Jim Ruwoldt, 85: Coke executive loved horses, community service

Jim Ruwoldt had a paper route when he was growing up in Detroit, and he would use his earnings to pay to ride horses at a stable across town. After finishing his route on Saturdays, he would run over to the stable as fast as he could and ride for as long as he could.

His love of horses stayed with him his entire life. It grew into his co-owning a large American Saddlebred breeding farm in Kentucky, and it became one way for him to give to the community. He served on the Georgia Special Olympics board of directors and managed the Southeastern Charity Horse Show for years. He was awarded the Frank Kennedy Memorial Humanitarian Award by the American Saddlebred Association of Georgia.

“My favorite day was Saturday because we’d go trail riding,” recalled his daughter, Kathy Ruwoldt. Her father traveled a lot during the week for work, but Saturdays were special for the family. “We grew up at Chattahoochee Stables.”

She said his life was all about serving others, even his professional life at Coca-Cola.

“The most important thing I’ve ever learned from him is how to treat people,” said Kathy Ruwoldt. “He was a man of great integrity, as good as they come.”

James Arthur Ruwoldt of Roswell died Feb. 26, 2016 from a head injury sustained in a fall. He was 85.

Ruwoldt, son of the late Arthur and Ruby Ruwoldt of Detroit, was born July 24, 1930. A Marine sergeant during the Korean War, he served as Assistant to the Chief of Staff, Fleet Marine Force Atlantic, and implemented military training programs in Greece, Italy and Germany.

Ruwoldt married his sweetheart, Bonnie Rossier, in November, 1953. They had met years earlier at a Methodist youth group meeting. They had two daughters, Cindy and Kathy.

The family stayed in Detroit until 1967, when Ruwoldt took a job at Coca-Cola, where he became vice president of creative services. Coca-Cola later awarded him the Bill Ross Lifetime Achievement Award for Community Service.

The work suited him perfectly, Bonnie Ruwoldt said, combining his love of community and creativity. Ruwoldt managed and directed special events for the company. A highlight was the 100-year celebration of Coca-Cola. “It was the pride of his career,” she said. “It was just beautifully done.”

He’d had a lot of experience. Ruwoldt had directed special events at the Lake Placid Olympics and at several Super Bowls, Bonnie Ruwoldt said.

“He was just one of those people who jumped in and got it done,” she said. Yet he was content, and even happy, to be in the background and let others receive the credit.

Ruwoldt managed countless community and nonprofit events, from blood drives to 5K races to his beloved horse shows. He was not above doing the grunt work, said those who knew him.

In a letter of nomination for the Community Service Award of the Martha Stewart Bulloch Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Becky Dowling wrote that he “sold tickets, served refreshments, directed parking, manned sign-up tables.”

He and Bonnie served many Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners to residents of an independent living facility of Just People, a support program for adults with developmental and learning disabilities, head injuries, Down syndrome and mental illness.

The Ruwoldts were drawn to Just People in part because their daughter Cindy has special needs. Also, one of Ruwoldt’s brothers was developmentally disabled, and Dowling wrote in her nominating remarks, “Jim was acutely aware how lonely and limiting life can be for the disabled.” He also served on the board of the Tommy Nobis Center for vocational training for people with disabilities.

Awards kept coming to Ruwoldt until — and even after — the end of his life.

Willowbank Farm, which the Ruwoldts own with partner Joan Lurie, was named 2015 Breeder of the Year for American Saddlebreds. The breed’s top two stallions stand at Willowbank, Bonnie Ruwoldt noted. Jim Ruwoldt was thrilled to learn of the distinction. A few days after his death, Bonnie Ruwoldt learned that he had been awarded the DAR honor.

Ruwoldt’s survivors include his wife Bonnie Rossier Ruwoldt and daughters Kathleen and Cynthia Ruwoldt. Brothers Edward Ruwoldt and Robert Ruwoldt preceded him in death.

A memorial service is scheduled for March 11 at 2 p.m. at Dunwoody Baptist Church.