Unvaccinated Peoria native dies from COVID: 'It's a shame, because he was a wonderful man'

Though his job as a broadcast engineer and consultant took him all across the U.S., Jeremy Ruck's favorite gig was maintaining the telecommunications devices on top of the Willis Tower in Chicago. Ruck died Dec. 11 of COVID-19.

CANTON — Jeremy Ruck was blessed with two great loves — his family and his job — before COVID-19 took his life.

As a broadcast engineer and consultant, Ruck worked for television and radio stations all over the U.S. His favorite gig was managing the broadcast and telecommunications devices at the Willis Tower, the tallest building in Chicago, topped with equipment used by radio and television stations across the region.

“He started there, and helped when they put those big antennas on top of it. It was the Sears Tower then,” Franki Ruck, Jeremy’s widow, said. “It was the biggest accomplishment in his professional career.”

Franki Ruck recalled her one and only visit to the top of the tower about 10 years ago with their son, Alex, who was 10 at the time.

“Jeremy took us on the roof and it’s windy and scary, and it scared the holy crap out of me, and he was just happy as could be. That’s what he did and he loved it,” she said.

Jeremy Ruck, 50, died Dec. 11 at Graham Hospital in Canton, where he had spent his last seven days battling COVID-19. Fulton County has reported three other deaths from COVID this month, all residents in their 80s, according to information from the health department there. He was the 89th person to die from the virus in Fulton County since the start of the pandemic.

Jeremy Ruck was not vaccinated. He thought it would do more harm than good, his wife said.

"And that was his choice. Everybody has his own beliefs. And it’s a shame, because he was a wonderful man,” Franki Ruck said.

She and their son made a different choice — they both got vaccinated without telling him.

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A growing career and family

Born in Peoria in 1971, Jeremy Ruck became interested in broadcasting as a child. He had a lifelong interest in amateur (ham) radio. He graduated from Richwoods High School in 1988, and went on to earn a degree in electrical engineering from Bradley University in 1996.

Jeremy Ruck was just 23 years old when he met his future wife at Feaster's Cafe, a Canton eatery where she was working as the assistant manager.

“We met on a Friday night, we went on a date the next night, and then he left for work for two weeks but he called me every day,” Franki Ruck said. “Six months later he asked me to get married.”

The pair settled in Canton, her hometown. Franki Ruck held down the fort when her husband’s job took him to every state in the U.S., except Alaska. Though Jeremy Ruck was gone a lot, he always made time for special moments with his family, his wife said.

“When our son was really young, he tried to be home on Saturdays for sure. That was their time,” she said.

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'You felt smarter, better informed, after any conversation with him'

In addition to doing troubleshooting and installations of radio equipment, Jeremy Ruck often spoke at trade conferences around the country.

“Jeremy would explain complex technical concepts in simple tech terms that most engineers could understand. You felt smarter, better informed, after any conversation with him,” Kirk Harnack, Jeremy’s longtime friend and colleague, said in an interview with RadioWorld.

Jeremy Ruck's death sent shock waves through the telecommunications community. Some of his colleagues shared memories on social media. Ruck was “one of the best consulting broadcast engineers in the country, a great husband and father, a devout Catholic and Freemason, and a great friend," Fletcher Ford, CEO of Regional Media, posted on social media, RadioWorld reported.

Because Jeremy Ruck lived such a busy life, his wife was not overly concerned when he began complaining of fatigue around Thanksgiving.

"He was kind of like a doctor because he would get called out if somebody's station went off the air. He could get called out in the middle of the night," Franki Ruck said. "So when he said to me, ‘I just feel like I’m really tired,' I just said, ‘Well, take the weekend, everyone will understand. It’s Thanksgiving weekend.'"

In the hospital, in respiratory arrest

Things did not improve with rest, however. On Nov. 30, Jeremy Ruck tested positive for COVID. A call to his doctor prompted the couple to stay the course with rest and liquids. Two days later, he had quit getting out of bed, and the next day his wife took him to the emergency room.

“He could hardly breathe,” Franki Ruck said. “You’re not allowed to go with them, I had to drop him off, but he was still texting me, saying, ‘They gave me oxygen and steroids and I’m feeling a lot better.’”

But the improvement was short-lived. On Dec. 5, Franki Ruck learned that her husband had gone into respiratory arrest three times. At 3 a.m. the next day, the hospital called to tell her he'd agreed to go on a respirator.

“He had been in respiratory arrest three more times,” she said.

Once a COVID patient at Graham Hospital goes on a respirator, they are put on a list for transfer to OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, Franki Ruck said.

"It’s a waiting list because they were so full, and I understand, it’s the pandemic," she said.

On Dec. 9, when the transfer still had not happened, doctors told Franki Ruck that her husband had a 10% chance of survival if he got to Peoria either that day or the next. He was still in Canton when he died at 1:18 a.m. on Dec. 11.

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'I wish I could have him back'

Franki and Jeremy Ruck would have celebrated 26 years of marriage in January. On Wednesday, she spoke of the small funeral she had planned for the following day.

“I should probably have had a bigger funeral, but I’ve had to share him with a lot of people for 25 years, and Alex and I just really don’t want to share him when it comes to saying goodbye,” Franki Ruck said. “And to be honest, with him dying from COVID, I would hate for his funeral to become a super-spreader event.”

Jeremy Ruck was sick for just a little over two weeks. In the quiet moments after the whirlwind illness, his wife finds herself wanting more time.

"I wish I could have him back," she said. “He was a wonderful human being. He was so intelligent, but he never wanted you to know how intelligent he was — he didn’t ever want you to feel like you weren’t smart. And he would do anything for you. He’s just going to be greatly missed."

Leslie Renken can be reached at (309) 370-5087 or lrenken@pjstar.com. Follow her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.

This article originally appeared on Journal Star: Unvaccinated Peoria native dies of COVID-19 in Illinois