Friends, family, hockey players recall a guy who gave of himself
Last month the Michigan hockey community lost a great friend and supporter when Gildo “Gil” Ruicci passed away at the age of 90. Within the hockey community he is best remembered as a tri-founder, along with wife Michele Monson and Red Wings Hall of Famer Ted Lindsay, of the Michigan Women’s Senior Hockey League with one novice team in 1987. Today, the league is more than 40 teams strong with 750 players aged 19 to grandmothers. The league’s annual end-of-season tournament is named the Ruicci Cup in Gil’s honor
Born and raised in humble circumstances in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, Ruicci was one of four children, did well in school, played Junior hockey as is customary for so many Canadian boys, became a tool maker in the Algoma steel mill where his father worked and as a young man moved to Detroit to seek his fortune.
He found employment as a tool maker at Webb Forging Company in Belleville and enrolled at the University Detroit Mercy to become a mechanical engineer. He received his degree after six years of night classes, quite a challenge while he and his wife were raising a son and a daughter.
At Webb Forging, Ruicci rose to the position of general manager and then moved to Horst Manufacturing Co. in Belleville as president.
In 1982 Ruicci and his son, Joseph, who had graduated from Northwood Institute with a business degree in 1976, founded Gil-Mar Manufacturing in Farmington Hills as a supplier of precision machined steel forged tank track components for the U.S. Army. It became a very successful business, so they added automotive parts production and moved the company to larger quarters in Canton. Gil- Mar now employs 240 people in four Detroit area plants and a joint venture in China with three plants in Shanghai.
Ruicci was very proud of the fact that Gil-Mar became the largest supplier of track components for all U.S. military tracked vehicles, including the mighty Abrams tank.
The Ruiccis took great pride in building a family of employees where a truck driver could earn a college degree and become an executive.
Gil signed retired Red Wings star Ted Lindsay as a manufacturer’s sales representative for Gil-Mar. Imagine trying to compete with Ted Lindsay for a Ford production contract in Detroit! From this relationship, Lindsay and Ruicci became brothers, playing senior hockey together for many years, promoting and supporting women’s hockey and playing in Red Wings alumni charity fund-raising games.
Just as his company has always given back to Michigan. So have Gil and Joe Ruicci. Gil’s personal efforts have been with the Michigan Women’s Senior Hockey League, St. Joseph Hospital in Ann Arbor, Wounded Warriors and the Ted Lindsay Autism Research Foundation. Joe has focused on supporting the Detroit Cornerstone Charter Schools.
It has been a great honor and privilege for me to have been a friend of Gil Ruicci; his wife, Michele Monson, and their dear friend Ted Lindsay. We were all brought together by our mutual admiration and support for female hockey players, from little girls like my daughter and granddaughters to all the senior players of the MWSHL – hockey players all!
Gil touched many lives through his love of hockey. Here are some memories and thoughts from those he engaged.
MICHELLE MONSON, wife: “My greatest memory of my soul mate Gil is of his kindness and generosity. He loved people; his employees and their families, his family, hockey women. He was non-judgmental. He was lots of love! I was so blessed to have him in my life. When he died so unexpectedly and peacefully, I knew he was together again with his best buddy and brother Ted Lindsay, lighting up a cigar and smiling down on all of us.”
JOE RUICCI, son: “My dad’s biggest attribute was his generosity. He loved people, accepting individuals as they were and helping them often in ways unknown. He actually saved lives. His heart was open to everybody. As an employer he was very fair and always had an open door. We were a hockey family; I played high school hockey as has my son Nick. Dad loved to talk about his six grandchildren.”
JIM MONSON, son: “Gil was my step-dad, but he was my real father. He came into my life when I was seven years old. When I was 13, he gave me a job at Horst Manufacturing Co., painting machinery and doing other maintenance work. He taught me to be a tool maker, supported me in hockey (goalie), inspired me, made sure I got an engineering degree and then an MBA, and gave me the example of how to be a good husband and dad. I have a great career at Gil-Mar, a wonderful wife and two fine sons who are both in college. I build my own race cars for fun. Things would not have turned out so well if Gil had not become my father.”
ALIDA RUICCI TUCKER, daughter: “I am so grateful he was my dad. He was always there for me and was such a special comfort when I lost my husband. He was so generous to everyone, especially with love and his time. He was such a wonderful example for all of us.”
GRANDCHILDREN: Ruicci was blessed with six grandchildren and a nephew who was equally close: Lauren, Nicholas, Hannah, Ciera, Connor and Derek, and nephew Fred Barsanti. They all remember him as “an incredibly kind man, seeing the good in everyone.” … “He smiled a lot, and when he made other people smile, then he had a different smile. He brightened countless lives including mine.” … “Words to describe my grandpa would be generous, funny, hard-working and full of love.” … “He taught us that family and close friends are treasures; be there for them, enjoy them and treat your fellow man with kindness and generosity.” … “One of the most dynamic and influential persons in my life.”
COUSINS: The children of Ted Lindsay – Blake Lindsay, Lynn LaPaugh and Meredith Berman – said their dad and Gil were more than best friends. “They were brothers and for us Gil was our uncle and his children are our cousins.” Son Blake said, “In the past couple of years, Tuesday became a special day for Dad, going to Gil-Mar (an hour drive) for lunch with Gil. That was the biggest day of the week for Dad. ‘It’s Tuesday. Where’s my suit jacket? Got to get to Gil-Mar for lunch with Gil!’ ”
BOB CONLEY, GIL-MAR quality manager: “I worked 36 years for Gil, at Horst Manufacturing as a truck driver and working up the ladder there and at Gil-Mar, earning a college degree in night school. Mine is a typical Gil-Mar story.”
DAVE LAVIGNE, GIL-MAR VP manufacturing: “I have been with Gil-Mar 26 years beginning as a production supervisor. Gil was a dear friend and a great boss. His great generosity was there in everything he did, taking a chance on people and helping them. He always kept his word.”
ROCCO MESSANA, neighbor and business associate: “My home is directly across the street from Gil and Michele, so I often saw Gil sitting on the front porch with a cigar and a book, and would go over to sit and chat, especially about the Red Wings and Tigers. As a friend and business associate, I knew him to be seriously loyal, very perceptive, did business on a handshake, was very well read and a very kind person. I miss him!”
MICHIGAN WOMEN’S SENIOR HOCKEY LEAGUE (MWSHL): As the 1987 tri-founders of this league’s first team, the Polar Bears, Michele Monson, Gil Ruicci and Ted Lindsay made it possible that today 750 women on 43 teams ranging from novice to ex-collegiate player enjoy the world’s greatest team sport, with grandmothers playing with daughters and grandchildren cheering them on.
When five teams had formed in 1992, the league was organized, and an annual end-of-season tournament was named the Ruicci Cup in honor of the league and tournament sponsor. Michele Monson and her Polar Bears still compete in it, and Gil Ruicci and Ted Lindsay enjoyed watching hundreds of tournament games over the years.
Typical memories about Gil Ruicci from MWSHL players: “Gil was a paramount influence in growing women’s hockey to where it is in Michigan today. Along with Michele Monson and Ted Lindsay, their support, energy and connections ensured us a place to play and to grow the game of hockey for all.” … “Gil was an ambitious, generous and dedicated human, and a pioneering advocate for women’s hockey opportunities in Michigan.”