Dr. Ralph W. Rucker MD Large Cents Collection Part I
A more personal word about Ralph…
In the following pages you will find the numismatic opus of a figure many of you know well. Had he been here, Ralph, as he was known to most of you, would have been delighted to share his collection personally. Had he been here, he would have enthralled you with the provenance of all his beloved beauties and defamed ‘dogs’ alike. He would have entertained you with titillating tales of coin collecting folklore, with a hint of exaggeration to be sure. The following pages contain echoes of his life-long passion, pride, and solace. However, similar to each coin he loved, there was much more to Ralph Rucker than ‘face value.’ Please allow a proud family to digress for a moment and attempt to capture the essence of the most interesting man in the world.
Ralph Weller Rucker II was born on May 25th, 1942 in Bartlesville, Oklahoma to Dr. Ralph Rucker I and Laura Rucker. The third of four tight-knit children grew up as the man of the family; his father suffered a tragic accidental death when Ralph was the tender age of five. His early years in this small town were characterized by an incredible drive to succeed. He was the first American Field Service foreign exchange student from Oklahoma, spending a year in New Zealand as the rugby-playing ‘Yank.’ The whip-smart young Ralph zipped through The University of Oklahoma in three years and then secured a position at the notable Northwestern University School of Medicine in Chicago. During medical school, Ralph was told by many (his bride-to-be, his mother, his educators) that he should not/could not volunteer to go to Vietnam. However, true to form, he cajoled the administrators and manipulated his curriculum to find a way. He then spent half a year in the very center of the conflict as a wide-eyed yet capable third year medical student. He would recite almost unfathomable stories of a war-time medical camp in the Vietnamese DMZ. When he survived this harrowing campaign (well, it was harrowing for everyone else and more like a calling for Ralph), he promptly made the smartest decision of his life. He somehow charmed his long-time schoolmate and best friend into marrying him. He married our mother, Sherry Lee Allen, on August 27th, 1966 in their hometown church in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. He would joke that he married her because she had a car, a TV and a job… but she would always smile knowingly when he said this. He was lucky enough to find his steel magnolia in this incredible woman and build a life with her. She would prove to be the calm to his storm, but ever-game for their adventures over the next 50 plus years.
His unquenchable thirst for knowledge drove him throughout his life. After medical school and residency in Chicago, he completed his fellowship in Houston and added three medical boards to his resume- Pediatrics, Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine and Pulmonary Medicine. In the early 1970s, Ralph dutifully joined the military and was stationed in South Korea for a few years as a Major in the U.S. army. A smattering of Korean phrases still stick with this family to this day. In 1974, his medical career guided him to Southern California and to the Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC), where he helped establish the CHOC subspecialty medical group from the ground up. He was the young, gregarious hotshot on the block when he was hired and over the next almost 20 years, he served as the Director of Pediatric Pulmonary services, head of infant and pediatric intensive care units, Director of the Cystic Fibrosis Center and on the Board of Directors of the Orange County Trauma Society, to name a few. Several times, he flew commercial airlines transporting fragile neonates in incubators and even appeared on the ‘60 Minutes’ television program at one point. To any of you that knew Ralph, you can imagine the one-of-a-kind physician that he was… driven and demanding yet compassionate and inspiring. His personal investment in his work and his clinical expertise were surpassed only by his personal commitment to his patients. He truly loved his patients and they loved him. Even though he was the ‘boss,’ he never missed the week-long summer camps with his cystic fibrosis patients every year. He was even known to play a few John Denver songs on his guitar over the campfire. And who can forget the perpetually dirty, beat-up Suburban (complete with gray Bondo exterior detail) parked in the Director’s spot at the hospital next to the other shiny, more expensive cars? That same fabled Suburban was once almost towed out of that same Director’s spot by one of the newer parking attendants prior to realizing it was Dr. Rucker’s old clunker. He did things his way.
Ralph always maintained that this time in California cultivated his existing obsession with numismatics. Each of his children have many a memory of tagging along with Dad as he skipped from big show to little show to obscure coin shop back to a big show, always on the hunt, always enjoying the ride. Ralph wrote about this time that “it is abundantly clear to me that living in Southern California was fortuitous in that it exposed me to the proximity, value and diversity of the tri-annual Long Beach Coin show, as well as the big Anaheim Convention Center shows.” Here he developed the solid foundation of his collection.
