By Robert Kubiak
John J. Ruda was born in Dudley September 4, 1917, an only son with five sisters. He attended Saint Joseph School and Bartlett High School, both in Webster. John began to exhibit his determination in life during this time by being elected to the National Honor Society and by winning the Academic Bee. He was truly proud of this feat and it entered into many family discussions throughout his life.
John attended Stockbridge Academy of the UMass Dairy Management School with a small group of farmers from Dudley. Much of John’s higher education was secured against the backdrop of the Great Depression, which helped shape his personal dedication to a life of giving, and to service. Upon completing this area of study, John chose to remain in the western part of the state and was employed by the Pittsfield Milk Exchange. John delivered milk, and other dairy and farm products, by horse and wagon. He often joked “there was no opportunity for customer service as it was all dependent on the disposition of the horse. There was many a time the horse made the delivery with, or without, me.”
Although John was being educated within the dairy aspects of farming, his dream was really to become a manufacturer of the finest ice cream of the time. But this was not to be. While John was attending the academy and later working in the western part of Massachusetts, his father was starting a dairy farm on the family farm on Airport Road in Dudley. His father worked full time at local linen mills while building the dairy business with John’s sisters. The call soon went out that the family needed John to return home and be a part of the new family business. And with his return came World War II.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, John knew what he had to do. He voluntarily enlisted in the US Navy with the desire to be a fighter pilot. He was quickly sent to Pensacola Naval Air Station on the Gulf coast of Florida, and then to the Great Lakes for aviator training, where he earned his Gold Wings at Quonset Point Naval Center. He was given command of a TBF Avenger torpedo plane, a carrier-based torpedo bomber built to attack the Japanese navy after the American fleet at Pearl Harbor was decimated. John was promptly assigned to the Pacific Theater where he saw much action, including participation in the first wave of the historic attack of Tokyo Bay. Many believe that John developed his love of planes watching them land, take off, and occasionally hitching a ride at the Dudley airfield, Bates Farm, on Airport Road in Dudley. This airfield was directly across from the Ruda Dairy Farm and served, in part, government planes delivering air mail.
A great adventurer and daredevil, John had a flair for ruffling the feathers both with the Navy and his mother. When he was first courting the love of his life, Elizabeth ‘Elsie’ Carlage, who was employed as a secretary at Belding-Hemingway Company in Putnam, Conn., John decided to impress her one day by flying his Navy aviator torpedo training plane extremely low along Main Street in Putnam, much to the shock and dismay of the town’s resident’s. There was another ‘incident’ where he flew low over his family’s dairy, and the noise from his plane scared the chickens so much they stopped producing eggs. It is still not known today which punishment was worse for John’s acrobatic indiscretions, the one doled out by the Navy, or the scorn meted out by his mother.
While John may have had some fun in his plane at the expense of the residents of Putnam and the family chickens at home, he was very different when flying missions during the war. John demonstrated true leadership in dramatic fashion when he and his two crew members were on a return flight from a raid and were unable to locate their aircraft carrier. The fuel was dangerously low and they were out over the ocean, with no hope of making it to land. There had been radio silence and their carrier had changed position, but was unable to communicate its new position to the crew of the returning bomber. Lt. Ruda displayed his diplomacy by asking the opinion of his crew whether to continue on their current path and ditch the plane, or maybe bear right in search of another friendly ship. After looking at all the variables of their situation, John made a courageous decision and decided on a third option, which was to bear left. With little time and even less fuel, John’s gamble paid off and the aircraft carrier USS Lexington was spotted. Upon landing on the deck, one of the ship’s crew leaped onto the plane and pulled back the canopy. When recounting this story years later, John would always remember to point out that “it was a kid from Webster who had opened that canopy.” Meanwhile back at home in Dudley, the dairy farm and its operation was being handled by John’s sisters. They did all that was required, including driving the milk truck on deliveries.
After the war ended, John returned once again to the family dairy business. He remembered his experiences during the war, and how they taught him the importance of family and community. He chose to dedicate himself to service to the Town of Dudley, his friends, and his neighbors. He always would help others in time of need, and if someone could not pay for the dairy products, he delivered them on credit as long as they needed. John, having lived through the Great Depression and World War II, realized that the dairy farm his father had built allowed his family to always have milk, meat, eggs, and vegetables, and never forgot his family was very blessed during a time of great hardship for his nation.
John continued his giving and service throughout his life. He was a member of the Town of Dudley’s Finance and Appropriations Committee for twenty-five years. He participated on the town’s Industrial Development Committee and was instrumental in having the Dudley Court House built on West Main St. Among his many other accomplishments, John led the effort in the development and building of the Dudley Post Office. John believed that having a Court House and a Post Office would aid Dudley in its economic development, business, and community growth by giving the residents a sense of pride and name recognition within the state.
John was a founding member of the Webster-Dudley Quo Vadis Club, an organization of local businessmen and professionals dedicated to awarding scholarships and recognition to local students and teachers. He served many years on the Webster Credit Union (now Webster First Federal Credit Union) Board of Directors. John had a lifelong affiliation with the Democratic Party as a result of his identification with John F. Kennedy. Both were Navy veterans with rich wartime experiences, and both dedicated their lives to service to others. John was awarded a fifty-year membership citation by the American Legion and was regarded most for his quiet helping of military members and their families.
John led by example and passed the traditions of giving and service down to his family. If he was not working or volunteering, he was spending time with family. His son Robert inherited his father’s traits and showed them by being a volunteer Dudley firefighter for twenty-five years, and then the Fire Department Chief for many more years. Grandson Jonathan Ruda is currently serving on the Town of Dudley Board of Selectmen as its chairman. Bob, Jim, and Jonathan along with John’s daughter Kathy Vallon are long-time members of the Webster-Dudley Quo Vadis Club. Bob’s son, John, was Shepherd Hill Regional High School representative on the Dudley Board of Selectmen.
Faith and a strong work ethic were John’s sources of strength. Ruda’s Dairy delivered milk to Saint Joseph School while having the dairy truck double as a ‘school bus’ for taking his children to school there.
John left us on January 11, 2005, but will be always be remembered for his ‘good deal’ land arrangement for the construction of St. Anthony of Padua church in Dudley, and for his quiet generosity as a parishioner of St. Andrew Bobola church in Dudley.
The men and women of the Greatest Generation created the safety and comfort for their children and grandchildren that we all now enjoy. They wanted us to flourish without the threat of fascism, Marxism, and many other forms of radical extremism that continue to threaten parts of the world today. We need to be good stewards of this legacy and never forget the American example of people like Lt. John J. Ruda by continuing to be vigilant against the threat of violence and tyranny of those who hate freedom and democracy.
Thank you John, for your service to our nation and our community; we are forever in your debt.
- Wednesday, 03 October 2012
- Posted in Categories: : News