If ever there were a man who wore many hats, that man would be Mac Ruske.
Ruske, a Renaissance man of sorts and a pillar of the Grand Lake community, died July 27, but not before leaving an indelible mark on Grand Lake’s history.
In his time, Ruske was a fireman, a skier, a soldier, a sailor, a builder and a snowmobiler, not to mention a husband and father.
He was born in Fenton, Iowa, and moved to Grand County as a child.
John Sheriff met Ruske while they attended school together in Hot Sulphur Springs.
“I’ve known him for all of my life,” said Sheriff. “I’m probably the only one in the county that knows him that well.”
Sheriff estimated he was around 10 years old when he met 14-year-old Ruske.
“He was a wonderful man,” Sheriff said. “He’d do anything for you. He was a good friend, and if he could, he’d just do anything for you.”
In his younger days, Ruske worked construction on the Alva B. Adams Tunnel.
He joined the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, the ski troopers based in Camp Hale near Leadville, at the beginning of World War II. He would later serve in the Pacific Theater.
Ruske and his wife Elsie went on to raise two children, Chris and Lynnae.
Grand Lake Fire
As one of the founding members of the Grand Lake Fire Protection District, Ruske was instrumental in bringing funding to Grand Lake’s first emergency services.
The story of the fire protection district goes back to October of 1943, when a fire destroyed the Pinecone Inn in Grand Lake, said Chris Ruske, Ruske’s son and Grand Lake assistant fire chief.
“During World War II, there was no such thing as insurance for your properties,” Chris said. “And so my grandparents decided we needed a fire protection district.”
The idea was pretty simple: Introduce a nominal tax to Grand Lake residents, and use the funds to create a working fire department.
Ruske acquired an old Packard touring car that a hapless tourist had abandoned on Trail Ridge Road, converting it into Grand Lake’s first fire engine.
The modified leisure vehicle included a fire pump and hose that extended from the front of the vehicle.
“It looked like it was an elephant going down the road, as my dad described it,” Chris said.
Ruske would ultimately spend 53 years with Grand Lake Fire Protection District.
Snowmobile Capital of Colorado
Grand Lake’s oft-quoted title of “Snowmobile Capital of Colorado,” would not have been possible had Ruske not decided to start selling snowmobiles in the 1960s.
Ruske started out selling sleds from his home in 1967, eventually building an A-frame next to his house to use as a display room, Chris said.
Ruske started out with only four models of snowmobiles, but his business grew, and he eventually opened a shop outside of Grand Lake, after the town couldn’t decided whether to allow the business in town.
It was also around this time that Ruske helped found the Trailblazer’s Snowmobile Club, which continues to thrive in Grand Lake
“It was really Mac that got our winter economy going in Grand Lake,” said Donna Ready, a Grand Lake resident and friend of Ruske’s.
Ruske and his son continued to promote Grand Lake’s reputation as a premier snowmobiling destination, eventually earning it the title, “Snowmobile Capital of Colorado.”
Grand Lake Yacht Club
Ruske was a skilled skier, a passion that he took to the waters of Grand Lake.
Canton “Scalley” O’Donnell first met Mac in 1946 at the “Sunrise Slalom” event, a ski race held at dawn on Trail Ridge Road. After the event, some of the racers came down to water ski on the lake.
“I was working at the time at the marina,” said O’Donnell. “I was just a kid, 16 years old, and Mac was a great water skier.”
O’Donnell said he got to know Ruske best through his other waterborne passion – sailing.
“His boat was always ready, and he was always ready,” O’Donnell said. “He was really fun to sail against and he was a great competitor.”
Ruske would become the first local commodore of the Grand Lake Yacht Club, a title that his son Chris would also hold.
“I like to tell people he went from carpenter to commodore,” O’Donnell said, referring to Ruske’s occupation as a builder. “You know, he could do it all. He just wasn’t fazed by almost anything. He could handle it.”
O’Donnell added that Ruske’s family zealously supported him later in life.
“No man ever had better support form his family than Mac in his last few years,” O’Donnell said.
There will be a memorial service for Ruske at the Grand Lake Yacht Club on Saturday, Aug. 30, at 9:30 a.m. The family requests donations be made to the Grand Lake Historical Society or the Grand Lake Yacht Club Sailing School, Mac Ruske Scholarship Foundation, in lieu of flowers.
Hank Shell can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610.