How often, when we run across a free spirit, do we remark: “They are a piece of work,” or “They are one of a kind,” without knowing for sure what that person is really like?
Pretty often, right?
At least in the case of Jeffrey P. Ruppenthal, “Ruppy” to his many friends and colleagues, such descriptions as those listed above are accurate, and yet at the same time also fall woefully short of the mark.
More than a “piece of work,” Ruppenthal was the consummate professional as a photographer for the Lebanon Daily News, Lancaster Newspapers, and the Hummelstown Sun for 40 years. He was a cherished and trusted friend to many, a highly respected mentor to those who followed him into the field, and an über talented shooter, especially when it came to sports photography.
He was also a crazy, passionate, and not-always-rational Phillies and Eagles fan, prone to hilarious outbursts regarding the state of his favorite teams and often presented a gruff exterior to those he had just met or who didn’t really know him.
And now, he’s gone, taken from us over the weekend by an undisclosed illness, at the age of 71, with plenty still to give to the community that he served for four decades.
He will never be forgotten. How could he be?
After all, as anyone who knew him or worked with him can attest, Ruppy was one of a kind, a complete original.
When the Big Guy created Ruppy, He broke the mold. And probably wondered, “What have I done?”
In short, every one he came across in life has a Ruppy story. I’m no different.
I certainly didn’t know him as well or have as many stories as others do, but the ones I do have, I think, speak to the kind of person he was, and why the grief and love for the man that was expressed when word of his passing made the rounds was so intense and passionate.
I believe it was the summer of 2018, and I ran into Jeff and his good friend and longtime Lancaster Newspapers sportswriter Mike Gross at the Sweep the Streets hoops extravaganza at Southeast Playground.
By then, it was pretty much common knowledge that I was the only full-time sports reporter left at the Daily News, which had been gutted by layoffs that continue to plague the industry.
Jeff, by then retired from Lancaster Newspapers, gave me some good-natured ribbing about that, then later asked if I had anyone there to shoot the tournament.
I said that I did not, and he responded that he could take a few shots and email them to me.
Given that the alternative was using a few of my own amateurish iPhone photos, I quickly took him up on his offer. Not surprisingly, what he sent me was of very high quality. I don’t remember much about the story I ended up writing, but I know it looked good thanks to Jeff.
My other lasting memory of Jeff came later that year during football season. After his initial contribution of photos from Sweep the Streets, Ruppy had agreed to shoot some high school football for me.
On Sept. 8, I asked Jeff to shoot the Ephrata at Annville-Cleona game. I was a bit stressed about this game because I not only wanted to have good shots of the action on the field, but also of a pregame ceremony honoring A-C assistant coach Frank Hetrick for 50 years of coaching.
Of course, Jeff came through and then some, producing the usual superb game photos, as well as some great shots of a beaming Hetrick being greeted by some of his former players.
Because he had shown up early and gone above and beyond for me, I told him he could take off when he asked if I needed anything else early in the third quarter.
Knowing that he had already gotten plenty of shots of the game and would need some time to process them, I figured there was no reason for him to stick around.
Oops. A-C ended up winning 41-35 on a Hail Mary pass from Junior Bours to Jalen Price as time expired, leading to an understandably jubilant celebration on the sidelines as Price was mobbed by teammates and coaches alike.
Ruppy wasn’t there to document it, but fortunately I got video of the catch that, along with Ruppy’s great photos, made for the kind of thorough, complete coverage that the layoffs had made it so difficult for us to produce.
First of all, it wasn’t award-winning stuff by any means, but the video was easily the best I’ve ever shot.
Either it was divine intervention or some of Ruppy’s talent behind the camera rubbing off on me, but I never shot anything that good before that night or since. Unless you like blurry, out-of focus stuff that often cuts the heads off of the subjects.
Since he passed I’ve learned that Jeff often used his photography skills for good, gifting photos he’d taken to friends and co-workers just simply because he thought they would like them.
He also had a heart for kids, doing his best work at high school sports events.
In fact, my first memory of Jeff was of him enthusiastically cheering on late 1990s/early 2000s Cedar Crest football and track star Jaren Hayes.
A close friend of Hayes’s father, Bob Hayes, Jeff would go on and on about “Hayesie” to anyone who would listen about.
As great as Hayes was – and he was great – I remember thinking that Ruppy’s enthusiasm was a little over the top.
But that was just who Ruppy was, a guy who could be a little zany – his rant at the Giant Center several years ago regarding the slow pace of snow removal in Lancaster was, well, life- changing and hilarious.
But he was, above all, a good man with a good heart, who cared deeply about his friends and community.
There will never be another Ruppy. It’s simply impossible.
Rest easy, Jeff, and keep it down to a dull roar when you watch the Phillies, please.
Jeffrey “Ruppy” Ruppenthal
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