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home : obituaries : obituaries
March 22, 2019

3/13/2019 3:30:00 PM
James D. Ruyak
d. March 9, 2019

Embraced by the deep love and warmth of his family, James D. Ruyak, 84, of Remer, MN, journeyed to Heaven on March 9, 2019. He had been strengthened by prayers and messages from people far and wide and was in the place he loved most: his home.

Jim was born in Pottstown, PA, the youngest child of Michael and Anna Ruyak. He graduated from Pottstown High School in 1952 and enlisted in the US Army during the Korean War. Jim used the GI Bill to graduate from Davis & Elkins College in West Virginia with a degree in Civil Engineering. That same year, he married his first wife, Barbra. His work with the US Army Corps of Engineers took the family, with four young children, from Kinzua Dam in Warren, PA, to projects in Pittsburgh, PA, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

In 1973, Jim joined the St. Paul District of the USACE, incorporating emergency response and recovery into his career path. For three consecutive years in the mid-70's, as Chief of Construction, he led successful efforts to save the city of Minot, ND, from disastrous flooding. Jim became their hero. He was given a Key to the City and made an Honorary Citizen. A local songwriter wrote 'The Ballad of Jim.' Ruyak Point was named for him. His work made network news and The New York Times.

In 1979, Jim became the Mississippi Headwaters project manager. He relocated to the USACE Office in Remer, which would become his adopted hometown. He married his second wife, Joan, and they immersed themselves in a new community, a busy school and the 'great outdoors' of northern Minnesota. He hunted, fished, trapped and gardened. He planted trees, picked berries, gathered maple syrup, harvested wild rice; he taught Hunter's Safety courses, gave young people jobs, and with his time and conversation inspired everyone who knew him. His values were as high as his goals, and he believed that a person's most important goal should be to be happy.

Jim's emergency response work continued. Just after the Gulf War, he volunteered to go to Kuwait to help restore services and infrastructure. By late 1992, he was the Resident Engineer for the rebuilding of Ali Al Salem Airbase. A big surprise came in his third tour, when Jim's son, 1st Lt. Marc Ruyak, a graduate of the US Military Academy at West Point, was deployed to Kuwait. Staff helped arrange a special reunion dinner in Kuwait City for the two of them.

In 1994, Jim added a new 'career' becoming an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) because the Remer Area Ambulance Service needed more volunteers. He joined Meds1 in Grand Rapids, too, and truly loved being part of these teams. He made lifelong friends and responded to calls for the next twenty years. A visit to 'Dad's house' meant hearing that ambulance pager 24/7.

Life changed dramatically in 1995, when Joan died unexpectedly. But FEMA was tapping into his expertise, and Jim started travelling the world to teach. He spent time with his daughters between assignments; they now had children of their own. In 2000, after 43 years with USACE, Jim quietly retired. But that didn't last long.

9/11 prompted him to come out of retirement. Jim volunteered for yet another dangerous and faraway mission: Iraq. His family worried desperately for his safety. But once again, he completed three tours of duty, spending two birthdays, including his 74th, in deployment. Jim would oversee more than 50 projects as the Senior Project Engineer (the 'most' senior, he would jokingly say).

In 2011, Jim took a 6-month contract to assist with staffing in the overseas arenas where he had worked. That 'short-term' assignment became the work he did until the end of his life. Once again, he became part of a successful team and made more great friends along the way.

Jim lived a colorful tapestry. His life was woven with experiences all over the world and in his own backyard, deep patriotism and dedication to country and community, a persistent desire to help others, and a truly unstoppable enthusiasm for life. He cherished family and friends and pets, he loved a hot cup of coffee in the morning and a good meal with good people in the evening. His drink, 'the Jimlet' became a local favorite. He tried and tried to play a good game of golf. And one of his life's highlights was a weekend at the 2016 Ryder Cup with his best buddies. Most of all, though, he treasured his grandchildren: watching them grow, sharing time with them and hearing their stories.

Jim has now joined his beloved brother Joseph Ruyak and the rest of his family, his wife Joan, his son-in-law Dan, and many dear friends. He is survived by his four children, Beth (Mike), Michelle, Ann and Marc (Kerry), eight grandchildren (Robb, Sami, Nik, Cody, Preston, Sydney, Avery and Brooklyn), three great-grandchildren (Enjoli, Leah and Danny), loving relatives and many, many friends.

Please join us to remember our beloved Dad, Grampy, Great-Grampa, Father-in-Law, Friend and Colleague on Saturday, March 30, 2019, at St. Paul's Catholic Church in Remer, MN. The Celebration of Life opens at 10 a.m. with a Mass of Christian Burial at 11 a.m. followed by lunch. Burial at Fairview Cemetery in Remer is at 1 p.m.

Arrangements are with Rowe Funeral Home of Grand Rapids, MN. If you wish, a donation in Jim Ruyak's honor can be made to RAAS (Remer Area Ambulance Service) through the City of Remer. To sign the online guestbook or send condolences visit

Bill Hansen Realty

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