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Manatee Community Foundation gets $2.1M gift

MANATEE — Lawrence E. Ruf was low profile personified.

Drove a non-descript car.

Wore no jewelry.

Lived in a typical Florida ranch house that was nice, but not the neighborhood traffic stopper.

“He was very thrifty, but he had a big heart,” said Marilyn Howard, executive director for the Manatee Community Foundation.

Ruf, who died last October at the age of 95, donated $2.1 million to the foundation, and several Manatee County nonprofit agencies are among the beneficiaries.

It was the single largest donation in the foundation’s 11 years in existence. One third will stay local while the remainder benefits out-of-state charities.

Given the increased demands on human services because of the economy, Ruf’s gift is a blessing.

“This is going to be extremely helpful,” Howard said. “Any time you get money for general program support and it comes out of the blue, it’s like Christmas. That’s a wonderful thing.”

Including the foundation, Ruf’s gift will also benefit the Stillpoint House of Prayer; Manatee County Habitat for Humanity; We Care of Manatee; Manasota Lighthouse for the Blind; Arthritis Foundation; Tidewell Hospice and Palliative Care; Hope Family Services; and State College of Florida.

“Our donations are down by half from last year, so this helps make up the difference,” said Jill Stalpes, executive director with We Care of Manatee, which provides free primary and specialty care for low-income, uninsured residents.

“When all you read about is budget cuts, anytime you get a $10,000 gift you’re very happy.”

Ruf and his wife, Marian, who died in 2005, had no children.

But, Howard said, “He and his wife made giving a way of life. His particular interest was in helping the disadvantaged.”

A native of Brielle, N.J., Ruf was a retired accountant who spent his career with the Exxon Corp.

According to a nephew, Ruf started with Exxon as an office boy, went to night school and worked his way up with the oil company.

Despite his uncle’s career success and rewards, said Leslie Francus of Horseheads, N.Y., Ruf never put on airs.

“He always drove the cheapest car you could get,” the nephew said. “He was a quiet person, who didn’t toot his own horn.”

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055, or write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, Fla. 34206 or email him at vmannix@bradenton.com.

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