Eugene P. Ruehlmann

Eugene RuehlmannIf you asked Gene Ruehlmann about his accomplishments as a public servant, he would tell you, ”There is no ‘I’ in teamwork,” or “There’s nothing that can’t be accomplished if people work together.” He would tell you that the only place “success” precedes “work” is in the dictionary. And he would talk about the support of his family: his beloved wife of more than 61 years, Virginia Juergens, who died in 2008, his eight children, and a close-knit family that ultimately numbered more than 50 including sons- and daughters-in law, 25 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. He served in the Marine Corps during World War II, and graduated from the University of Cincinnati and Harvard Law School. His leadership in family life, in his law practice and in public service, was marked by his unassuming humility, his high ethical standards, by engaging others in dialogue and community-building, and by working hard.

Union Institute & University

Ruehlmann served as a Union Institute & University trustee from 2001 to 2005, providing leadership as chair of the governance/nominating committee and the board’s finance and human resources committees. In his role, he updated the board bylaws, implemented an evaluation process for the president and trustees, and played a major role in increasing the board membership with trustees skilled in the areas of finance and academic affairs. Union Institute & University is also the alma mater of his daughter, Virginia Ruehlmann Wiltse, who earned her Ph.D. with a concentration in spirituality in 2000.

Political Life

Gene Ruehlmann was first elected to Cincinnati City Council in 1959 and served as councilman and then vice-mayor before becoming mayor of Cincinnati from 1967 to 1971. These were years of huge changes in Cincinnati. Ruehlmann was finance committee chairman and a member of the Working Review Committee that planned for the redevelopment of downtown Cincinnati. Downtown as it is today is a consequence of efforts which led to, among other projects, the construction of the convention center, a new Fountain Square Plaza, high-rise office buildings, hotels, and parking facilities. These projects infused energy into the downtown area. In the mid- and late 1960s, Ruehlmann also spearheaded the efforts of city and business leaders to construct Riverfront Stadium, an achievement that kept the Cincinnati Reds in town and brought the Bengals to Cincinnati. A new General Hospital (now University Hospital) was dedicated in 1969, and Ruehlmann served on the team that convinced the Shriners to build one of only three new Burns Hospitals in the U.S., adjacent to it.

Gene Ruehlmann was proudest, however, of the work he did during his tenure as mayor to encourage racial harmony in Cincinnati and to address issues of poverty, substandard housing and unemployment. During the summer before he was elected Mayor, in June 1967, Cincinnati like other major U.S. cities, experienced racial unrest and rioting. From the day he took office as Mayor on December 1, 1967, dialogue with the African-American community became a priority. He engaged business, community and religious leaders in a hands-on effort to solve the many pressing neighborhood problems including the need for better housing, recreational opportunities, jobs for the unemployed and summer employment for youth. A volunteer organization, Project Commitment, was organized under his leadership, to enhance communication between races. Ruehlmann’s leadership style during this period was a departure from that of previous Cincinnati mayors. He embarked on a series of walks through the neighborhoods most afflicted by poverty and listened to the complaints and problems of ordinary people.

In the 1990s, Ruehlmann accepted the monumental job of re-organizing the Hamilton Country Republican Party and he earned the title “Clean Gene” for his efforts as party chairman.

Community Service

While Ruehlmann left elected politics in 1971, he did not leave public service. In the 1980s he spearheaded the successful drive to construct a hospital on the west side of Cincinnati and engaged the residents of the west side in the fund-raising effort to build St. Francis-St. George Hospital (now Mercy Western Hills). He served on the Children’s Hospital Board of Trustees from 1974-1997, when its modern research and patient-care facilities were constructed. As President of the prestigious Cincinnati Commercial Club, Ruehlmann advocated for the admission of women into the all-male organization, and it was during his tenure that women were admitted for the first time in 1996. He was the founding trustee of the Helen Steiner Rice Foundation in 1981 and he worked with his wife Virginia for years to build its corpus from $1 million to $10 million dollars. The fund has donated more than $10 million to local charities and is now administered by the Greater Cincinnati Foundation.