COMMENTARY: Ruter was part of ‘my WKU history’

Chris Tinius

When I heard of the passing of Charlie Ruter over the weekend I was saddened.  I was saddened for his family.  I was saddened for his community.  I was saddened for our university.  And selfishly I was saddened for myself as I felt as if I had lost another piece of ‘my WKU history’.  It’s sort of interesting that I would feel that way seeing as how I didn’t really know Mr. Ruter all that well.  You see I knew of him because my grandfather had known him for 90 years.  I knew of him because I had gone to WKU with two of his great-nieces.  I knew of him from watching him keep the book at the KHSAA Sweet Sixteen for many years.  I knew of him because of his affiliation with USA Track and Field and because the WKU track complex bears his name.  I didn’t really know Mr. Ruter, but I knew of his greatness as a man and the impact he had on people at WKU.

When selfishly considering how I had lost another piece of ‘my WKU history’ I couldn’t help but be reminded of the feeling I had last spring when WKU lost former president Dr. Dero Downing.  That case was different in that I have known the Downing family since the day I was born.  However, it was the same in that I was saddened by the loss of a leader, a man of vision, a man that had sacrificed for his country, and a man that always worked for what was best for WKU and all those associated with it.

If you stop and think about it we all have our own WKU history.  Mine tends to focus a lot on athletics because I was raised at WKU games in the W-Club room.  I grew up across the street from the late Bob Proctor who called some of WKU’s most legendary basketball games under Coach Diddle.  I’ve been fortunate enough to meet Lee Robertson, Jimmy Feix, John Oldham, Jim Richards, Lee Murray, Bill Powell, Curtis Long, and Bill Edwards just to name a few.  I’ve gotten to know some better than others but all are WKU to the core.

For some their WKU history is about their professors.  I think back now to how many of my parent’s former professors I met as a child, the influence they had on my parents, and more importantly the positive relationships they still had outside of the classroom.  This brings to mind people like Bob and Linda Pulsinelli.  It also includes people that had an impact on my classroom experience and the experience of my student-athletes such as Bart White, Allan Hall, Jim Lindsey, Ken Crawford, Wayne Mason, Jim Kanan, James Brown, Mel Borland, and many more.

For others their WKU history includes administrators, fraternity brothers, sorority sisters, classmates, and teammates (for me Casey Berger, Ryan Lossie, Tawnda Chitapa, and Steven Brown to name a few).   But what it all eventually boils down to is people and relationships.  It comes down to people willing to make a difference in the lives of those around them and willing to make a difference for their institution both while they are here and after they leave.  It’s not about a huge university with 100,000 so called ‘fans’, more than half of which have no actual affiliation with the school.  It’s about people who are invested and care about a plot of land, what it stands for, and the people and spirit that occupy it.

While I am saddened every time I lose a piece of ‘my WKU history’ I need to keep in mind that WKU history is also around me in the making.  While the vision starts at the top with those in the Whetherby Administration Building it’s not just about high profile positions and those on center stage.  It’s also about those that provide vital services to our campus.  The next generation of ‘my WKU history’ will include people like Alex Downing (College Heights Foundation), Travis Hudson (volleyball coach), Chester McNulty (facilities), Duane Hall (strength coach),  Courtney Rymer (soccer player, ADPi), and Fred Gibson (professor).  All of these people are busy making the campus community a better place.

It’s also exciting to think about the future of WKU.  Countless students are currently roaming the halls of area elementary, middle, and high schools that will one day leave their legacy on the famous hilltop.  Maybe the next Ty Rogers, Betsy Shoenfelt, or Ginny Hensley is right across the street from me at this very moment.

I wouldn’t be truthful if I said there weren’t any disappointments along the way.  Disappointment is inevitable when you are dealing with people and relationships, but the fact is the good vastly outweighs the bad.  I could go on and on with countless names and moments both past and present that have tipped the scale in the positive direction.  My apologies to those left out, but I think I could fill at least three more pages with pieces of ‘my WKU history’.  I will surely be saddened sometime soon when another piece is lost, such is life.  However, those pieces are only lost in the physical sense as their memory and contributions will live forever in the WKU Spirit that makes the master.  I can only hope that everyone that has spent time on this campus can carry with them meaningful relationships and memories to comprise their own WKU history to remember for a lifetime.