vietnam Conflict. He was a member of the VVA Chapter 172 and a VVA Honor guard; a member of the Allegany County Men’s Bowling League; American Legion and Farraday Post Frostburg. He was a member of the Cumberland Country Club “where he loved to golf and,” in the most telling words in the story of this fine man’s life, “be with his friends.”

 The first time I met Ron Ruthenberg was in the lounge of When Pigs Fly Restaurant, and we were drinking beer. The last time I saw Ron was two days before he died, and he was in Uncle Jack's Pizzeria and Pub ... drinking beer.

Maybe that doesn't sound too memorable to some of you, but for those of us who knew and loved Ron Ruthenberg, it was perfect.

For beginners, the man was a native of Milwaukee, so he had no choice in the matter — he loved the taste of an ice cold beer. And despite being diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease), which is about as horrible a disease as there is, Ron never once complained or asked, “Why me?” He simply carried on and lived his life the way he wanted to live it to the very end. One of the things he loved doing as much as anything was meeting up with the boys and knocking back some cold Pabst Blue Ribbons, and ALS be damned, he did that right up to two days before he died.

He had no illusions concerning his fate, but as long as he was able to, he was going to enjoy the company and share the good times with his family and friends. And with Ron Ruthenberg in the room, all of the times were good times.

His death came at his home on June 27, not long after his diagnosis, which is a blessing. But for all who knew him, it still came much too soon.

Lord, how we loved Ron Ruthenberg, such a kind, unassuming and caring man. Generosity was his core, as several of his friends mused at one of the many Pabst Blue Ribbon salutes that were raised in his honor that we were going to have to start buying our own beer now. Because when Ron was in the room, we didn’t buy very many. He always had the deep pocket when it came to his friends as well as the fast hand to it to make sure you had a cold one in front of you. Which left all of us with just one obligation, and that was to enjoy each other’s company and conversation. And that is what we did, making our lone obligation such a cherished blessing to us all.

Being from Milwaukee, Ron naturally loved the Green Bay Packers, the Milwaukee Brewers and the Milwaukee Bucks. But living in Maryland, he also grew to love the Baltimore Orioles and the Baltimore Ravens. He held season tickets to both teams and even went to New Orleans for the Ravens’ Super Bowl win two years ago.

When his name came up in the Ravens season-ticket holders lottery, despite his reservations, Ron went to the Super Bowl at the insistence of his beloved wife Amanda. Going to a Super Bowl to root for his team, she told him, was a life experience for any football fan. And, as it turned out, she was right, for not only did the Ravens win the world title, but Ron’s wallet was stolen in the din of New Orleans.

Yet, as he did with everything, Ron took it in stride, saying it was all part of the adventure. Just another experience to share with the boys. And while he said he likely would never go to another Super Bowl (and not because of the wallet, he said), he had no regrets and was delighted to have been there to see one of his adopted teams take all the marbles.

 Perhaps that doesn't seem very telling either. So he rooted for the local teams; so what? But that was the kind of guy Ron was. For if his life had taken him to live, say, in the state of Washington, even though the Packers, the Brewers (and the Braves before them) and the Bucks would always be his first sports loves, he would have have embraced the Seattle Seahawks, Mariners and, before they moved to Oklahoma City, the Sonics.

Ron Ruthenberg, you see, was a community man. He was the perfect acquaintance, the perfect beer drinking buddy, the perfect confidant, the perfect fan, the perfect neighbor. He was the perfect family man and wherever he was, it seemed, he was surrounded by and relished being in the company of family. Whether it was his family by birth or marriage or his family of friends that grew newer every day, Ron Ruthenberg made a different friend every day.

He was at the center of his own community, one that he had discovered and embraced every day. And every one of us in it relished in embracing him right back.

Mike Burke is the sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at mburke@times-news.com

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