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College Sports

LOSS OF A GIANT

Longtime Lewis athletic director Paul Ruddy dies at 79

Longtime Lewis basketball coach and athletic director Paul Ruddy died Tuesday. He was 79. | Provided photo
Longtime Lewis basketball coach and athletic director Paul Ruddy died Tuesday. He was 79. | Provided photo

Paul Ruddy's success in the athletic arena is unquestioned.

His story is incomplete, however, without mention of the type of person he was, his sense of humor and, yes, his prowess as a fisherman and a golfer.

Ruddy, the longtime Lewis basketball coach and athletic director who had been ill with cancer, died Tuesday at age 79.

Ruddy played for an oustanding Leroy Leslie-coached basketball team at Joliet Catholic in the mid-1950s. After graduating in 1957, Ruddy went on to play for Ray Meyer at DePaul. The other half of the Hilltoppers' outside-inside one-two punch, Don McGann, played at Notre Dame.

Ruddy came to Lewis in 1961 and became the assistant basketball and baseball coach for Gordie Gillespie. When Gillespie stepped aside in basketball, Ruddy took over. From 1965 through 1972, his teams went 111-75, a .597 percentage.

Meanwhile, Ruddy became the assistant athletic director for the Flyers. When Gillespie left Lewis for St. Francis and Tom Dedin replaced him as the Flyers' baseball coach and athletic director, Ruddy was his assistant A.D.

"I had an opportunity to go to Illinois, and Paul helped convince Mary Fran [Dedin's wife] I should go there," Dedin said. "He had been with Gordie for a while, but he wasn't sure he wanted the A.D. job. He finally took it and he became a great A.D. He was right there for the transition as Lewis was growing. He did such a great job and was such an outgoing person.

"We had a close relationship for those two years at Lewis. He is really a terrific credit to Joliet Catholic, DePaul and Lewis, all the lives and people he touched. I feel bad I was so far away and wasn't able to interact with him more after I left Lewis."

Ruddy served as the Flyers' A.D. from 1976 until 2003. He guided the Flyers through the transition from the NAIA to NCAA Division II.

Pat Sullivan was a sophomore athlete at Lewis when Ruddy arrived there in 1961.

"I had grown up watching Paul, Don McGann, Ben Birsa, Chuck Pisoni, that great Catholic High team, and thought maybe I could play like them some day," Sullivan said. "Of course, I never did."

For many of the years Ruddy was Lewis' A.D., Sullivan was his counterpart at St. Francis.

"We interacted quite a bit when I was at St. Francis and he was at Lewis," Sullivan said. "It was not an easy transition for Paul to go from NAIA to NCAA D-II. It was a tremendous amount of work."

The work load did not change who he was, however.

"Everyone who worked for Paul enjoyed and admired him," Sullivan said. "Paul could see humor in just about anything. He was an extraordinary man in every way.

"Our coaches in basketball and baseball were Gordie and Paul. Paul taught courses in fishing and gymnastics. John Manner talked to me about taking a summer gymnastics class from Paul, and he said it was the most fun class he ever had."

Jack Schimanski, longtime Joliet Catholic baseball coach, played ball at Lewis and worked there for six years as director of development.

"Paul Ruddy was one of the great characters of all time," Schimanski said. "He was the funniest guy you would ever want to meet."

"He's a St. Pat's guy. Gordie's [Gillespie's] family had that big house on West Park Front. Paul bought that house when the Gillespies moved out. It was huge, there were all sorts of windows. Paul would come to work and say, 'Well, I washed my windows, all 57 of 'em.' "

"First, Paul was an excellent basketball coach," said Tony Delgado, who arrived at Lewis as a student-athlete in 1961 and became a lifelong coach at Lewis and St. Francis. "Second, he was a great player. Third, he was just a good fellow to be around. He had that natural sense of humor."

"He could be a great jokester," Dedin said. "He told me some stories that I can't tell you for the newspaper."

Brian Michalak, now St. Francis' baseball coach, coached at Lewis from 1987 until 2002.

"What a great storyteller," Michalak said. "Paul had a great senese of humor. He could laugh at himself, but he always got things done for Lewis athletics. He was a great friend, a great mentor. I enjoyed myself so much working for him."

Joe Falese, a Lewis graduate and senior vice president for student services at the school, said he was a freshman when he met Ruddy in 1974.

"I worked with him a good number of years and we became very close," Falese said. "He reported to me for a number of years. To me, he is the fabric of the institution. He worked here 42 years. It's a legacy not many can match.

"Besides, he was the best joke teller I ever met. He's the reason they call it fishing, not catching. His wife Rita used to talk to him about all the money he was spending on expensive equipment 'to try to catch a little animal that has a brain no bigger than the size of your little fingernail.'

"This is a really sad day in Flyer country."

Along with Ken Gould, Ron "Rocky" Carneghi was Ruddy's fishing buddy since 1985.

"Paul was a junior when I was freshman at Catholic High, we go back that far," Carneghi said. "He was a heck of a person. He made friends all over the country.

"One time we were on Kentucky Lake and an older woman and a young girl were getting into a boat. Paul said, "I know that person." She had been the women's basketball coach at Purdue, and he remembered that. He was amazing that way."

Don Barone, former Lewis tennis coach, fished with Ruddy and Carneghi a few times.

"Don would say, 'When we get back, I'm going to tell the truth about how many fish we caught,' " Carneghi said. "And Paul would say, 'Why? They won't know the difference.'

"Don caught a 3-pound walleye once. He was proud of it. So Paul dropped his line in the same spot, and he caught an 8-pounder. I've never seen a guy so mad as Don was."

Delgado related a fishing story.

"My brother-in-law Rich Majcin, who played at Lewis from '66-'70, also is a great fisherman. He was at one of those fishing shows in Chicago, and Coach Ruddy was there. Rich was at one of those indoor casting ponds and Paul said, 'Give me the pole. Let me show you how it's done.'

"So he casts the line and gets it caught in the rafters. He just handed the pole back to Rich and walked away."

Sullivan put Ruddy's passing in perspective.

"We've lost some great ones in recent years, the Gordies [Gillespie], the Ken Parkers, now Paul," he said. "Just think of all the kids those guys influenced, how many went into coaching because of those guys. They respected those guys and wanted to emulate them in their professions.

"That's what people like Paul meant to us."

Visitation tentatively is planned for Sunday at Fred C. Dames Funeral Home, with the funeral Monday.

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