WILLIAMSTOWN - Former Williamstown Fire Chief James "Joe" Ruf, a beloved member of the Williamstown community, died Saturday of an apparent heart attack.
Residents are mourning the loss of Ruf, 77, who had been a fixture in the Williamstown community for nearly his entire life, including 60 years of service with the Williamstown fire department. Ruf joined the department when he was 17 and retired as fire chief in October.
"He has been our chief for 26 years and he just retired two weeks ago," said Mayor Jean Ford. "Besides being a chief, he was a really good friend and he was a friend to everybody. He cared so much about everybody in the community. He was always helping someone.
"It is just a sad, sad day for the whole community," Ford said.
Paul Jordan, a volunteer firefighter and former city councilman, worked with Ruf for 24 years and was surprised and saddened by the news of his passing.
"It just came out of nowhere," Jordan said. "What he gave to the community and what he meant to the community, there is just no way to put a value on that. It is un-repayable."
Ruf often could be a tough boss, but he also cared for all of the members of the fire department, Jordan said.
"Being one of Joe's boys wasn't always easy. It was Joe's way or the highway," Jordan said. "But he took care of all of us at one time or another in his own way.
According to Ruf's obituary, he was the oldest firefighter in West Virginia to have completed and passed the Certified Fireman's Test, at age 66. Ruf had been instrumental in the construction of a new fire station in Williamstown and along with other residents helped build the picnic shelter across from the Williamstown City Building during the "Hometown West Virginia Project."
Along with fellow firefighters and other Williamstown residents, they built the town's new food pantry.
"He was a really good person. His heart was where it should be: Loving and caring for people," Ford said. "The whole community will mourn him. It is a big loss."
Following graduation from Williamstown High School in 1954, he served in the U.S. Army from 1954 to 1957, during the Korean War.
He was employed in 1960 by Union Carbide Plastics, which later became Amoco. He retired from there in 1995.
He was a member of First Presbyterian Church in Williamstown, where he had served as a member of the Church Session and the Church Deacons. He also was a member of American Legion Post 159, having been active with the Honor Guard., Masonic Lodge 129 and other associated organizations, and the 911 Advisory Board for Wood County, since its inception.
"Joe was always the go-to guy in the community," Jordan said. "He was always helping someone."
Ruf is survived by his wife of 54 years, Ruth Williamson; two children, Susan Barengo (Jim) of Marietta and Greg Ruf (Brenda) of Dublin,Ohio; his brother Tom Ruf (Linda) of Williamstown; and five grandchildren.
Funeral services will be 10:30 a.m. today at the First Presbyterian Church in Williamstown with Pastor Elizabeth Campbell-Maleke officiating.
Burial will be in Riverview Cemetery with full military rites observed.