Each Of The Ruffers Has A Brush
Farm Life's An Art Form!
By Dean Buckenmeyer

Life sometimes takes some interesting twists and turns.

When she was five, Nancy Short threw a few fits when her family moved from its modern, cozy, brick home three miles northwest of Archbold into her grandparents' old, two-story farmhouse directly across the road.

After graduating from Stryker High School, Randy Ruffer gave up his aspirations to become a farmer and, instead, attended Northwest Technical College to prepare for an alternative career in construction.

He'd decided to become a bridge-builder.

Today, Nancy proudly calls the old farmhouse her home.

And Randy has never found an opportunity to build bridges because he's been too busy farming.

They thank God for the day their paths crossed and for the opportunity they've had to raise their four children ... Corey, 23, Kylie, 20, Joel, 16, and Rebekah, 12 ... on the farm.

Life on the farm has been anything but easy, Randy admits.

But he says it's been a great place to bring the children up with the ideals he and Nancy hold dear.

"Just as my parents taught me, the children all have a good work ethic from helping on the farm and we've always stressed our Christian walk," he says.

"We've taught that whatever they sow, they'll someday reap.

"So if they sow good things, they'll reap good things.

"We've also tried to teach them to be leaders and not followers, so they can resist the pressure from their peers to do things that don't quite measure up.

"We've always been firm in our discipline ... our 'yes' means yes, and our 'no' means no.

"I think we've done a pretty good job of raising the kids."

Rebekah hoists up the materials she and her cousin, Olley Short, will need to expand the treehouse they built last year. This time, they're joined in their treetop effort by Olley's four-year-old sister, Meridith.

A Sporting Good Time

During his days at Archbold High School, Corey was a member of the basketball team that made it all the way to the finals of the state tournament.

Although he now lives in town, he still enjoys the outdoors and hunts whenever he can.

He graduated from Northwest State Community College in '99 and now works as a computer network engineer for Short Associates in Archbold.

Last fall, he married Honour Hutchins, a Hoosier.

He's deeply involved in the ministry of his church and he's a guitarist with the Christian praise band, Consumed, which performs at area churches, coffeehouses and youth rallies.

Kylie, meanwhile, is playing basketball at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, where she recently wrapped up her second year of studies as an elementary education major.

Besides teaching, she hopes to coach girls' basketball at the high school level.

But her interest in sports isn't limited to basketball.

During high school, she also proved to be a talented volleyball player.

In fact, she played an intregal part in her team's success when the Archbold Lady Bluestreaks won the state volleyball championship in 1998.

While she sat out her freshman year at Geneva College, she proved last fall that she hasn't lost any of her volleyball skills.

She has plans to work in the office at Bil-Jax this summer.

Joel's following in his older brother's footsteps when it comes to playing basketball.

The willowy freshman, who's now growing a quarter to half an inch a month, also likes to play football.

But he's still struggling with his decision to join the football squad.

After all, he doesn't want to do ANYTHING to jeopardize his career as a basketball player.

Joel, however, has more on his mind than sports.

He also loves to farm ... so much, in fact, that his friends call him, Farmer Joe.

He takes pride in his ability to run every piece of equipment on the farm.

He's an active member of his FFA chapter and he also likes to hunt and play golf.

Rebekah has grown up with aspirations to become an actress ... or a Wal-Mart worker.

With more than half a lifetime of drama, dance and gymnastics lessons under her belt, it's no wonder she loves to sing and act.

Rebekah already has a pair of children's theater productions to her credit and she's preparing to try out for still another one of the Archbold Community Theatre's upcoming productions.

She obtained her first experience playing organized basketball last winter as a member of the fifth-grade girls' team.

And like her sister, she's crazy about volleyball.

Life Is An Art!

Randy met Nancy in the summer of 1970, shortly after her sophomore year at Archbold High School.

"I was working part-time at Lauber Manufacturing while I was going to college," he recalls.

"And one day, this young lady came to mow the grass at the factory.

"We met when she began to have mechanical problems with the mower and I went to her rescue."

Randy was more than a little surprised when he stopped to pick Nancy up for their first date and saw her father, Paul, walk out of the barn.

"Here I'd been working with Paul all winter long at the factory and never once had he mentioned that he had a daughter," he says.

By then, Nancy was a promising artist and had already sold a number of her works in oils, pastels, water colors, ink and mixed media.

After high school, Nancy went on to pursue her career in art at Defiance College.

But she fell deeply in love.

And, after a year of study, she and Randy were married.

They set up housekeeping in the brick home in which she'd lived as a little girl.

And soon afterward, she began to give private art lessons in the basement.

"When a woman asked if I'd teach her son how to paint, I started a class for fourth and fifth grade students," she says.

"One class led to another and I've been holding art lessons in my home ever since."

Five years into their marriage, she and Randy moved their growing family into the big farmhouse across the road.

