Ottawa mourns death of Sandy Ruckstuhl

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Updated: January 9, 2017
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Article by: Time Baines

Sandy Ruckstuhl cared. About football. And, most importantly, about people.

That was the way he operated for so many years as president of the Myers Riders. It was never about a cash grab or any of the other B.S. that creeps into youth sports.

It was never about him, it was always about the kids. Always. That’s just who and what Sandy Ruckstuhl was: Generous. Giving. Caring. A true team player.

The heart and soul of Ottawa’s community football scene, Ruckstuhl died at Ottawa Hospital’s Civic Campus Saturday night. He was 72. Appropriately enough, the Dallas Cowboys fan was watching the sport he loved so much, with the Detroit Lions playing the Seattle Seahawks.

With him at his bedside Saturday were Ruckstuhl’s wife Linda, son Caine and his wife Dora, and family friend Max Palladino, a coach for so many years with the Riders.

“It’s almost surreal,” Caine said. “I can’t imagine life without him yet. Maybe I never will. I guess that’s the hardest thing, I keep saying to myself, ‘This morning was the last time I was able to see him and (Saturday night) was the last conversation I can have with him.’”

“My dad passed away 20 years ago, Sandy’s been like a dad and a best friend for me,” Palladino said.

A deputy director for foreign affairs for 37 years, Ruckstuhl served the Riders for the same amount of time. Forget the trophies — and there were many — that the Riders brought home, Ruckstuhl was a life champion, a guy who made an impact. He was a good man, a good father, a good husband and a good friend.

Said Caine: “He meant so much to me — from being a mentor, to being an example as a husband, as an employee, he really emphasized the value of commitment. And he was all about having a championship mentality; if you’re going to do something, do it to win, give it your all.”

So many players wore the Myers Riders colours. Whether Ruckstuhl, whose son Steven died at age 17, knew them or not, he cared. About all of them.

“It didn’t matter if a kid had money,” Palladino said. “If that kid wanted to play football, he was on the team. Sandy made it happen. He changed a lot of lives.”

“I remember Sandy from when I was playing Mosquito football, I was eight,” Acadia Axemen offensive co-ordinator Luigi Costanzo said. “Then I coached for him. He had a huge heart, he was always there for the young men of the community — helping players in need out. He found a way to get them in football and keep them in football. He was a pillar of the community and a big, old fun-loving guy.”

“Most people don’t give much of their time to the community and he gave 37 years,” Caine said.

“He did what was best for football,” former Ottawa Sooners president Rob Raistrick said. “He had great integrity. I had tons of respect for him.”

A big man in stature, the biggest part of Ruckstuhl was always his heart. He had time for everybody. He’d had some health issues. Mobility at times was a problem, but that didn’t keep him away from the football field, even if he had to watch from his car.

“I spoke to him just over a week ago,” Costanzo said. “He sounded really good. He was happy, we were joking around.”

His involvement with community football meant everything to Ruckstuhl, but he couldn’t have done it without the support of his wife, a marriage that lasted 51 years.

“As they say, behind every great man, there is a better woman, that’s the case here,” Costanzo said. “For the great contributions he made, his wife Linda was there, too. They were a dynamic duo, a great couple.”

“One time, we were on the sidelines talking,” Palladino said. “We were talking about pretty women and he pointed to the other side and said, ‘Look over there, look at that girl, she’s gorgeous.’ I’m looking and I said, ‘Where? I see your wife …’ He said, ‘That’s who I’m talking about, isn’t she gorgeous?’ He really loved his wife.”

Somehow, his legacy has not yet been recognized in the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame, which has so many great stories within its walls. With the thousands of lives he touched, there has to be room for Ruckstuhl.

“He had a big soft spot and that’s how most people would recognize him,” Palladino said. “But he was also one of the biggest competitors I’ve met, he had that huge competitive streak in him.”

Ruckstahl brought many smiles to the faces of others. What he did, what he meant, won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

“I’m reading some of the messages on Facebook and I start crying all over again,” Palladino said. “He’s not suffering and he’s with his son right now, that’s the comfort.”

Visitation will be Thursday at Kelly Funeral Homes, 3000 Woodroffe Ave. (2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m.). Location of the funeral Friday is still to be determined.

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