Ruckriegel's impact on hometown rememberedJune 22, 2021
By CHRISTINE STEPHENSON
JASPER — About six months ago, when Bob Ruckriegel could still get around with a cane, his friend and business partner of decades, Dave Buehler, decided to give him a call.
He told him that he was coming to pick him up, that they were going to drive around town, and that he had a six pack of beer waiting for them. Dave knew Bob’s health was beginning to decline and he might not have much time left with him. But he mostly just reached out because he wanted to spend an afternoon with his friend.
“I was just thinking about him, so I gave him a call,” he said. “Thank God I did.”
They talked about life and how much theirs had changed throughout the 80-plus years of their lives.
“The older you get, the more you talk about old times,” Dave said, “because there’s a lot of them.”
Bob Ruckriegel, 85, died on June 11. He was born and raised in Jasper and touched the lives of hundreds of Dubois County residents, his employees or otherwise, throughout his life.
To his wife, Lovella, and their two sons, Al and Sid, he was “the best husband and father that anyone could ever ask for,” Al said. To Dave, he was a loyal partner who didn’t always agree but would never raise his voice or argue over business. And to many in Dubois County, he was a hardworking man who did everything he could for his community.
Dave and Bob opened Jerry’s, a 24-hour restaurant in Jasper, in 1964. Eventually, a restaurant company was formed out of the single location and became BR Associates with hospitality units in six states throughout the country. In 1986, it was recognized as the sixth largest multi-concept private restaurant group in the U.S.
The company’s motto was that a good cup of coffee and a smile never go out of fashion. Dave said that Bob lived by that for the rest of his life.
Bob also opened the third-ever Long John Silver’s restaurant franchise in 1969. In 2014, Bob and his two sons, who also started their own restaurant company, combined their companies to form SERVUS, which through the years has also included Wendy’s, Grandy’s, Denny’s and McCalister’s Deli locations and the Jasper 8 Cinema along with several other real estate holdings.
Bob also was instrumental in the establishment of the Good Samaritan Society Northwood Retirement Community in Jasper in the 1960s. He saw the need for senior living in the area — not just a nursing home, but a place where seniors could live independently and comfortably transition into more intense care without feeling isolated.
He served as the president of the campaign committee in 1967 to raise $100,000 for the 72-bed nursing facility. Ever since then, the facility has continued to grow in size and add service lines.
“We wouldn’t be anything here without him,” said Tresia Bland, who has worked for the Good Samaritan Society for more than 20 years.
Bob always lovingly called it “the home," said Jennifer Wilson, Good Samaritan Society’s marketing director and office manager. He stayed on the Board of Directors until 2016, and even after that, he’d still regularly call to check on the home, chat with the employees or bring Lovella in to get her hair done.
He deeply cared for his employees — many stayed with him for decades, sometimes moving between his restaurants and the home — but he was kind in his own way. He was never the cheerleader type, and he'd give advice but let his people make mistakes and learn from them.
Bob had a business-oriented mind, but he wasn’t afraid to have fun with his employees, Wilson said. And above all, he was always humble. He and Lovella would often dine in their own restaurants as regular customers without letting anyone know they owned the place.
“It’s kind of cheesy to say, but he really did live his life as a good Samaritan,” Wilson said. “He was a champion for everyone.”
In 2017, Bob and Lovella were awarded a key to the City of Jasper. The couple had received several awards through the years, but the key to the city was possibly the most important to Bob as it meant they had made their hometown a better place.
Bob would tell anyone that he and Lovella were a package deal, that she was always just as important to the business as he was. They were high school sweethearts, and they did everything together during their 65 years of marriage.
His son Al, of Terre Haute, said his father was always loving toward everyone regardless of who they were. He taught him and Sid, of Peoria, Illinois, to be businessmen, but he taught them to be caring people above all else.
Bob would often call two or three times a day to ask how he was doing, Al said in his eulogy to his father June 16. The family often sat with Bob at Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center, where he was cared for until he died.
“I will miss my dad every day and cherish every moment that I have ever had with him,” Al said.
Sid recalled how his dad was always a big fan of parties, how he wanted to celebrate both the big and small moments in life and everything in between. He remembered how his dad cared for every person he met, and how he would tell his sons that every person has a story.
He was not in the restaurant business, he would tell them, he was in the people business. He cared more about being a good person and bettering his community.
"Dad had three loves: his family, his church and his hometown," Sid said. "For he knew the community you grow up in shapes you. It molds you, and you are better for it, if it always remains part of you."
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