Nancy held her classes in an unused upstairs bedroom while the basement was being re-dug and concrete walls were being poured beneath their home.

Once the retrofit was complete, she moved her classes to the basement ... and they've been there ever since.

"On average, I've taught 50 students a year and I've had as many as 70 during the winter, including adults," she says.

Until this year, the only breaks she'd arrange in her art class schedule were maternity leaves.

A Twist Of Fate!

Naturally, all four Ruffer children have grown up to be budding artists.

After all, each child had begun to attend art classes as an infant.

"I've seldom had to hire a babysitter," Nancy quips.

"I'd set up the playpen in the art room and they'd entertain themselves while I gave my lessons."

Meanwhile, Randy continued to work at Lauber Manufacturing and he took part-time work with German Township to make ends meet.

Then, in 1976, he received a job offer he couldn't refuse.

"My father-in-law asked me to come to work for him on the farm," he says.

"Paul was on his own at the time and he certainly needed help.

"And back then, his son Scott was much too young to join the operation.

"So, since he knew of my interest in farming, he asked me to come on board."

It was the perfect arrangement.

Randy worked for Paul for the next couple of years while doing his best to acquire farmland of his own.

Then, with a base intact, he split additional acreage with his father-in-law and continued to farm in a modified partnership in which Paul supplied the equipment.

"Although we fed some pigs in the early years, Paul and I pretty well stuck to grain farming," he says.

Scott joined the team in 1982 and the three worked side-by-side for several years before Paul retired from farming.

Since '86, Randy and Scott have operated their R&S Farms as a partnership.

Over the years, they've tried a number of enterprises on their 1,100-acre farm, including cattle, pickles, peppers and fresh produce to keep their farming venture profitable.

But Randy finally gave up feeding cattle after 16 trying years in the business.

"The 1980s were touch-and-go years for raising cattle," he says.

"Some producers remained stable and some might have even made a profit.

"But for me, it was a touchy business."

Then, for five years during the 1990s, he and Scott grew bell peppers for Kroger and fresh markets in Pennsylvania.

One year, they grew jalapeno peppers for Vlasic Foods in Wisconsin and cabbage for a broker in Cleveland.

For another three years, they grew and shipped pickles to Sechler Pickles in St. Joe, Indiana.

Kylie, who's just back from college, offers her critique of Rebekah and Nancy's latest paintings.

One Less Headache!

Although the specialty crops were more profitable than grain and livestock, Randy says the headaches were bigger, too.

"The biggest reason we got out of the pickles was because of the labor situation," he says.

"Whenever we had a good crop, there was no problem getting workers to come in to harvest it.

"But if we had a mediocre year and production was down, they didn't want to come because there wasn't as much money in it.

"And of course, we couldn't blame them.

"They went where the money was.

"But housing was also a problem and the state planned to enact even tougher regulations for housing migrant workers.

"We'd have had to spend a lot of money to fix a house up to meet the new rules.

"We finally decided we didn't need the headaches that come with hiring a migrant workforce."

Nine years ago, he and Scott planted a few extra rows of sweetcorn, intending to sell whatever their families couldn't use.

The sweetcorn turned into a family project with everyone in their families getting involved.

But after a couple of years of toil in the field, Scott and his wife, JoAnn, realized that the added burden of tending the sweetcorn patch was more than they wanted to handle and they turned their share of the sweetcorn project over to the Ruffers.

The Ruffers not only stepped in to fill the void, they expanded the venture.

"Ever since we'd gotten married, we'd wanted a greenhouse," Randy says.

"And I'd already learned a great deal about the business from my parents ... Gene and Myrtle Ruffer ... from the days when they grew tomatoes and cabbages on their farm.

"So growing vegetables and marketing fresh produce wasn't all that big a step.

The Ruffers now grow a variety of vegetables, including sweetcorn, tomatoes, green peppers, cabbage, green beans, pickles, onions, red beets, squash and melons for the fresh market.

Nearly all of what they produce is sold from the roadside stand where they live.

"We originally sold our produce off a wagon," Randy says.

"But we've since built a permanent stand and every year we add improvements.

"It now has a roof and fold-down sides.

"We've recently purchased a cooler and we have a few more ideas on how to expand our market over the next couple of years."

Life's Memorable Moments

Kylie admits she hasn't been all that enthused about hoeing weeds out of the vegetable patch all these years.

"I don't see the point," she says.

"By the end of the season, the tomatoes and the cabbages are all full of weeds anyway!"

Having a chance to get away from the farm is one of the reasons she packed her bags and went off to college.

But since then, she's changed her tune.

"I discovered that I miss the farming activities and the people who are constantly coming and going," she says.

"I now get homesick whenever I call home and hear about all the activities going on around the farm."

She now looks back fondly at the golden opportunities she'd had on the farm to bale straw, tend the produce stand, deliver meals to the fields, work out her childhood squabbles and discover just what life's all about.

