In Memory of Janice Ruszkowski


Many of the women in Rotary wore pearls in memory of Janice the week she passed. Yellow roses, pearls, glitz and glitter, parties, cloth napkins, guardian angels, high energy with a smile and great laughter were all things we loved about Janice.  She had a special way that warmed the hearts of everyone who knew her and the qualities that made her the wonderful person she was have left us all with many beautiful memories. Here are just a few:


Ellen Jankowski writes:

Three moments in particular will always live in my heart as I remember Janice.

One happened the day before Taste of the Gardens the first year things really exploded into it becoming a huge event. We were all scrambling to manage last-minute details when Janice called me kind of frantic because she forgot to get the bright green Rotary t-shirts for she and Mike to wear. She had lots of places to run to, so I told her I’d be glad to drop them off for two of our best CARES mentors (she and Mike have both mentored kids for years). When I walked up to their door, there was a beautiful bouquet of hydrangea flowers she had collected and tied with a ribbon in my favorite colors, along with a personal note of appreciation on it waiting. I learned a good lesson about being gracious, no matter how busy we are, from Janice that day.

The second one happened one summer day when Janice met with Doug Risser and I to talk about some membership recruiting ideas. Somehow we got on the subject of our early career experiences. Janice told us the story of something that happened to her that was so hilarious we had tears streaming down our face by the time she finished. Not sure anyone has ever been thrown out of Panera’s for laughing too much, but if so, we would’ve deserved it that day. I was reminded not to take myself so seriously from Janice that day.

Then the third thing happened this week as Kurt and I went to Billings to pay our respects to Janice’s family. We were admiring the 1969 wedding day picture of Janice and Mike, next to a more recent picture of them. I mentioned to Kurt how Janice and I would laugh about how much she has always reminded me of the actress Stockard Channing. He went on to say they both looked like movie stars on their wedding day, and we made sure to tell Mike when we got to him. His eyes lit up, and he told us about how he and Janice were actually on The Newlywed Game soon after their wedding. He went on to laugh with us about it all, telling us how “Janice was always right!”.  Kurt and I learned something about what makes a marriage work, and stay happy for a lifetime, from Mike this week.

Barney Ash writes:

On the morning of the day Janice Ruszkowski died, she watched the sun rise to a high enough point in the sky that it reflected off the water of the St. Joseph River. Janice loved the St. Joe River-its beauty, its life, its travels. She knew- that like the river-she was making her way around another bend on her way home.

A winter day full of sunlight reflecting off water can be full of surprises. This December day was uncommonly warm for a day in a northern Indiana winter. Its early warmth was preparing the earth for the many promises that come with spring. But we do not know how such a day- or any day-will end. And so it was for Janice. By the day’s end, the need existed for a formal occasion of remembering the charm and goodness of a woman’s life.

“I’m not sure she needs a memorial service,” one of my Rotary friends said. I’m not sure she would have wanted one.” A good person’s life is like that- it is complete and unforgettable in itself. It is all there in the hearts and minds of her friends. Nothing can be added, and nothing can be taken away. Everyone has their own clear, sharp picture of a lady who was always at ease with graciousness.

Yet as the separateness of existence begins, after someone especially fine has, as it were, left the party early, a formal moment is needed when we take a backward look at the full gift of Janice’s life-judging its dearness, praising its fullness, blessing its kindness, hugging its sweetness, giving thanks for the difference that life has made to us.

“She was one of the kindest ladies I ever met,” said one of her friends, “ and one of the sweetest.” She was an ambassador for her city, her company and The Elkhart Rotary Club.”

“She was always smiling,” someone else remarked. “it was a wonderful smile that began, you felt deep inside of her, and it touched something compatible deep inside of you.”

She was born in North Providence, R.I. and married the love of her life Michael Ruszkowski. She attended Franklin College and also resided in California before moving to Elkhart in 1980. I was fortunate to meet Janice in the mid 1980’s and always enjoyed how she and Mike decorated their boat for the annual St. Joe River 4th of July Flotilla.

Friends and colleagues of Janice knew how much she loved The WellField Botanical Gardens. She was a leader of The Rotary Club of Elkhart’s involvement in the fund raising for this local treasure. She worked diligently for The Wellfield Botanical Gardens and got all of her friends involved too. She always held a celebration party at her house after the event was over.

All the memories that Janice’s friends have of her are full of aliveness. When we spoke of the music appropriate for her memorial service on of her friends remarked,

“She probably would have like ‘Stardust’ best.” The preference for such a song dates some people, but it also says that, like the song, we don’t grow old. In the style of our life, we will never consent to age. We are in love with the romance of being in rooms where people laugh and have good times. We refuse to be sad for ourselves, and we do not want to have sad songs sung for us.

Janice, for the friends who loved her, will never grow old. One of the best advantages of going home early is that we have had the best of the party. We have been a part of the party the folks remember the longest. We have not waited until the champagne has gone flat and the host is hiding in the bedroom hoping the guests will leave.

Janice, we know that even in heaven, there are parties where they are awaiting for us to arrive… and we also know that you will be your signature fashionably 15 minutes late, but you will be the consummate host.

In the name of a lot of people, Janice we say good night. It was great you could come. We have been charmed by your being here. Make a reservation for us at a table you think we’d like.

God Bless You

Your friend

Barney Ash