AUSTIN — Spending most of his adult life – and his entire childhood – in Austin, Mike Ruzek has done more than just raise a family with his wife of 51 years, Barb.
The oldest of three boys born to Carl and Stella Ruzek, Mike Ruzek attended Luther College and lived for a while in Rochester before returning in 1969 and, over time, helping found several foundations and non-profit organizations that benefit the city.
"I love this town," he said.
You are one of the founders of the Austin Area Foundation. What made you decide to start this foundation, and how have you seen it benefit Austin through the years?
In 1990, I and others were interviewed about possible goals for Vision 2000. One of the things I brought up was the establishment of a community foundation. In 2000, I gathered a group to research the possibility of the Austin area having a community foundation. In March 2003, the Austin Area Foundation was officially organized. We have helped donors who want to leave a legacy, and by doing that we have helped many nonprofit organizations that benefit this area.
What can you tell me about Tree Trek and your work with Spruce Up Austin?
Spruce Up Austin became a committee of the chamber in January 1990 with a primary focus of planting trees. With tree planting and other beautification projects there has been an estimated value back to the community of over $550,000 in the SUA's 32-year history. In 2014, the 25th anniversary of SUA, there was a willingness to do something special for the community. Henceforth the Tree Trek that now consists of 75 different varieties of trees and spruce. Each specimen has a sign with information and a QR code.
How did you help start the Austin Area Foundation, and why are these smaller grants so important to the city?
Nonprofits are a tremendous asset to the welfare of communities. Financial grants to help these organizations means that they can spend more time serving the people of their mission and spend less time fundraising.
What's your favorite place to enjoy Austin?
I don’t have a favorite place. The history of this area and the people who have helped make Austin a good place to live has always inspired me.
You've done a lot of volunteer work in Austin. What have you received as a benefit from your hard work?
When starting with just an idea, recruiting people to embrace the idea, and then seeing it become a reality is most satisfying. More importantly though is the positive impact these organizations have made to the people of this community. Spruce Up Austin started in 1990, the Austin High School Alumni and Friends Association started in 1993, and the Austin Area Foundation started in 2003 and they are still serving this community. This is an accumulative total of 78 years that has involved many other people believing these organizations missions are worthwhile and have helped them continue to be successful.
Asked & Answered is a weekly question-and-answer column featuring people of southeastern Minnesota. Is there somebody you'd like to see featured? Send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.