G. Howard Ruggles was a community pillar in Forest Lake, the owner of two long-running businesses and a former Forest Lake City Council member.
During parts of five decades, G. Howard Ruggles was a fixture in the Forest Lake business community. He spent the better part of four decades running a sporting goods store and a hardware store while becoming deeply involved in community affairs.
It may not have been that way had Ruggles elected to put his college education to work and not return to the only place he ever called home.
Ruggles, who died on Sunday, April 9, at age 84, was far more than a business owner. A native of Forest Lake, Ruggles lived most of his life here, short of four years at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter and four years in the military, including two years of his service and two years in California as a young boy, where his father, Dr. George M. Ruggles, was stationed with the Army during World War II.
The 1950 Forest Lake High School graduate’s thirst for education took him directly to the University of Minnesota after graduating from college in St. Peter. He earned a teaching degree from the university.
He never used it directly, however, returning to Forest Lake in 1957 after two years of Army duty.
“He just wanted to come home,” said a daughter, Sue Ruggles Coy. “He was a hometown guy.”
Rather than teach, Ruggles poured his time and energy into the business world. In 1958, he purchased Bob Johnson Sporting Goods and remained involved in the business until selling it in 1974.
“He ran the store with a number of high school students hired to work there,” Coy said.
Ruggles wasn’t teaching in a school building, but he was providing life lessons to the many young people he employed and mentored during his years at the store.
From the sporting goods store, Ruggles purchased the Hardware Hank business from Lester Matheson in 1973 and stayed in the business until 1990, when it was sold to brothers Lars and Roger Larson, who ran it as Larson’s Hardware Hank before the name was changed to Ace Hardware in 1992. Ruggles’ only sibling, Henry Ruggles, was a partner in the business for a number of years, Coy said.
One of the dozens of employees hired by Ruggles over the years was Sandy Husnik, who came on part-time several weeks after the store was purchased from Matheson.
“I didn’t plan on staying; it was a temporary thing,” Husnik said of the job.
The part-time job soon became full-time when her two sons were off to school. She remained with Ruggles and later the Larsons. When the store space at Lake Shoppes became open in 1999, Husnik and her husband bought the business and relocated the store from the downtown location that today houses TradeWins Sports, 79 S. Lake St. She credits Ruggles with her desire to become interested in the hardware business. She is now in her 44th year of involvement.
The Howard Ruggles legacy to Forest Lake goes well beyond his involvement in the business community.
He served on the Forest Lake City Council and spent six years on the Faith Lutheran Church Council. He spent five years on the Washington County Housing and Redevelopment Authority board and was a longtime member of the Forest Lake Masonic Lodge. Ruggles is a charter member of the Forest Lake High School Hall of Fame.
In many ways, Coy said, her father followed the community model scripted by his father, George M. Ruggles. George M. Ruggles was a longtime family physician in Forest Lake who provided hospital facilities to patients in addition to home and clinic visits. He was called to the military during the war years and moved the family to California for two years.
Howard Ruggles also did two years of military service. He was stationed at an Army hospital in San Antonio, Texas, for two years, 1955-1957, where he was involved in physical therapy for injured Korean War veterans who were still on the mend.
On April 16, 1955, Ruggles married Ann Borneman, of Tracy. The two had met at Gustavus. Following the war, they settled in Forest Lake. The couple eventually purchased the former Ruggles hospital property on South Shore Drive. The entire Ruggles family was put to work remodeling the structure to what became the Ruggles’ home until it was sold two years ago, Coy said.
A funeral service for George Howard Ruggles was Thursday, April 13, at Faith Lutheran Church, Forest Lake. Interment was at Scandinavian Cemetery, Forest Lake. He was born on Nov. 17, 1932, in St. Paul, and died on April 9, 2017, from congestive heart failure.
He is survived by his wife, Ann; children Peter (Janice) Devine-Ruggles, Sue (John) Coy, Thomas (Cynthia) Ruggles, and Patricia (Jack) Alberg; grandchildren Andrew (Sheila), Dorea (Joel), Matthew (Jocelyn), Caitlin, Patrick, Lyle, Joseph and Kelly; great-grandchildren Ottilia, Aria, Lyra and Theodore; and other relatives and friends.
He was preceded in death by one son, Paul, his brother, Henry, and his parents, George and Mary Ruggles.
Memorials are preferred to Faith Lutheran Church.