Richard Ruiz

Richard Ruiz, veteran, activist, Little League devotee, dies at 82

August 09, 2013
Santa Paula News

By Peggy Kelly 

Santa Paula Times 

It would be hard to tell from his self-effacing, quiet manner, but from the battlefields to the baseball diamonds Richard Ruiz made a difference in many lives.

In his later years straddling veterans and kids and determined to make life better for all, Quartermaster/Adjutant Richard could be found in full Mercer-Prieto VFW Post #2043 regalia selling poppies to benefit veterans one day and the next sporting a baseball uniform coaching the kids he loved.

Family, military and Little League is what helped define Richard, who passed away Tuesday, August 6, following a short illness. Family surrounded Richard, 82, when he passed.

Up until only recently Richard, although no longer as active as he had been, still attended all the Little League games at Harding Park, watching new generations of kids finding the thrill and sense of accomplishment when bat cracks ball, running bases that are the groundwork of successful adulthoods and working as a team that forges lifelong cooperation.

Born May 19, 1931 in Arizona, Richard’s parents moved the family in Santa Paula in 1944 so their children would have better opportunities.

At Santa Paula High School, Richard was in Hi-Y and on the track team. He was in C.H.A. and the Letterman’s Club and graduated in 1949.

Following a short stint at Ventura Community College, Richard joined the United States Army, and after basic training was sent to Georgia for a crash course in cryptography. 

Richard was then assigned to the 508th Signal Service Company in Yokohama, Japan, at General Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters before being transferred to the 8047th Army Unit in Kokura, Japan, for the remainder of his service career. Richard, then a Corporal, received an honorable discharge from the Army in 1953, the same year he returned to Santa Paula and married Elvera. 

According to his daughter Mary Mata of Santa Paula, Richard was first a member of Labor Union Local 585: “Then he was elected to their union official and was secretary-treasurer of the union,” at their Ventura office until he retired.

Shortly after he returned Santa Paula, Richard became involved in the VFW Post.

“I’d known Richard since I was a kid,” when VFW Post Commander Jerry Olivas said he went to school with Ruiz’s younger brother.

But it wasn’t until Olivas joined the VFW in 1980 that he became closer to Richard and his admiration grew.

“Richard was so organized, so meticulous, he had such a strong sense of responsibility ... we might appoint another person to take his place but we’ll never replace him.

“A person like Richard,” said Jerry, “you can’t replace ... “

As he did all things Richard was a behind-the-scenes hard worker, “Extremely quiet and a real humble ... he hated to be singled out for credit, any public acknowledgement. He kept a real low profile, was low-key and never spoke badly about anyone. No matter who or what they did Richard would say ‘I don’t listen to them, I just ignore them.’ He was that caliber of guy. He might joke about something later but he was never mean-spirited.”

And Richard demonstrated high standards others adhered to: “There would be days I didn’t feel like doing a funeral,” the local VFW being one of the most active in the county when it comes to bringing comfort to veterans’ families with Color Guards, “Taps” and gun salutes. 

But Jerry said Richard always was willing, and it had a domino effect, “So I would do it and the others would do it. It wasn’t in his DNA to complain or not show up, he’d be there no matter what and set the example for us to follow.

“Richard,” said Jerry, “was always willing to help somebody, his dedication was to the community and especially the kids playing baseball.”

In fact, there is a Little League baseball field named for Richard at Harding Park, an honored bestowed in 1987 for the decades of devotion Richard had given to the kids and their game.

He was a coach, umpire, announcer, ticket seller, groundskeeper, anything and everything for the kids to be able to play was Richard’s top priority and generations of now adults credit him with enriching their lives through baseball.

Although Richard was president in 1966-1967 of the Mexican American Civic Organization, served on the then-Santa Paula Boys & Girls Club board, was on the Ventura County Grand Jury in 1987-1988, a Santa Paula Housing Authority Commissioner and remained active to the end with the VFW and the Korean War Veterans Association Ventura County Chapter #56, he always made time for family and baseball.

Mary Mata said she and her four siblings were, “Laughing about things we used to do, thinking our dad would not find out ... and, of course, he did!”

In June he and Elvera celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary, a marriage that produced five children, 22 grandchildren, 33 great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren. 

With that many descendents it was good that Richard loved kids: “That’s what is most memorable, his love of kids ... and his volunteerism. That’s where I learned from, his devotion to community and his love of helping others and giving.

“He instilled that in us as children; both our parents did,” said Mary. “He was just so special, so many people had wonderful memories of him.”

And that included at Harding Park, where the Richard Ruiz Field honored the man who gave so much to ensure bright futures for even the smallest kids who learned to love baseball. 

Said Mary, “This year his health wouldn’t allow him to attend,” the baseball games his great-grandchildren now play at a park.

“Dad’s hobbies were basically Little League and the veterans,” noted Mary, “those were his loves.”

The family is asking that memorial donations be made to Santa Paula Mercer-Prieto VFW Post #2054 or Santa Paula Little League.

A Rosary will be held Monday, August 12, at 7 p.m. at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church; Mass will be held Tuesday, 10 a.m. at the church, 427 N. Oak St., Santa Paula. Internment will follow.

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