James J. Ruehl; 1930-2014: Ex-director of BGSU ice arena led college hockey conference

James J. Ruehl
James J. Ruehl

BOWLING GREEN — James J. Ruehl, a 16-year veteran on the Bowling Green State University football coaching staff when he became director of the BGSU ice arena and then commissioner of a college hockey conference, died Friday of an apparent heart attack in Sterling House of Bowling Green. He was 83.

He wasn’t a resident at the nursing facility, but his wife, Ann, has been there since a stroke more than two weeks ago. He was spending the night. “He went to sleep and didn’t wake up,” his son Bob said.

At BGSU, Mr. Ruehl was an associate professor emeritus of health, physical education, and recreation. He’d been the BGSU ice arena director for a decade when in 1982 he was named commissioner of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.

He was the second commissioner of the then-11-year-old conference, succeeding Fred Jacoby. The previous two seasons, Mr. Ruehl was the CCHA supervisor of officials.

He retired as CCHA commissioner in 1985. In 2006, he was selected to drop the ceremonial puck before the 25th anniversary CCHA championship game.

“He was not only outstanding at what he did at the ice arena and as commissioner, he was one of the finest gentlemen I’ve been associated with,” said Jim Lessig, BGSU athletic director from 1978-82 and a former Mid-American Conference commissioner.

“He was one of those people everybody remembers — and remembers what an outstanding job he did, whatever he was assigned to do,” Mr. Lessig said. “He had great loyalty to the university. He had a way of getting the job done in such a way that everybody cooperated.”

He “had an awful lot to do with the development of the hockey program,” Mr. Lessig said. The BGSU team won the 1984 NCAA championship.

He encouraged the arena’s use for curling, figure skating, ice shows, and by the community — “all family stuff,” his son Jim said. “Family was first.”

The arena’s popularity grew and, Mr. Lessig said, “a lot of that had to do with his direction in leading that building and making it available to everybody.”

Mr. Ruehl arrived at BGSU in the late 1950s, recruited to the football coaching staff by head coach Doyt Perry. The men knew each other from Ohio State University, where Mr. Perry was an assistant coach to Woody Hayes, and Mr. Ruehl was a center and linebacker on the team.

At BGSU, he was defensive coordinator and coached linebackers and middle guards.

The 1959 team was undefeated, and Mr. Ruehl was credited with the defensive reputation the team gained over the years.

When a player made a mistake, Mr. Ruehl put an arm around the player’s shoulder pads and say, “I still love you,” and then he would explain what he would want them to do different, his son Jim said. “He didn’t yell or scream.”

Mr. Ruehl, in retirement, was secretary-treasurer of the Wood County Fair.

He also sold real estate.

He was born June 30, 1930, in Cumberland, Md., to Nellie and Carl Ruehl. A teammate on the Alleghany High School football team was Earle Bruce, who later became Ohio State head coach.

Mr. Ruehl was a stateside Marine Corps veteran of the Korean War. He had a bachelor’s degree from Ohio State and a master’s degree from BGSU.

Surviving are his wife, Ann Ruehl, whom he married June 11, 1950; sons, Jim, Bob, and Jeff Ruehl; daughters, Carol Brooks and Julie Esterline; 11 grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday in the Dunn Funeral Home, Bowling Green. Services will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday in First United Methodist Church, Bowling Green, where he was a longtime member.

The family suggests tributes to a charity of the donor’s choice.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.