James D. Ruyak

Embraced by the deep

love and warmth of his

family, James D. Ruyak,

84, of Remer, MN, jour-

neyed to Heaven on

March 9, 2019. He had

been strengthened by

prayers and messages

from people far and wide

and was in the place he

loved most: his home.

Jim was born in Potts-

town, PA, the youngest

child of Michael and

Anna Ruyak. He graduat-

ed from Pottstown High

School in 1952 and enlist-ed in the US Army during

the Korean War. Jim used

the GI Bill to graduate

from Davis & Elkins Col-

lege in West Virginia with

a degree in Civil En-

gineering. That same year,

he married his first wife,

Barbra. His work with the

US Army Corps of En-

gineers took the family,

with four young children,

from Kinzua Dam in War-

ren, PA, to projects in

Pittsburgh, PA, Ohio, and


In 1973, Jim joined the

St. Paul District of the

USACE, incorporating

emergency response and

recovery into his career

path. For three consecu-

tive years in the mid-70’s,

as Chief of Construction,

he led successful efforts to

save the city of Minot,

ND, from disastrous flood-

ing. Jim became their

hero. He was given a Key

to the City and made an

Honorary Citizen. A local

songwriter wrote ‘The Bal-

lad of Jim.’ Ruyak Point

was named for him. His

work made network news

and The New York Times.

In 1979, Jim became

the Mississippi Headwa-

ters project manager. He

relocated to the USACE

Office in Remer, which

would become his adopt-

ed hometown. He married

his second wife, Joan, and

they immersed them-

selves in a new communi-ty, a busy school and the

‘great outdoors’ of north-

ern Minnesota. He hunt-

ed, fished, trapped and

gardened. He planted

trees, picked berries, gath-

ered maple syrup, har-

vested wild rice; he taught

Hunter’s Safety courses,

gave young people jobs,

and with his time and

conversation inspired

everyone who knew him.

His values were as high as

his goals, and he believed

that a person’s most im-

portant goal should be to

be happy.

Jim’s emergency

response work continued.

Just after the Gulf War, he

volunteered to go to

Kuwait to help restore ser-

vices and infrastructure.

By late 1992, he was the

Resident Engineer for the

rebuilding of Ali Al Salem

Airbase. A big surprise

came in his third tour,

when Jim’s son, 1st Lt.

Marc Ruyak, a graduate of

the US Military Academy

at West Point, was de-

ployed to Kuwait. Staff

helped arrange a special

reunion dinner in Kuwait

City for the two of them.

In 1994, Jim added a

new ‘career’ becoming an

EMT (Emergency Medical

Technician) because the

Remer Area Ambulance

Service needed more

volunteers. He joined

Meds1 in Grand Rapids,

too, and truly loved being

part of these teams. He

made lifelong friends and

responded to calls for the

next twenty years. A visit

to ‘Dad’s house’ meant

hearing that ambulance

pager 24/7.

Life changed dramati-

cally in 1995, when Joan

died unexpectedly. But

FEMA was tapping into

his expertise, and Jim

started travelling the

world to teach. He spent

time with his daughters

between assignments;

they now had children of

their own. In 2000, after

43 years with USACE, Jim

quietly retired. But that

didn’t last long.

9/11 prompted him to

come out of retirement.

Jim volunteered for yet

another dangerous and

faraway mission: Iraq. His

family worried desperate-

ly for his safety. But once

again, he completed three

tours of duty, spending

two birthdays, including

his 74th, in deployment.

Jim would oversee more

than 50 projects as the

Senior Project Engineer

(the ‘most’ senior, he

would jokingly say).

In 2011, Jim took a

6-month contract to assist

with staffing in the over-

seas arenas where he had

worked. That ‘short-term’

assignment became the

work he did until the end

of his life. Once again, he

became part of a success-

ful team and made more

great friends along the


Jim lived a colorful ta-

pestry. His life was woven

with experiences all over

the world and in his own

backyard, deep patriotism

and dedication to country

and community, a per-

sistent desire to help oth-

ers, and a truly unstoppa-

ble enthusiasm for life. He

cherished family and

friends and pets, he loved

a hot cup of coffee in the

morning and a good meal

with good people in the

evening. His drink, ‘the

Jimlet’ became a local

favorite. He tried and

tried to play a good game

of golf. And one of his

life’s highlights was a

weekend at the 2016

Ryder Cup with his best

buddies. Most of all,

though, he treasured his

grandchildren: watching

them grow, sharing time

with them and hearing

their stories.

Jim has now joined his

beloved brother Joseph

Ruyak and the rest of his

family, his wife Joan, his

son-in-law Dan, and many

dear friends. He is sur-

vived by his four chil-

dren, Beth (Mike),

Michelle, Ann and Marc

(Kerry), eight grandchil-

dren (Robb, Sami, Nik,

Cody, Preston, Sydney,

Avery and Brooklyn),

three great-grandchildren

(Enjoli, Leah and Danny),

loving relatives and many,

many friends.

Please join us to

remember our beloved

Dad, Grampy, Great-

Grampa, Father-in-Law,

Friend and Colleague on

Saturday, March 30, 2019,

at St. Paul’s Catholic

Church in Remer, MN.

The Celebration of Life

opens at 10am with a

Mass of Christian Burial

at 11am followed by

lunch. Burial at Fairview

Cemetery in Remer is at


Arrangements are with

Rowe Funeral Home of

Grand Rapids, MN. If you

wish, a donation in Jim

Ruyak’s honor can be

made to RAAS (Remer

Area Ambulance Service)

through the City of Re-

mer. To sign the online

guestbook or send con-

dolences visit