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Longtime FHSU professor leaves lasting legacy

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

When Bob Howell came to Fort Hays State University in 2000, he told Fred Ruda he would stay 12 years.

Howell thought he and Ruda actually might retire together. When he realized Ruda "might never retire," Howell had a special surprise for his boss at the annual Western Kansas Technology Education Fair on April 27.

Howell, an associate professor who teaches metals classes in the technology studies department at FHSU, made Ruda a plaque similar to the bronze-headed plaques awarded to overall category winners at the event for junior high and high school students.

Ruda, chairman of the technology studies department, just was finishing his 39th year of teaching at FHSU and had plans to step down and return to the classroom next year.

Howell never got to hand over the plaque. Ruda, 67, died in a vehicle accident two weeks earlier on Easter Sunday.

This year, the award was given to Ruda's family, and Kim Stewart, associate professor who was named Ruda's replacement a few days after the accident, delivered it to Ruda's wife, Sherrill, after the fair.

In future years, it will go to the project or contestant instructors at the fair believe left the biggest impact on that particular event.

"With Fred, it was always for the kids," Stewart said, "so we thought by allowing the people participating in the fair to decide who deserves to win it that year, that is a true legacy for Dr. Ruda."

Howell came to Fort Hays in 2000. He just had retired from a pharmaceutical company in Lincoln, Neb., and wanted to teach.

"Dr. Ruda asked me, 'How long are you going to give me?' " Howell said. "And I told him 12 years. That's when I would be 65."

Howell was the power and energy instructor when he first came to FHSU but began teaching metals six years ago.

That's when he began making the plaques for the technology fair, which included bronzed profiles of the men for which the awards were named.

"(Ruda) and I used to sit around and talk about retirement, and he told me he'd leave before me," Howell said. "When I was making those awards a couple of years ago and I got to looking at them and thought, 'He put in more time than any of these men. I think he should have an award named after him.' "

Molds already existed for the other plaques, so Howell got some help from his wife, Linda, an artist, in making one for Ruda.

Using a photo as her guide, Linda Howell carved an image of Ruda out of balsa wood, and her husband soaked it in fiberglass resin and cast an aluminum head piece from that.

"I made it two years ago because I realized the man wasn't ever going to retire," Howell said. "So I wanted to give it to him before I left. I was going to give it to him on the way out the door."

After Ruda's accident, Howell said Stewart asked him to bring the plaque to this year's technology fair in Ruda's honor.

Finals week at FHSU is next week, and Howell then will pack up and move to his home on the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri.

Howell said he has nothing but fond memories of his time at FHSU. His only regret is Ruda won't be able to join him in retirement.

"I was upset because he had so much retirement, and he never got to use a day of it," Howell said. "Now, I'm making sure I get mine."