Answering the call
by Jennifer Cohron
Jan 20, 2013 | 3395 views | 0 0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jennifer Cohron
Jennifer Cohron
I think it’s appropriate that I learned about Richard Ruble’s sudden and fatal illness from a disaster recovery volunteer.

It was while prayer requests were being accepted during Sunday morning services at church last week. A member of the visiting Green Shirts asked that the congregation remember Ruble, whom she described simply as “the man we work with.”

Ruble, the construction coordinator for the Walker County Long Term Recovery Committee, died later that day. He was 52.

I only interacted with Ruble once or twice for various articles, but his reputation preceded him.

It was not an easy task to which he devoted nearly two years of his time and energy.

Obviously, construction projects are at the heart of the work being done by LTRC.

Approximately 156 homes throughout the county were completely destroyed on April 27, 2011, and 170 received major damage.

Some residents had insurance, and others received FEMA assistance. However, when most of the available resources had been tapped, Walker County still had more than $4 million in unmet needs.

People who had either received too little assistance or had been denied completely for various reasons were living in conditions that would shock any compassionate human being.

Examples of living arrangements that Ruble and I discussed just six months ago — a full year after the storms — included camper trailers, houses that were infested with mold and one that had a tree growing in one of the rooms.

I have heard another member of LTRC say numerous times that the committee is not capable of making anyone whole. However, the group has worked very hard to make sure storm survivors are “safe, sanitary and secure.”

Most of the people who have received help from LTRC are those who are least able to speak up for themselves. They need advocates, and Richard Ruble was one of their strongest and most vocal.

Once a caseworker got approval for a project from the committee, it fell to Ruble to coordinate the flow of volunteers and materials to the site.

It’s important to keep in mind that the crews at Ruble’s disposal were volunteer laborers who were coming in from all parts of the country and even some from beyond the Canadian border.

Some were here for a few days, while others stayed for weeks and even months. Even the smallest job might have had several teams working on it, which must have been a logistical nightmare for Ruble at times.

Rebuilds were an entirely different animal and by their nature involved dozens of rules and regulations.

Some seemed to stack the deck against the storm survivor. It is my understanding that in those situations, Ruble consistently went to bat for the underdog.

His passing is not only painful for his peers at LTRC but also leaves a void that may prove difficult to fill.

The number of individuals actively involved in recovery is vastly disproportionate to the number of people affected by the storms.

The burden is resting on a small group of shoulders that must be growing more weary by the day.

Meanwhile, the physical labor continues to be the responsibility of out-of-state faith-based groups like the Green Shirts.

In Ruble’s own words from an article I wrote last summer, “If it weren’t for people from across the United States and Canada, we would be in pretty bad shape right now.”

Everyone seems to have an opinion about recovery, especially why it’s taking so long. Sadly, one reason is that not enough people are willing to pick up a hammer.

Of course, there are many other ways to help. We can’t all drive a nail. We can’t all write a check. We can’t all attend an LTRC meeting.

However, we all have some talent that LTRC can use.

One of mine happens to be writing, so I write. Sometimes I have failed even in that respect, and I have also wondered if I could be doing more but am not becuase I am choosing the option that is most convenient for me.

I’m sure volunteering wasn’t convenient for Richard Ruble either.

He did it anyway.