July 10, 2013
PHELPS, Wisc. - Don V. Ruck, the founding father of The UConn Club, died peacefully Sunday (July 7, 2013) at his home on Smoky Lake in Phelps, Wisc.
Ruck, 84, graduated from the University of Connecticut in 1952 and enjoyed a distinguished professional business career, highlighted in 1968 when he was named Vice President of the National Hockey League.
A native of Iron River, Mich., Ruck enrolled at UConn in 1949 following two years of military service with the United States Coast Guard.
During his undergraduate days at UConn, Ruck was a well-known figure on the Storrs campus, including serving as both sports editor and editor-in-chief of The Connecticut Campus newspaper.
In November of 1953, Ruck was the guiding spirit responsible for launching the first support group and fund-raising arm of UConn Athletics, the Alumni "C" Club. In 1960, the "C" Club was renamed The UConn Club. The first "C" Club Awards Dinner was staged in March of 1954 and that annual event, now The UConn Club Awards Dinner, has continued for the past 60 years.
Don Ruck was the first Alumni "C" Club President (1954 and 1955), returned for a second term as President (1964 and 1965) and served for many years as Executive Secretary of the organization. He was honored by The UConn Club with its "Outstanding Contribution Award" and was also presented the Distinguished Alumni Award by the UConn Alumni Association.
Following graduation from UConn, Ruck began his 60-year professional career in public relations as a Connecticut-based newspaper sports writer (Hartford Courant, New Haven Journal Courier) before working in the marketing department at United Illuminating. In 1954, Ruck was named Publicity/Marketing Director for Connecticut Blue Cross, where he worked from 1954-66.
In March of 1966, the six owners of the National Hockey League hired Ruck as the league's Director of Public Relations, asking him to open a New York office where he became the first U.S.-based employee of the NHL. Ruck played a pivotal role in marketing the success of the league's first expansion from six to 12 teams in 1967-68.
In October of 1968, at age 40, Don Ruck was promoted to a key senior management position when NHL President Clarence Campbell elevated Ruck to Vice President of the NHL.
Prior to Ruck's appointment as VP, the NHL had operated without a Vice President for its first 52 years as a professional sports league.
In his role as Vice President of the NHL, Ruck helped shepherd professional hockey into a major American sport. He was in charge of publicizing the NHL, coordinating network television coverage, including negotiating contracts with both CBS and NBC in the early 1970s, and heading NHL Services, Inc., which handled all licensing/merchandising opportunities for the league.
By 1974, with Don Ruck coordinating U.S.-based efforts from his New York office, the NHL had tripled in size from the original six clubs to 18 franchises.
Following his retirement from the NHL in 1978, Ruck continued his very successful business/public relations career. He served as President of Spencer Marketing in New York and eventually formed Don V. Ruck Productions, providing services to a wide range of sports organizations including the Major Indoor Soccer League, the Historically Black Colleges and Universities and the National Football Foundation & Hall of Fame and its annual Awards Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City.
In 1990, Don Ruck began to split time between New York City and his native home ground when he moved to the Upper Peninsula to be closer to his extended family and his roots in the North Woods. While at his home in Phelps, Wisc., he dedicated countless hours to improving local community services and organizing and supporting fundraising efforts for a variety of causes.
Among his survivors are his wife Marilyn Bow Ruck; his five children from his previous marriage to the late Jane Weber Ruck--Cindy Camp, Beth Ruck, Jeff Ruck, Clay Ruck and Dean Ruck; and four grandchildren--Kristi Miller, Tonya Miller, Owyn Ruck and Tim Henstrand.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Don Ruck's honor to the Phelps Volunteer Ambulance Service (4499 Town Hall Road, Phelps, WI 54554) or to the North Woods Animal Shelter (930 Selden Road, Iron River, MI 49935). A church service will be held at 11:00 a.m. on July 13 at Phelps Congregational Church on Highway 17 in Phelps.
Funeral arrangements by the Jacobs Funeral Home of Iron River, Mich.