Master Sgt. Antonio Ruiz with some of his ROTC students at Tecumseh High School. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Community to celebrate departing Tecumseh Air Force Junior ROTC leader

For the past 23 years, Tecumseh Air Force Junior ROTC and Master Sgt. Antonio Ruiz have been synonymous. It seemed as if there just couldn’t be one without the other.

Next week, however, those days will come to an end as Ruiz and his wife Jo leave Clark County for Newark, Ohio. Jo will be retiring from the Tecumseh Local Schools where she worked in various capacities for 22 years.

I’ve heard the term “Say it isn’t so,” used over and over since the news of their departure got out. Both are beloved figures in the Tecumseh community.

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However, Ruiz is not retiring. He is simply moving on to a very similar job in the Newark school district in a bigger AFJROTC unit.

Tony and Jo Ruiz grew up in the same town in Kansas. In fact they were high school sweethearts.

“I met her on a blind date,” said Ruiz. “I was the chauffeur so I stole her away.”

After high school graduation they were off to see the world together for his 24 year career in the U.S. Air Force.

When he enlisted, the Vietnam War was winding down. During his military career Tony and Jo resided in Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and in England for 12 exciting years at two different bases.

Ruiz’s warfare specialty was laser guiding component systems in the F-111. He saw service during Desert Storm and was involved in the El Dorado Canyon campaign. He enjoyed working with that technology and the pinpoint accuracy of the laser guided system.

During another tour at Lakenheath AFB in England, he was the NCO in charge of the base’s honor guard and developed skills that he used years later with the drill teams at Tecumseh.

Upon retiring from the Air Force, Ruiz had three AF JROTC opportunities. He chose Tecumseh over jobs in Massachusetts and Washington State. This area reminded them of their home region in Kansas. It also helped to have Wright Patterson Air Force Base nearby.

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“August 1996 is when I got hired and I’ve been running ever since,” he said.

Tony and Jo Ruiz have five grown children who are scattered all over the U.S.; Angelica, Micaela, Dominic, Isaac and Catherine, and they have 10, soon to be 11 grandchildren.

These past 23 years at Tecumseh have been busy ones for the Ruiz family. This is the longest they have ever lived anywhere and Clark County will always hold a special place in their hearts. The two youngest children, Catherine and Isaac, both graduated from Tecumseh.

Jo Ruiz’s face is familiar to students of all ages at the Tecumseh schools. She has worked in almost all the buildings of the district including the popular McAdams Kindergarten, Olive Branch, Medway, and most recently the new Tecumseh High where she was a library aide.

AF JROTC was a part of many events throughout the years and Tony Ruiz was frequently the one with the students. One of the biggest events was the regional drill meet held in March every year.

I covered this event and was amazed at how many schools and how many hundreds of Junior ROTC cadets participated from all over Ohio. It was always a proud day for Tecumseh Local Schools.

And Jo Ruiz could be seen volunteering at these events.

“Whenever he was involved, I was involved too,” she said.

As a sister military wife, I salute her.

It was difficult for Tony Ruiz to point to just one favorite memory from his time at Tecumseh. It has been a great tour.

“What got me by surprise was being chosen for Grand Marshall for Heritage of Flight Parade,” Ruiz said.

As I remember from my newspaper days in New Carlisle, his support for the parade from its beginning helped to make it successful.

Ruiz was also very touched by those greeting him upon his return from his Honor Flight.

“Every place I looked there was someone there for me,” he said.

Over the last 23 years he has had more than a thousand students.

As he explained, teaching JROTC is not military recruitment.

“We are not recruiters, we are a citizenship course,” he said. “We teach attention to detail, how to follow instructions, and leadership. These are things any employer is going to want.”

However over the years many of his students have gone on to enlist or to get ROTC scholarships. He said that he loves it when he gets phone calls from former students who are in the area.

“They call and ask, ‘Can I come by and see you?’” said Ruiz “That’s my reward.”

Ruiz tells me he has kept a roster to keep track of all the students he has had over the years. He knows deep down that he has had a strong positive influence on many lives.

Recently Ruiz asked a new student if he had an older brother who had been in JROTC a few years ago, and the student said that his father had been in the JROTC unit earlier in Ruiz tour. Many teachers have smiled at such a moment near the end of their teaching career.

Ruiz will be honored at a celebration this coming Sunday May 26 from 3 to 5 p.m. at Tecumseh High School. Former cadets are collecting photos for a slide show of past years and cake will be served at the Open House reception.

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