Ruggles Juggles It All
This Ridgefield couple keeps it globally local
Rudy and Sally Ruggles, at their Ridgefield home, will receive the Hope Swenson Award from the Ridgefield Library on April 22.
Photo by Joseph Henry Lipstein
When Sally and Rudy Ruggles married, they had two weddings—one locally and one, a Tuareg ceremony, in the Sahara desert in Timbuktu. Their dual weddings elucidate their combined character as a couple: they are simultaneously locally engaged while also globally inspired and connected.
Capturing all that Rudy has done as a philanthropist, Harvard graduate, IBM physicist, national-security specialist, world explorer, high-performance race-car driver, book collector, and community leader strains the confines of a magazine format. Fortunately, Rudy is at work on a memoir for his four sons—one of whom created business cards for his dad that reads “International Man of Mystery.”
Rudy has visited 74 countries and five continents, living his mantra: “Do things that are stimulating, rewarding, and worthy.” His intelligence and engagement are on display when he talks about his work with the Ridgefield Library. “The library is an evolving concept,” says Rudy, whose first task was fixing the wifi in the old building. “It’s not just about the books. Once we flooded the building with wifi, people started bringing their computers. It’s been fun to see Ridgefield Library go through this great transitional moment from a traditional card file system for locating books to a time when those cards became scrap paper by the computers.”
On April 22, the Ridgefield Library will honor the Ruggles with the Hope H. Swenson Visionary Award. Chris Nolan, the outgoing library director, praises the Ruggles’ contributions: “These are wonderful people, always willing to help—but they don’t always need
their names in lights. Rudy is so bright that his mind always needs a project. He solved the wifi pickle and then continued offering his help with technology when we were planning the new building. We did a lot of science programming with his leadership. His connection to the Morgan Library in New York was a great resource.” Of Sally, Nolan says: “People who own bookstores are naturally curious. She is always eager to learn and meet new authors.”
Sally and her first husband, who passed away in 1991, opened Books on the Common in 1984. “We wanted it to be inviting, not cold and stuffy,” explains Sally, lighting up at the memory of their first store—a dusty, 500-square-foot space behind Talbots, opened before Copps Hill was even completed. She explains, “Getting the right book to the right person is very satisfying. I loved it when customers would come back and say that was a great book.” Her three kids were so involved in the store that her son wrote about it for his college-application essay—one of the best the Amherst dean of admissions said he had read.
After almost 20 years, Sally decided to sell the store. “I didn’t just want to sell to anybody,” she says. Current owners Ellen Burns and Darwin Ellis were long-standing customers and Burns was the store’s accountant, so knew full well the economic struggles of running a neighborhood bookstore. Still, Sally said she wanted them to know exactly what they were getting into, so shared the challenges. Burns joked, “You’re not a very good salesman.”
Sally and Rudy grew up “across the pond” from each other, on opposite shores of Lake Michigan. Rudy grew up in Winnetka, Illinois, with a father who was a book collector. “Libraries have been an interest since I was a kid,” he says. “We didn’t have the variety of media. I’d ride my bike to the library all the time.”
Sally remembers a “phenomenal” library in her two-room schoolhouse in the Michigan fruit belt. “Our library had all the Caldecott, Newbury winners,” she says. “Books are talisman. There is something speaking to that child.”
While they never lived Brady Bunch–style because their seven children from their first marriages were grown before they wed, the Ruggles enjoy each other’s children and eight grandchildren. The couple also supports Founders Hall, Danbury Hospital Biomedical Research Institute, and the Hord Foundation, providing scholarships for African-American students in greater Danbury. Rudy remains involved with the Ridgefield Coalition Against Substance Abuse, which he co-founded with First Selectman Marconi.
Because of their love of books, it’s fitting that Rudy and Sally met at Books on the Common. “He always ordered the most interesting books,” Sally says. Rudy remembers asking her out to lunch with his hands “sweating like a school boy’s.” And what about that wedding in the African desert? We’ll have to read Rudy’s memoir to get the full story.