Featured

In honor of two great men

They weren’t just well-known physicians

It’s our fate to open the newspaper or hear from a friend that someone we know has died, and, suddenly, the mind goes to memories of that person and interactions with them.

In the last month, two of the most admirable physicians Bloomington has known have passed on: Jerry Ruff, about a month ago, and just this week, Jean Creek.

I was fortunate enough to know both men to an extent and to limit my descriptions of them by their titles doesn’t do them justice. They were exemplary people whose legacies stretch the definition of ‘lives well-lived.”

Dr. Jerry Ruff

I’m fairly certain I met Dr. Ruff first, after becoming frustrated with symptoms of allergies, and I liked him before I even met him. He’d transitioned from pediatrician to allergist, and as I sat in his waiting room for the first time, I found myself walking around the room and reading his gallery of witticisms, puns, and sometimes, succinct pieces of sage advice.

His son, and longtime Bloomington city council member, Andy Ruff, laughs about his dad’s penchant for mirth and meaning. “He had a great sense of humor. He liked to have sayings and slogans and things – usually meaningful in some way. (Although he also loved the cartoon, “The Far Side.”)

“I remember growing up, the last door you walked out, there was a poster up there with a picture of a guy with his head unscrewed like a light bulb. It said stop – have you forgotten anything?”

I’ll transition from Dr. Ruff to Jerry now, because it just felt normal to call him by his name. He was the first guy to see you on the street or in a crowd and rush over to say hello or chat about something.

He was consistently cheerful, in his physician’s role, his running singlet or assuming his father and community activist duties. He was just so gosh-darned good-spirited he brightened the day for everyone around him.

I posted on social media after learning of his death that son, Andy,  once got so irritated with The Herald-Times that he canceled his subscription to the paper. Someone at the front desk called me back in the newsroom and said Jerry Ruff was there to see me.

Grinning, he said he just stopped in to buy Andy a subscription to the H-T for his birthday. Jerry thought Andy needed to read the paper whether he agreed with its coverage or not. “It’s a gift now,” Jerry said. “He can’t cancel a gift, can he?”

Funnier was running into Jerry somewhere and complaining that they make you feel like a criminal if you buy Sudafed these days. Jerry said he still had some samples – he’d bring them by some time.

A few weeks later I get a call from the front desk, asking if I knew there was a package up there for me. I didn’t, so walked up front and sitting on the counter was a cardboard box, labeled prominently in permanent marker: “Mike Leonard’s Drugs.”

“Jiminy, how long has that been there?” I asked the receptionist. “All day,” she said. “Everyone who comes in gets a laugh out of it.”

So did I.

“He was the Energizer Bunny, that’s for sure,” Andy recalls. “He was always doing something and never seeming to get tired. When we were kids, he’d throw birthday parties for us and he’d organize competitive games. He made competitions out of everything. Trying to win was part of it but it really wasn’t as much about winning as doing the activity.”

That doing also manifested itself in exercise and running. He was on the winning team for the second and third Little 500 races at IU, and continued to work with cycling teams for years. When he turned to running, he did it with a passion, running 53 marathons, scores of other races and fun runs, and organizing the popular statewide racing series, the Mag-7.

“Even when he was practicing as a doctor, he ran to work every day. Rain, sleet, snow. He’d run to work, have clothes there, clean up, put in a full day, and run home,” Andy recalls. “He modeled that for his kids. The whole time I was a city council member I rode my bike to meetings. I liked the environmentally responsible part of it but I got my exercise in, too.”

There was a huge part of Jerry that emphasized responsibility to family, patients and community. For years, he was the go-to doctor for Bloomington public school athletics. “When a kid needed a physical or something and couldn’t afford it, dad would always see them for free. He didn’t want to see a kid not be able to play sports because he couldn’t afford a physical,” Andy says.

