American Veteran 01

Kenneth J. Ruff

December 9, 1929 ~ September 27, 2021 (age 91)



Kenneth Julius Ruff, 91, of Jackson, passed on to his reward of eternal life Monday September 27, 2021, at Chateau Girardeau Rehabilitation Center.

Kenneth was born December 9, 1927, in Wartburg, Illinois to Theodore William and Dorina Estella Straub Ruff.  His parents moved to Red Bud, Illinois to enable him to attend Waterloo High School.  He was confirmed on April 18, 1943, at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Waterloo, Illinois. 

After high school, he joined the Naval Air Reserve at Lambert Field while also attending the School of Mines in Rolla, Missouri, intending to major in petroleum engineering. In the summer of 1950, his squadron was at Quonset Point, Rhode Island on an annual two-week cruise when the Korean War broke out on June 14.  His attack bomber squadron was one of four that were immediately called to active duty and was on North Island Air Base in San Diego by July 4th.  While spending one year, 10 months, and 12 days at sea confined to the space of his carrier, Kenneth decided he wouldn’t enjoy being confined to a compound in an Arabian oil field.  Thus, he decided on a degree in marketing upon leaving the Navy.

He obtained his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Marketing in 1955 from Southeast Missouri State University.  Kenneth met the love of his life, Shirley Margaret Wagner, at a music club social on campus.  They were married at the First Presbyterian Church in Jackson the day after Christmas 1954, during their last quarter of college. 

While at SEMO, Kenneth derived income from five sources:  the GI Bill, Veterans Administration disability compensation, L&M tobacco as a campus representative, Capaha Arrow as business manager, and employment at Gately Department Store.  Kenneth had a higher income while attending college than he had when he joined Sears Roebuck and Co. in March 1955 as a management trainee and subsequently a department manager in Alton, Illinois. 

In 1958 Ken was promoted to the position of Assistant Store Manager in Moline, Illinois.  From there Ken and Shirley moved to Prairie Village, Kansas where he assumed the position as the Appliance Merchandise Manager for the nine-state Kansas City Zone.  The next move was to Lincoln, Nebraska as Operating Manager of the Lincoln Store.  After 15 months he moved to Sears Headquarters in Chicago.

Over the course of the next 22 years, Ken held the following positions:  Assistant Retail Marketing Manager of Refrigerators, Freezers, and Air Conditioners; Assistant Catalog Merchandise Manager for all Appliances; National Catalog Sales Manager for the Automotive Group; Buyer of Automotive Electronic Products; Group Buying Coordinator of Automotive; Senior Buyer for Candy, Cards, and Gifts; and Senior Manager of Administration for Toys, Restaurants, Cards and Gifts, Snack Bars, and Candy Shops.  During his 35 years with Sears, it was the nation’s largest retailer; he spent 17 of those years working at the Sears Tower.  In his final years he developed the Annual Business Plan to generate $478 million in sales including negotiating sales/profit goals with buyers and marketing staff and budgeting and monitoring sales plan, contract obligations, inventory levels, losses, and operating expenses.

His five years as the Automotive Electronics Buyer was the most interesting and fun job in his career.  When he assumed the line in 1970, Sears market share was 3.5% of the industry with 30 brands on the market and Pioneer was No. 1 with a 6% market share.  The previous buyer bought all of his radios and tape players from Pioneer.  While the radios could usually be installed in the dash with some alterations, the tape players had to be hung under the dash. 

To solve this problem, Ken brought every model of domestic car from 1967 thru 1971 into a shop to measure all the maximum variances in and behind the dash of these cars.  It took months to accomplish, but by fall 1971 he provided Pioneer the maximum specifications for cabinet, tuning and volume shaft adjustments, and nose size of 105mm to fit in the dash of all cars without any cutting, filing, or drilling.  Pioneer wanted to continue to use 110mm as this was the Deutch Institut Normung (German) DIN spec. 

Refusing to accept the response, Ken then approached Sanyo Company in Japan, which agreed to build a prototype.  Six months later he signed his first contract with the company and soon the Sears DASHMATE product was in stores.  He ran TV commercials depicting how easy it was to fit the Sears units in the dash without the typical cutting, filing, and drilling.

Another industry first for the product line was his development and marketing of the first electronic tuning in-the-dash car radio/tape player.  At the time, to set your radio to tune to a specific station, you would turn the tuning dial to the preferred station, pull out the push button and then push it all the way in again to set the station for that button.  This mechanically selected the appropriate frequency each time you subsequently pushed the button.  Unfortunately, the radio would frequently pick up an adjoining frequency station. 

In 1972, Ken started working on a digital electronic tuning concept.  It took 18 months and five trips to the Sanyo factory in Japan to get it right.  Sears introduced this new concept in stores in the fall of 1974 and had the exclusive electronic tuning concept for more than 18 months before Delco offered one as a step-up in the Cadillac.

By the spring of 1975, Ken’s DASHMATE brand was at 13% market share and Pioneer had less than 6%.  Kenneth received the Sears corporate “Buyer of the Year Award” as well as the “Tower Award” later that same year.  Sanyo was also awarded the “Source of the Year Award.”   After the Sanyo award presentation to all the employees of the Japanese factory, Ken and Shirley were fêted to a lavish evening dinner party.  The fare was Kobe beef tenderloin.  The irony was the assumption they could eat the large piece of tenderloin with chopsticks!

Upon retiring from Sears 31 years ago, Ken and Shirley moved to Jackson.  For 20 years during retirement he served his God as the St. Paul Lutheran Church and School financial secretary.  He was the first “Rotarian of the Year” recipient for the Jackson Rotary Club.  Ken was also passionate about the Camp Enterprise Foundation and was its chairman for many years.  All five of his family members are Paul Harris Fellows.  He served on various community boards including the Library Board and the Board of Adjustments.

During the recent six years, Ken considered his Monday, Wednesday, and Friday dialysis his “work.”  Throughout his life he was committed to his family, his work, his ideals, and, most importantly, to his faith in God and his love for Christ.  He carried cards in his pocket and when someone was having a particularly difficult time, he would hand them one.  The card read, “Lord help me to remember that nothing is going to happen to me today that You and I together can’t handle.”

Loving survivors include his wife of 66 years, Shirley Ruff of Jackson; a daughter, Stephanie (Vernon) Kasten of Jackson; and two sons, John (Sarah) Ruff of Elburn, Illinois and David (Amy) Ruff of Orland Park, Illinois.  He took great joy in his seven grandchildren,  Lili (Max) Hutchens, Zoe Ruff, Chloe Kasten, Dylan Ruff, Charlotte Ruff, Carson “Carly” Ruff, and August Ruff. 

He was preceded in death by his parents and two brothers, Donald (Gladys) Ruff, and James (Lois) Ruff.  Gladys and Lois survive and reside in Waterloo.  His brother-in-law, General Louis (Judith) Carson Wagner survives in Alexandria, Virginia.

A private family memorial service will be held at St. Paul Lutheran Church with the Rev. Jason Shaw officiating.  Burial will be at Russell Heights Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be given to St. Paul Lutheran Church Broadcast Ministry (earmarked for hearing impaired ministry) or the Jackson Rotary Club.

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Private Visitation and Service ~ No Dates or Times Published

Please note
A private family memorial service will be held at St. Paul Lutheran Church with the Rev. Jason Shaw officiating. Burial will be at Russell Heights Cemetery.


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