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Grieving students found solace in each other at Friday's remembrance memorial for Rita Ruiz, whom they said was like a mother to them. Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner

Park High School remembers Rita Ruiz

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education Cottage Grove, 55016
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Cottage Grove Minnesota 7584 80th Street South 55016

More than 500 students and School District 833 staff members celebrated the life of Rita Ruiz Friday in the Park High School gym. They looked at many family pictures of her, cried, hugged each other and shared memories of the popular staff member who was a hall monitor and greeter for more than 13 years.

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Ruiz, 48, died suddenly on April 13 of complications from a blood clot.

Students said they loved Ruiz and will think about her every school day when they don't see her at the desk she shared with other hall monitors near the cafeteria entrance in the main hallway.

"She was Park High School's mom," said student Rachel Weninger.

Cayla Long-Camish said Ruiz was like her mom.

"She helped me pick out my prom shoes," she said, wiping tears from her eyes.

Alyssa Colley said she went to the memorial to pay her respects and because Ruiz had a positive attitude and was a natural leader, although she might have been surprised to know that students saw her in that role.

"She was a good person." Colley said, "and a mother to every student. Her face lit up when she greeted students."

Ruiz, who called everyone "sweetie" or "honey," was sweet and funny, Colley said, but students knew not to cross paths with her about school rules.

Students said Ruiz "was the boss," but got her point across most times without raising her voice. On the other hand, she wasn't afraid to tell a student he or she was "acting like a jerk," students said.

Ruiz could comfort a student, fill out a visitor's pass and scan the hallway for building threats all the same time, students said. She could detect a lie a mile away so students rarely tried to duck the truth.

Elizabeth Lowe said she was upset one day because she lost part of a project she was working on. Ruiz comforted her and reassured her it wasn't the end of the world and helped her find it. "She would take your side," Lowe said, "and was always there for you. You want to come to school Monday and see her face, but she won't be there."

A parent said her son would never have graduated without the reassurance Ruiz gave him. She also kept him in line when he was doing something unacceptable.

"She would do anything for anyone," said Joey Nickleson.

Brenda Hohneke, one of Ruiz's sisters, said with tears welling in her eyes that she and her siblings knew Ruiz would tell their mother if they were doing something wrong.

Ruiz, who worked for the school district since 1997, had two children by her long-time boyfriend, Kevin Enger, whom she separated from 17 years ago.

Enger said he knew Ruiz loved her job and was close to students, but hearing so many stories about her support for students surprised him.

"They all looked up to her like a mother," Enger said. "She was just that type of person."

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Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
(651) 459-7600
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