Can you do that? Today I did. Steve Eugene Ruckman was a stellar human being and an equal opportunity prankster. He loved the song, “Hey, Hey, We’re the Monkeys,” and he loved to monkey around. There would be no way to celebrate his life without a little of the same at his memorial service.
Steve was one of those people who was always available when you needed him. He was also a man who could fix anything. Not a bad combination! He was the property manager for our church and one of our ruling elders. The former he came to willingly. The latter, I had to drag him kicking and screaming. Well . . . quietly kicking and screaming. Steve never made a scene. He did not want to be seen.
He resisted being an elder first because he was so dedicated to his family. He was the quintessential parent for his daughter, Katie, and son, Eric. They were in high school band and so Steve and his wife Ruth were band parents. They chaperoned, they chauffeured, they fed, they financed—everything a band needed, they were. Eric was a scout, too. Like his dad, he attained to Eagle Scout. So, of course, Steve was a quintessential Scout dad. He camped, he pledged, he built, he organized, he taught, he scouted—everything a scout troop needed, Steve was.
He did not see himself as a leader. He did not like to be “up front.” He was quiet and preferred to do things rather than talk about doing things. But he was a leader. People followed him. Peopled trusted him. When he did speak, people paid close attention. After his kids were out of band and Scouts, I cornered him. He succumbed to my pleading and carrying on. He became an elder. And he led. Quiet but strong leadership was his hallmark through a critical time in the life of our congregation.
But through all of it, Steve had fun and made life fun for others. He was in the office almost every day. He lit up the office with his pranks and teasing. When he first became ill from his chemo treatments, it was like the sunshine had been taken from the interior space of the church. We missed him. Steve and his family were in worship fifty Sundays out of the year, and on those Sundays Steve was the first person to greet people. As one frequent visitor described him, he was “the face of First Presbyterian Church of Downey.” And a warm and welcome face he was!
In 2006 I needed to move my office. Steve offered to put together a moving crew while I was on vacation. The new office was bigger, and so I had told him I would like to have a small table and chairs for working space if possible. Steve accommodated my request as only Steve could.
When I returned, there it was. Carefully placed in the middle of my office was a red and yellow Tyco picnic table, benches and all! And for added effect, in the middle of the table sat a large box of crayons and a tent sign that read “Pastor Candie,” each letter written with a different color crayon. Steve loved to monkey around.
Last year during my sabbatical I was in Southeast Asia. Steve could not resist teasing me even from around the world. He sent me an email with a picture of my office door attached. A bright pink piece of paper covered my name plate, and on that paper was the name “Steve Ruckman.” The subtitle declared that he was in charge.
About nine months ago Steve was diagnosed with endocarcinoma. It was already fairly advanced, and the chemo and radiation treatments quickly zapped him of his energy and ability to get around and fix and lead and monkey around. On Tuesday, March 15, at 4:22 p.m., after a day with family and friends laughing and crying at his bedside, Steve entered the eternal kingdom.
So earlier today I presided over the memorial service to celebrate Steve’s life. We can do that because Steve knew Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, and lived it plainly and simply. Steve is not dead. Steve is alive because that is what Christ promises in John 11. Because Jesus died and lives again, even though a person dies, he or she will live. This was my meditation text for his memorial service. That is what Easter is all about. We will also celebrate because Steve would have it no other way. He would want us laughing and joking. He would want us monkeying around. It’s likely that is what he is doing right now. He is enjoying being in the presence of God, and I am quite certain he is monkeying around with angels.