It was the kind of thing he not only modeled but taught his children verbally. “He said you’re not put here in this world to acquire and expand your own personal kingdom,” Andy says. “He said you’re mainly here to try to make a difference and do some good.”

That was Dr. Jerry Ruff.

Dr. Jean Creek

I don’t recall the reason I first met Jean Creek. I worked with his daughter, Julie, at The Herald-Times and I interviewed him at his home for reasons I don’t recall.

I knew his background. He was a family practice physician who later became an internist. He had been Herman B Wells’ doctor for nearly 30 years, the team doctor for IU football and basketball teams, director of medical education at Bloomington Hospital and a clinical professor of medicine for IU’s School of Medicine Bloomington program.

He’d also been a co-founder of Internal Medicine Associates, a physician-led, multi-specialty provider, not because he wanted to be a businessman, but because he didn’t. “I remember him saying, ‘I spend hours on the phone every day trying to talk to a non-medical professional about a patient they’d never examined,” Julie recalls.

Like most physicians, he was tired of penny-pinching health care companies denying coverage for procedures that he knew were entirely appropriate and necessary.

He also said to me something I’ve recited often in conversations. To paraphrase, it went something like this: ‘The whole medical profession is upside down,’ he said. “The best and the brightest go into the narrowest and most high-paying fields. They might develop expertise in  one specialty surgery, do that three days a week, and make a ton of money.

‘General practitioners have the worst hours and make the least money and they have to know a lot about a lot. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have the best of the best be at the intake level where their intelligence would be best used?’

It was, to me, an extraordinary example of his honesty and intelligence. He also decried the cost of a medical education and the daunting debt levels he saw students amass getting their college and medical school educations. It bothered him. A lot.

But that was just one aspect of what Maslow would call a self-actualized man. He had a rule that he’d take a month off from his practice every year – two weeks to go back to school and stay on top of the latest protocols and procedures in medicine, and two weeks to travel with his wife, Donna, and after her death, Donna’s sister, Doris, who had also become widowed, and the two married.

And of course, there were children Julie, Jeff, and Teresa, and those annual excursions into the Canadian wilderness for canoeing, fishing and communing with nature. “The funny thing was that no one wound up in the water more than Pop,” Julie recalls.

An Evansville native, Creek once recalled to me how he spent a summer in Bloomington when he was nine and his school teacher parents were getting their required master’s degrees. Daughter Julie says “He was the most intellectually curious person I ever met” and that curiosity started early and ran deep. That summer in Bloomington, the nine-year-old boy discovered that he could sit in the window well at Owen Hall and watch doctors perform autopsies and work with corpses. That, he said, and other things pointed him toward medicine.

Creek grew up playing trumpet and as a high schooler, he was recruited to play in “a dump” nightclub on the Ohio River outside of Evansville with veteran musicians. It paid so well, he explained, that he made more money than his father, and graduated from IU debt free.

“I always called him my True North,” Julie says. “It was more than just loving your father. It was everything – his knowledge, his compassion, his kindness. He led by example.” 🐝

Featured

Don’t worry, Bee happy

The Bee wishes everyone a Thanksgiving holiday that reminds us that there are things in life to be thankful for.

Like IT people. The Bee is thanking its IT specialist, who will remain anonymous, except in the credits to this publication, where his name is easily viewable.

It’s a hive, people. We don’t put “Bee of the Month” pamphlets up.

The Hive was stricken this week by what the IT Bee termed a “Level 3” attack. Personal bank accounts, a hard drive with years of information from long ago, and interviews from as recently as Tuesday, under siege.

Now, they say that we all have to back everything up on computers and the Hive had all recommended pieces in place. But they were clearly not enough. The major league manufacturer of the Bee equipment said, eh, maybe you are OK to the external hard drive backup system. But this level of attack? We can’t be sure we can do anything more than restore your system, not your data.

(Mea culpa to really knowledgeable computer folks. The Bee did “recommended.” A more knowledgeable person would say you made lots of mistakes. The Bee hangs its stinger in disgrace.)