"I remember," she says, "the time when I was about 9 and I knocked Corey off the wagon with a bale of straw.

"He fell off the front of the wagon, landed on the tongue and broke his arm.

"I also remember sitting on the fence out in the feedlot, preaching to the cattle.

"And there was the time I was riding in the tractor cab with Dad.

"And when I fell asleep, I bumped the lever that controls the chute on the forage chopper.

"That caused the chute to move to the side and blow the forage onto the ground instead of into the wagon!"

Like Kylie, Rebekah groans about having to hoe weeds in the tomato patch.

"The best part of growing vegetables is getting to ride the transplanter and sticking the tomato and cabbage plants into the ground at planting time," she says.

"But I also enjoy driving the tractor down the field while the rest of the family's picking sweetcorn."

That draws Kylie's ire.

"I never got to learn how to drive a tractor," she declares.

"But now I want to learn because my boyfriend is a farmer and I want to be able to help him."

Tomato Fight!

Rebekah is proud of her farming heritage.

"I'm the only one in my Social Studies class who lives on a farm," she says, "and our teacher will always come to me whenever there's a question about a farm.

"I like telling people about farming."

Whenever there are cattle on the farm, Rebekah likes to hang out in the feedlot.

And she recalls that, in one of her more mischievous moments, she grabbed the electric cattle prod just to "stir up the feedlot."

She now spends considerable time playing with her cousins, Olley and Meridith.

"Last year, Olley and I built a treehouse," she says.

"We also spend a lot of time swimming in our pond."

The girls giggle as they share a memory that involved their big brother, Corey.

"Grandma Short had just had cataract surgery and she was out working with us in the tomato field when Corey tried to start a tomato fight," Kylie says.

"He tossed a tomato into the air and yelled, 'Heads up!' ... just in time to see Grandma get smacked right in the eye!"

Both Corey and Joel admit learning some difficult lessons on the farm.

"I was in the fifth or sixth grade when I had the opportunity to drive the tractor and loader home from another field," Corey says.

"I thought I was so cool driving that tractor on the road and I waved to everybody as they went by.

"But when I got home, I pulled into the driveway at a high rate of speed.

"And as I rounded the corner at the back of the barn, the sun blinded me, I hit a bump and the tractor headed straight for the feedlot fence.

"I whipped the steering wheel the other way, overcorrected and turned the wheel back ... and crashed right through the fence!

"I was shaken by that episode, but unhurt.

"But that's all it took to teach me to slow down and realize the dangers that come with operating farm equipment."

Joel remembers the time when the hitch broke loose while his dad was using the field cultivator at a distant farm ... and he was assigned to pull the damaged piece of equipment home.

"We wrapped a chain around the hitch and I took off down the road," he says.

"The equipment seemed to trail pretty well, so I shifted into a higher gear.

"Boy, was that a mistake.

"The field cultivator began to weave violently from side to side and it bent the wheels in.

"I wrecked the field cultivator beyond repair.

"Let's just say that Dad was not too happy."

Filling The Financial Gap

As busy as they are, it seems the income generated by the farm just never quite provides for the needs of Randy and Nancy's growing family.

So they've had to supplement ... and sometimes subsidize ... their farm income.

Soon after their marriage, Randy helped his father-in-law build a garage and remodel a house or two in town.

He then worked part-time for a well-known builder and later took a full-time position as the groundskeeping supervisor at the Living Word Church and School near Stryker.

He oversaw much of Living Word's physical expansion in the late 1980s.

Through much of the 1990s, he returned to working with the local building contractors whenever times were slow at the farm.

Five years ago, he took a full-time job driving bus for the Archbold Area Schools.

A year later, Nancy followed suit.

Over the past 12 months, her painting has taken on a whole new dimension.

She's now painting houses!

"I'll do anything the home-owner wants me to do," she says.

"Besides walls and ceilings, I've done some stenciling, wall murals and faux finishes, which is a technique that can be used to give a painted wall the look of wallpaper or wood and plastic columns the appearance of marble."

Business has been so good that she's hired Randy to help her paint.

So while he tackles the wide-open spaces on the walls, floors and ceilings, she finishes the trim and applies the made-to-order artistic touches.

Nancy hopes to one day provide complete interior decorating services.

"I'm always busy," she says.

Randy remains confident that the day will come when he can forget the side jobs and earn his living solely by farming.

"I think the change will come when America develops its own sources of domestic energy," he says.

"I'm convinced the time will come soon when we can use corn or some other farm product for fuel.

"When it does, the fortunes of America's farmers will change.

"Already we have ethanol from corn for use as a gasoline extender.

"And soy oil is being substituted for diesel fuel because it's cleaner and more efficient.

"The agriculture industry will have to continue to find novel uses for its products so those who produce them will have more say in what happens in the marketplace.

"But I'd say we're off to a good start with all the new uses they've been coming up with for grain crops."