In 1964 the Beatles came to America, the Vietnam War escalated, a law passed abolishing racial segregation in the U.S. and the movie Mary Poppins premiered. In that same year, Richard Lee Ruble started teaching at John Brown University.
Nearly 50 years later, Ruble is still teaching for the University. Ed Ericson, vice president of academic affairs, said that according to available University records, Ruble is the first person to serve for 50 consecutive years. As a result of that distinction, the University asked him to speak at the graduation ceremonies in May.
Ruble said he first came to interview at the University because he knew young people from his church in the Dallas area who were students at the school. Ruble had recently graduated with a theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary and a masters in psychology from the University of North Texas.
He also had opportunities to go to New York or to stay at North Texas to work and get his doctorate. But at 30 years old, Ruble said he thought he had been in school long enough.
“I didn’t think I would last long in this tiny town,” Ruble said. “But during my second year I was looking out at my psychology class and I noticed a young lady who was both beautiful and smart.”
Ruble started dating the student, Anne. In accordance with the University’s rules at the time, the couple had to have a chaperone present at their dates. In 1966, the two were married. Ruble said he is the first and only faculty member that he knows of who has married a student.
Being married to a graduate of the University created more of an anchor to keep Ruble at the University, he said. While he had opportunities to leave, he said that the longer he stayed the deeper his roots grew within the community. The couple’s son Stephen also graduated from the University.
“How did I stay here so long? It’s just one step in front of another,” Ruble said.
He also rose up through the ranks, he said. Beginning as an instructor, he later held the positions of a department head, a division head and vice president of academic affairs. In 1999, he retired from full-time teaching at the University and started teaching classes in the Degree Completion program at the other University campus, which he continues to do.
Ruble said he is considering taking a hiatus from teaching next year, to see how it goes. He is concerned about “inflicting himself” on students, he said, since he is nearly 80 years old and his hearing is not good.
When Ruble first came to the University, he said the town of Siloam Springs only had 3,000 people and the school had about 300 students. The campus buildings were all made of wood, except for the cathedral group.
Students at the University had classes on Saturday and bed checks on Sunday morning to make sure they were up and about. The school also required them to earn non-academic vocational training credits, which frequently meant students were free labor, completing busy work, Ruble said.
Ruble said he considered his greatest contribution to be the programs he put in place, primarily during his two terms as dean or vice president. One of those was moving away from the old vocational training system to one in which the divisions were enabled to decide what the students needed to do that would be related to their major.
Ruble also started the psychology department during his time at the University, beginning with a minor and then a major.
Another of his important jobs was the hiring of new faculty. Ruble said the person in charge of the hiring needed to have a good focus on what the school needs.
Ericson agreed, saying that was one of Ruble’s main influences on the institution by shaping the direction of the school and ensuring that it stayed on mission.
“Dr. Ruble is a kind gentleman,” Ericson said. “He still comes in to check up on folks. He has dedicated his life to being a vital part of our community. We talk about long obedience in the same direction, and he is certainly an example of that.”
Ruble said he noticed several things that have changed in the student body since he first came. The overall quality of students has increased, since the school has become more selective in who to admit as it has grown. Students have also become more affluent, having more material things from cars to iPads.
One thing that has not changed is the school’s Christian motivation and devotion, Ruble said.
“That is an attraction for both students and parents,” Ruble said. “The school isn’t an extreme in either direction. There’s enough structure so that it’s not anarchy, but we don’t require students to be Christians to come here.”
On May 4, Ruble said he will give seniors a three-point admonition about “how I wish life will unfold for you.”
He said he would also like to encourage the whole student body, in the words of Galatians 6:10, to do good unto all people, especially those of the household of faith.
“Christians have an obligation to love one another,” Ruble said. “The world needs a lot of goodness, because the good is in short supply.”