In his late 40s, Ralph faced a bit of a proverbial mid-life crisis. Despite his success, he knew he belonged closer to home and closer to family. In 1992, Ralph officially retired from medicine forever. Ralph and Sherry closed their California chapter and moved the family to Oklahoma permanently. This may have seemed a strange transition to retire at the pinnacle of his career. He was only 49 years old. And yes, it was the kind of thing that required a lot of explanation to most reasonable people. Yet later, to us, it always seemed like an obvious next step. They quickly found themselves the proud owners of 400 acres of rambling hills and pastureland in Oklahoma, not far from their hometown. They would eventually turn this raw palate of wilderness into The Rucker Ranch.
He spent the next 25 years being just Ralph. He truly relished being a simple Oklahoma boy. He grew his infamous wild beard and threw away the razor and ties altogether. But as expected, the man could not stay idle. He dove into ranching and animal husbandry immediately. He learned how to harvest his fields and would cut, rake, bale and store his own hay. After finding arrowheads and artifacts on his land, he fell into another academic rabbit hole and pursued Archaeology from The University of Tulsa. He was just shy of his Masters in this field by an itty bitty thesis – he achieved his objective and wasn’t fond of institutional measurements… even Ralph was susceptible to academic fatigue. Or more likely, he was less enamored with institutional titles and just ready to move on to his next obsession. He continued his love affair with history, especially American history, and amassed a decent collection of paper currency from the Civil War era in addition to his Early Cents. He was an avid gardener and worked hard at tending his massive garden. He could coax anything delicious from the ground; he even designed a swing-gated chicken coop to encircle his garden in an organic attempt at pest control and fertilization. His coin collecting, which had always been simmering in the background, was once again invigorated in 2005 by the rather sudden acquisition of the elusive S-79 Sheldon cent. The possibility of a complete collection was within his grasp and he became even more intense about his Large Cents. The ranch life was often punctuated by numerous trips to EAC shows, social gatherings and dealer meetings for Ralph and Sherry. Ralph and his ‘bride,’ as he always called her, were partners in crime and ever on the move during these later years. In 2018, Ralph succumbed to complications from metastatic melanoma. And even then, his eldest son fondly remembers a moment: while at MD Anderson Center awaiting an appointment, Ralph was avidly discussing the newest coin he had been eyeing. It was truly his life-long passion.
Although the list of his adventures and accomplishments is long, the soul of Ralph was his family. His most important titles were “Dad” and “Papaw.” Clearly, he was a man of convictions and attacked life with a single-minded purpose; and his true purpose was his family. The love of his life was always Sherry, and they built a family and a wonderful life together. As trite as it sounds, his four children and eleven grandchildren were his pride and joy. He was never the type of man to neglect his family for career nor anything else. Indeed, his family and his children were an integral part of all that he did. Even when his children were young and he was at the height of his career, he would come home after work and spend hours gardening with us. His children were a fixture during coin shows. A favorite pastime was packing us all up and head out to a Hemet camping trip with all four kids and friends in tow. He was active in all of our sports and Ralph and Sherry never missed matches nor meets nor games. He expected us to always ‘do your best.’ Always. In everything. He emphasized academic achievement, honesty and loyalty. Even as his children moved onto college and were experiencing the usual (expensive) growing pains, his second-eldest son remembers him roaring with laughter and admitting that “parenting is not a finite proposition.” Later, during The Ranch years, he and Sherry chased after their children and grandchildren in their countless endeavors over many states. In fact, Ralph and Sherry very deliberately created The Rucker Ranch as a haven for family- a place to gather, a place to love and a place to grow. It was, and still is, home. Through the years of holidays, birthdays, epic roundups and even everyday happenings, The Ranch was the cherished hub and shaped the culture of this family for years to come. The Ranch was the focus of their master plan and a legacy left for generations.
Many of you will have stories about Ralph. He was an easy man to admire, but even easier to love. We knew him only as Dad and idolized him as only the most beloved of fathers can be idolized. He had a quality about him in which you yearned for his respect and once earned, you basked in the attention of it. You may have known him by his larger-than-life personality, his commanding presence, or his jovial manner. However, you knew him, he certainly relished his time and memories with you all, his fellow numismatists. Thank you for sharing your passion with him.
Sherry Allen Rucker
Ralph Weller Rucker III and Jennifer Rene’ Rucker
William Allen Rucker I
Robyn Elaine Rucker
William Brian Arant and Rebecca Rucker Arant MD
William Allen II (1998), Callie Elizabeth (2000), Ralph Weller IV (2002), Jackson Craig (2002), Trent Lane (2003), Broderick Newton (2004), Skylar Rene’ (2005), Avery Ione Arant (2008), William Connor Arant (2009), Jessa Joanne Arant (2010), Cole Allen Arant (2013).
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