When adults in tiny Brutus, Mich., asked 8-year-old Marcella what she wanted to be when she grew up, the answer was always the same: a missionary.
She achieved her dream — 62 years later.
First, Marcella Ruch supported four children as a single mom, taught school for almost 40 years, wrote three books and married the love of her life, who had three kids and became the father figure to her four as well.
Then, she happily found all her retirement plans “interrupted by God.”
There were, she determined, people in need all over the world who had no medical care, or what they did have was inadequate. A 1999 mission trip to Russia led to her calling, working with medical and dental clinics there. Three mission trips in Cambodia addressed that region’s health issues.
Then it was Liberia. Her heart went out to the women of the war-torn country, she said, because years of civil war had closed schools and obliterated even the most basic health care, things as basic as hand-washing.
Ruch was mobilized to plan the first women’s health clinic in that country. She decided that if 100 churches pledged $1,000 a year, they could build the clinic, hire health workers and teach preventative medicine. And off she went on the fundraising trail.
Through her projects, she found herself exchanging ideas with Nobel Peace Prize laureates including Leymah Gbowee, who worked with the women in Liberia.
“Who would have thought that the little girl from Brutus, Mich., would meet Nobel winners?” Ruch asked.
Though she has traveled far and wide, two of Ruch’s larger projects were in Colorado Springs. She went to the people of her church, Sunrise United Methodist, to ask for help opening Mission Medical Clinic for those with chronic illnesses in El Paso and Teller counties who had no health insurance. The facility opened in 2004, and now serves more than 5,000 patients each year, providing necessary operations for those who never could have received the care otherwise.
Next up was TLC Pharmacy, where 14 volunteer licensed pharmacists dispense generic medications as well as serving as a “central-fill” pharmacy with brand-name medications provided at no charge by drug manufacturers. In turn, the pharmacy provides medications to low-income patients at no cost. During the first three quarters of 2012, that amounted to 800,000 prescriptions worth more than $2 million, said the couple who partnered with her, the Rev. Jeff and Frieda Martin of Open Bible Baptist Church.
Wearing her author’s cap, Ruch was researching her book about community leader Norvell Simpson, the first African American on the District 11 school board, when Simpson encouraged her to travel to Yuma, Ariz., where he winters with wife Alice.
Once again, Ruch says, “God called.” Yuma needed a free clinic. She started The Healthy Heart Project and The Yuma Free Clinic, in a donated building. The facility will open its doors in January.
Ruch’s life of service earned her the Joe Henjum Service Above Self Award this fall from the Colorado Springs Rotary Club.
Rotary’s Tony Ceruda said, “The application for this award asks to recommend a person who contributes much time and effort toward a cause, or causes, but is not looking for any personal recognition ... a true unsung hero.”
However, Ceruda learned firsthand to heed the warning of Marcella’s husband, Peter, who had told him nobody is safe when they talk with Marcella. Sure enough, when she received the Rotary award she immediately asked “how Rotary can help her with her causes,” said Ceruda.
“I am a very happy woman,” Ruch said, a smile spreading, her eyes twinkling.
At 75, she is finally allowing herself to step back a bit from running some of her projects.
“God puts the right people in my life” and the projects are on solid footing, she said.
Peter handles his wife’s scheduling. They have a “grandparents’ van” for traveling to see the families of their eight grown children (his, hers and one they adopted together).
Next year is the couple’s 40th wedding anniversary and they’re traveling to Zimbabwe.
Just don’t be surprised if Marcella hears a call to set up a free clinic there, too.
It’s not just about living longer these days — it’s about living better. Do you know someone in our community who would be a good subject for a “Living Well” story? Tell us about them by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.