St. Charles cyclist who died on MS ride was 'one of the all-time great guys'

  • Jeff Ruhl died riding with his team at the Bike MS: Tour de Farms 2015 charity ride Sunday in DeKalb.

    Jeff Ruhl died riding with his team at the Bike MS: Tour de Farms 2015 charity ride Sunday in DeKalb. Courtesy of Markos Dumlija

  • From left, Joe Kresach, Markos Dumlija and Jeff Ruhl pose Saturday at the Northern Illinois University Convocation Center in DeKalb, where they were riding in the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Greater Illinois Chapter's Bike MS: Tour de Farms 2015 charity bike ride. Ruhl died during the ride Sunday.

    From left, Joe Kresach, Markos Dumlija and Jeff Ruhl pose Saturday at the Northern Illinois University Convocation Center in DeKalb, where they were riding in the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Greater Illinois Chapter's Bike MS: Tour de Farms 2015 charity bike ride. Ruhl died during the ride Sunday. Courtesy of Markos Dumlija

  • Jeff Ruhl, far left in this picture from Saturday, died riding with his team Sunday at the Bike MS: Tour de Farms 2015, a weekend charity ride. Also pictured, from left, are Tim Chung, Kevin Paluch, Diane Paluch, Kurtis Paluch, Joe Kresach and Markos Dumlija.

    Jeff Ruhl, far left in this picture from Saturday, died riding with his team Sunday at the Bike MS: Tour de Farms 2015, a weekend charity ride. Also pictured, from left, are Tim Chung, Kevin Paluch, Diane Paluch, Kurtis Paluch, Joe Kresach and Markos Dumlija. Courtesy of Joe Kresach

 
 
Updated 6/29/2015 7:45 PM

On Monday morning, the day after one of his lifelong friends died, Joe Kresach sat and counted the number of Tour de Farms race badges he'd collected over the past 20 years.

It wasn't an accounting of his own good deeds. The effort was to mark how much his friend, Jeff Ruhl, had done in the name of helping others.

 

Ruhl was the kind of guy who was so willing to lend a hand that it was difficult to keep track of his efforts, Kresach said. Ruhl rode in at least 10 other Tour de Farms events, by Kresach's count. The two-day biking event raises money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's Greater Illinois chapter.

Ruhl died Sunday while attempting his latest tour. He was 56.

It was early on the second day of the ride, in which cyclists could ride up to 200 miles, when Ruhl collapsed. The route featured rest stops every 12 to 14 miles. The second rest stop is at the top of a hill that leaves many riders winded and cursing by the time they reach the summit.

"One of the guys on our team, a very good bicyclist, was telling jokes," Kresach recalled. "Jeff was laughing with the rest of us."

After a short rest, Ruhl, who had some back problems, decided to ride with a couple of team members attacking the route at a slower pace. About two to three miles out from the rest stop, Ruhl crashed.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"People who ride in these know crashes happen all the time," Kresach said. "But when we heard they were doing CPR, we all started to wonder what happened."

Kresach was less than 2 miles ahead of where his childhood friend fell. He rode back to the scene.

"One of our teammates was administering CPR while we waited for the ambulance," he said. "I was holding his hand, trying to talk to him and ask him to come back. We were all calling his name. Our teammate felt kind of bad he couldn't bring him back, but I don't think even if there was a cardiologist there he could have revived him."

The DeKalb County coroner's autopsy results on Monday afternoon found Ruhl died from "natural causes."

Kresach said Ruhl was an "excellent" athlete with a particular love for water skiing and hiking. He was soft-spoken but often amazed even close friends with his deep knowledge of various subjects when he did chime in.

Ruhl, a manager at Larson Engineering in Naperville, was also known as a quality carpenter at the top of many of his friends' lists for when they needed some handiwork. His most current woodworking involved transforming birch trees that marked a family cabin in Michigan into centerpieces for his stepdaughter Meg Cronin's wedding. He had also completed a basement renovation and started work on rebuilding his deck to make everything nice for out-of-town wedding guests.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Neighbor Tony Leben plans to finish the deck for Ruhl.

"Jeff was easily one of the all-time great guys," Leben said. "He would do anything to help anybody."

Ruhl not only loaned to Leben all the supplies necessary to complete a trip to the Grand Canyon, but he also coached him about how and where to hike. Ruhl, Leben said, was one of the fittest people he knew and an avid sports fan. The pair watched every game of the 2005 White Sox World Series run and every game of the 2010, 2013 and 2015 Blackhawks Stanley Cup wins together.

Ruhl was also one of the first people Leben called upon to do the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS. Leben knew Ruhl would never back down from a challenge or an adventure, especially if it was for a good cause.

"The way he died just shocks the pants off everybody," Leben said. "No one expected this. It's a big loss. I really admired him. He was just a real example of a great person."

Just weeks away from their wedding, Cronin and Paul Popovic said they are devastated Ruhl won't be there to walk Meg down the aisle and give a speech. But even death can't erase the imprint he left behind.

Popovic said the level of activity, whether it be pushing the limits on one leg while water skiing or just helping with one of Ruhl's many projects, made getting to know him easy and fun. There was no slow warm-up period, Popovic said; it was instant family, just as it was when Ruhl became part of Cronin's life.

"He raised me since I was 3," Cronin said. "He is my dad. And he was the best dad in the world, better than anyone could ask for."

Ruhl is survived by his wife, Pat Ruhl; his father, Pete Ruhl; stepdaughters Erin Runkle and Meg Cronin, son Kyle Cronin; brothers Gary and Steve Ruhl; as well as four grandchildren.

A gathering in Ruhl's honor is scheduled for 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday at The Office, 201 E. Main St., St. Charles.

0 Comments
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.