But the IT of the Bee did what the guys on the phone line said couldn’t be done. If you’re reading this, we’re back.

Check back soon. The Bee had planned, among other things, a tribute to two physicians who have passed on in the last month, Drs. Jerry Ruff and Jean Creek. Dr. Creek’s celebration of life will come in the spring. Dr. Ruff’s will take place this Saturday at 11 a.m. at the First Presbyterian Church.

The Bee tries to avoid sentimentality in the way a newspaper veteran Bee behaves. But the Bee also believes in expressing thanks and admiration for people who consider other people’s well-being a “calling,” if you will. Neither man adopted an evangelical style. OK, maybe Dr. Ruff and running. Secular evangelism?

Caring about others, as individuals, and a society, was just the way to be for them.

Did I say there are reasons to take a moment to say thanks, for (fill in the blank)?

Featured

The Irony of Obscenity

The author, Kurt Vonnegut, Bill Breeden and Howard Zinn get unstuck in time

By James Alexander Thom

What is the most obscene four-letter word?

No, not that. The one you’re thinking of is natural, God-given, and can be good, and productive. It is necessary.

Instead, let’s say, “bomb.”

Bombing is evil, unnatural, and destructive.

Its purpose is to smash man and everything he made into rubble, shattered bone, and burnt flesh. What could be more obscene than that?

James Alexander Thom

No self-respecting god or civilization would invent bombing, or do it.

So, we all do it. And the most civilized countries do it the most. The United States, the greatest country in the world, has done more bombing than any other, by far. We’ve even dropped atomic bombs on cities full of innocent civilians. No other country has ever done that. Yet.

You might ask, “If bombing is so obscene, why are you writing a story about it?”

Continue reading “The Irony of Obscenity”

Rokita takes the wheel of the assclown car

Heavy Ed takes stock of Hoosier pols

I noticed Heavy Ed sitting on a bench and apparently reading something on his phone as I rode my bike down the B-Line through Switchyard Park.

I pulled up and stopped. “Nice park, huh?” I asked.

“Yeah, it is,” Ed said, putting the phone down. “Everybody bitches about how much Bloomington has changed but this is like, whoa, man. Talk about a good change. It was…what do ya call a polluted, old—”

“Brownfield?” I said, completing the sentence. “I’ve been riding my bike through here since they started the project. Loaders taking away the nasty old train track soil. Earth movers reshaping the land. It’s been fun watching it become what it is now. Sure exceeds my expectations.”

Heavy Ed

We looked around in silence. “Hey, I’ll let you get back to looking at porno or whatever you were doing.”

Continue reading “Rokita takes the wheel of the assclown car”

The Squirrel Chatterer

The founder of the IU Squirrel Club returns for a visit with friends in Dunn Woods

As the late day inched toward dusk, Emily Jones had reason to feel that it had been a very good afternoon.

The Indiana University graduate and former IU employee hadn’t been back to Bloomington for more than two years and didn’t know what to expect.

Emily Jones, the Squirrel Chatterer
Emily Jones, the Squirrel Chatterer
(Photo: Mike Leonard)

Buddy Joe showed up first. Then, in no particular order, so did George, Tyson, Cody, and, finally, Hazel. Dear little Hazel.

“This is crazy,” Jones said at one point. “They’re all the originals.”

Continue reading “The Squirrel Chatterer”

Twilight of the Poplars

The enigmatic past of the IU office building that will soon be no more
The Poplars Building was built as a private women’s dorm in 1964. (Photo: Mike Leonard)

As Indiana University moves to shutter the doors of the Poplars Building and prepare for its demolition, one thing about the nondescript and flawed building will live on in IU and Bloomington history.

Elvis Presley slept here. You can almost envision the historic site sign along East 7th Street now.

