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Wednesday, March 16, 2016 12:31 pm

Linda Ruffolo dies; icon of city, IPFW

Frank Gray The Journal Gazette

Linda Lee Ruffolo, director of development at IPFW for nearly 20 years and a tireless volunteer in Fort Wayne for four decades, died Tuesday at her home. She was 73.

She began her career as a speech pathologist and joined IPFW as director of development in 1995, a position she held until June 2014.

She held volunteer positions with Arts United, the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, Study Connection, Forte Festival, the Fort Wayne Ballet and Fort Wayne Youtheatre. She was also president of the Lincoln Museum, as well as active in the Allen County Preservation Trust.

Irene Walters, retired executive director of university relations at IPFW, had worked with Ruffolo for years. She first encountered Ruffolo, she said, in 1991, when Ruffolo was in charge of special events for Fort Wayne’s bicentennial celebration.

"She was a very, very, dear close friend," Walters said. "She was so selfless to IPFW."

Walters said Ruffolo began as a friend to the university in the early 1980s. 

"She was connected emotionally to the university. She was one of the icons who made a permanent mark on the city," Walters said. "Her personal relationships with people were so unique."

She remembered peoples’ birthdays, anniversaries and holidays, Walters said.

Even when Ruffolo was ill recently, Walters said, she had Walters bring her huge amounts of cards and stamps to mail to the people she knew.

"Just two days ago, I brought her 100 cards for St. Patrick’s Day," Walters said.

Michael Wartell, former IPFW chancellor who hired Ruffolo as director of development, said: "a lot of people were devoted to the institution. She was high among them. I couldn’t have asked for a person who loved the university and the city as much as she did.

"She had a relationship with donors," Wartell said, "and she was so careful to continue to keep in touch with them, whether they gave or not.

"No one loved people more than Linda. She never said a bad thing about anybody. She really believed there was good in everybody."

Craig Hartman knew Ruffolo through her husband, Joseph, a founder of Tower Bank, who preceded her in death in 2011. 

"The passion and vigor she put into everything," said Hartman, who had served on boards with her. "She was a difference maker. She wanted to do everything she could for Fort Wayne.

"If you served with her on a board or committee, she challenged everyone. It wasn’t a social stature thing. If you’re going to be on a board you’re going to work hard and make a difference. She raised the bar," Hartman said.

Though she helped accomplish a great deal, she gave others the credit, Hartman said.

Born in Chicago Heights, Illinois, Ruffolo received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and her master’s degree from Illinois State University. She and her husband moved to Fort Wayne in 1973 when he started his career at North American Van Lines.

Survivors include a son and daughter, two grandchildren and a brother and sister.

Mass of Christian Burial will be at 10:30 a.m. Friday at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, with calling one hour before services. Calling will also be from 4 to 9 p.m. Thursday at D.O. McComb and Sons on Lake Avenue, with a Rosary at 4:30 p.m.

Memorials may be made to "Linda Ruffolo’s Retirement Gift" Scholarship at IPFW, care of the IPFW Foundation, 2101 Coliseum Blvd. E., Fort Wayne, IN 46805.

fgray@jg.net