I am beside myself in sorrow over the passing of a wonderful American Legionnaire, Jim Ruzicka. Originally from Riverside, Jim had been a resident of Yorkville, Illinois for years. Wherever he lived, he kept his membership active with American Legion Post #488 and always maintained his love for the village of Riverside.
Two years ago, I saw Mr. Ruzicka for the first time since I took command of the post five years ago. He came to one of our in-person meetings. He told me how much he missed the post, and that he was glad that it is was coming back. He drove all the way from Yorkville to come to the meeting.
Fast forward to our COVID-plagued landscape and American Legion Post #488’s transition to virtual meetings on Zoom and Facebook Live in March. Jim was one of our first members to engage with the post virtually.
He was a role model for us all. Even at his age (I used to joke with him that he was our youngest member of Post #488), he figured out how to get his webcam working, and he also figured out how to use Zoom effectively.
Two weeks ago, I saw him at our weekly Commander’s Call. He rarely missed one of these meetings, where members are encouraged to attend and just talk and socialize. It was great to see him at our virtual Riverside Veterans Day event featuring a President Grant interpreter, and it was also great seeing him at our virtual Riverside Fourth of July event featuring a President Teddy Roosevelt interpreter.
As much as COVID has brought our community restrictions and sadness, it forced Post #488 to go virtual and, therefore, brought us closer to Jim. Seeing him weekly and monthly was good tonic for the post membership.
He never missed a monthly post meeting since March. He attended our last post meeting on Nov. 13. Our guest speaker addressed Veterans Affairs disability claims and burial benefits including burial at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery. Sadly, and ironically, Jim was laid to rest at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery on Friday, Nov. 20.
The members of American Legion Post #488 and Sons of the American Legion Squadron #488 will not forget Jim. We will pay him a final, albeit virtual, salute at our last virtual meeting for 2020 on Dec. 4.
God bless you Jim (or as I always called him, Mr. Ruzicka). I will miss you so very much.
Joseph Baar Topinka, post commander
American Legion Post #488