The university has been quietly emptying the building over the past year, moving numerous offices and departments into other spaces in university buildings. The pace has quickened in recent weeks, inviting comparisons to the evacuations of Vietnam and Afghanistan. When are the helicopters going to land on the roof?

Continue reading “Twilight of the Poplars”

The naughty secret about computers

🐝 From the Apiary: A Mike Leonard Commentary 🐝

Facebook, Instagram and various social media have been accused of harming young people’s self-esteem, safety and lives and known about the need for moderation from their own studies.

Profits over responsibility. Profits over anything and everything.

It’s a serious matter, I get it, but teasing and taunting and being cruel to other kids has always been with us. It’s just more pernicious now than ever, and awareness and intervention are reasonable tools to combat the problem. If the First Amendment draws the line at yelling “fire” in a crowded theater, we’re in that territory now.

Thanks a lot, Zuckerberg.

Continue reading “The naughty secret about computers”

Heavy Ed wonders about democracy

The guy shopping in the produce section annoys me.

Long, stringy hair dangling from his balding pate. Rumpled clothes that haven’t taken a tumble in the washing machine for a discernable time.

And he’s picking up and examining every kumquat in the produce bin and touching and holding every one, like a man obsessed with kumquats. What’s wrong with that one? A bruise, the color, level of ripeness? How it speaks to him, kumquat to kumquat?

Finally I sidle over, pretending to be interested, and say with low-level snark, “Hey, you missed that one over there.”

Continue reading “Heavy Ed wonders about democracy”

Introducing the B-Town Bee

This website is taking flight.

When people say “I grew up reading you” it’s a great compliment, and a not-so-great reminder that time flies by too quickly. I still have a 16-year-old’s sense of humor sometimes. A 16-year-old’s energy? It hurts to laugh at that one.

Most people know me from the 35 years I spent as a reporter and columnist for Bloomington’s Herald-Times newspaper and yes, I worked there when it was still titled the Herald-Telephone. We all have seen the decline in daily newspapers and I was happy to walk away when cuts followed cuts that followed cuts in staffing, resources and the like.

But as time has ticked away I’ve come to miss the reporting, the opinion pieces, the things my colleagues have done over the years and the fun of putting on the reporter’s cape, as I describe it to students I teach as an adjunct at Indiana University, and brandish my badge to contact people and ask questions. It’s a license to be nosy. It needs to be used more often, for the right reasons, especially now.

The B-Town Bee is launching to give me a platform to do the things that I enjoyed during those mainstream media days and offer some friends and colleagues the opportunity to do the same. Longtime pal, Bloomington native and Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Joel Pett offered up his cartoons to the Bee. His career has been centered in Lexington, Ky., but he’s a proud, quarry-swimming B-Towner.

At least a few other colleagues will be contributing commentary, columns and whatever their creative minds come up with in the future. Bees are pollinators, you know. We aim to feed your mind, or at least give it something to chew on.

I’ve had lots of help from my friends in getting this thing up and running, and it will evolve from the simple style we’re rolling out with. But as an illustration of “we’re not getting the news and information we used to,” I’ve been dying to write about the closing and impending demolition of The Poplars, a singular IU building with an entertaining history. As I write this, practically no one I’ve spoken to knows The Poplars has almost shuttered.

Call this piece in the Bee a news feature if you will. There’s a personal column in this launch about an aspect of the computer and internet age that’s always amused me. And then, wouldn’t you know it, I happened to reconnect with Heavy Ed, a dude I ran into regularly during my column-writing years. He’s a bit like Slats Grobnik, the character who regularly appeared in columns by the late, great Chicago columnist Mike Royko. Only I don’t think either Slats or Mike called each other “dude.”

We will be evolving, so check back often. We’ll be introducing subscriber levels, sponsorship underwriting, and other ways to support what we’re doing here. And to ensure that we’re eating the highest quality cat food and ramen noodles we can afford.

See the Bee. Be the Bee. 🐝

~Mike Leonard