Paul Ruskin recounts dressing his wife as a Native American and sneaking her into the Alaskan wilderness like it’s something we all do every now and again.
That’s fitting of the soon-to-be-retired OPP Communications Coordinator, whose laid-back lifestyle belies the incredible stories that he has to tell: he’s kayaked in a sinkhole outside Beaver Stadium, hiked the Obelisk at 3 a.m., and racked up more than 20,000 miles biking to and from campus — and that was all as an employee, not a student.
But what’s this about Alaska? Well, he was stationed there in the 1970’s as a radio host for the U.S. Air Force, and wasn’t allowed to bring family along. So, he spread a rumor that he had holed up with a Native American mistress as part of his wife-smuggling plan. The chicanery worked. He trained huskies and took hikes at 40-below zero, and no one suspected his “mistress” was really wife Barbara. Casual.
The story of one of the most unique Penn Staters begins in Pittsburgh, where he chose to attend Penn State in the 1960’s for its archaeological and anthropological opportunities. That’s where he and Barbara met.
“We dug a hole 17 feet deep in a 5-by-5-foot pit all summer long,” Ruskin says. “So you get to know somebody when you’re trapped with a girl in a 5-by-5 pit in the ground.”
Ruskin remembers when his colleague stuck his pickaxe through an underground skull that led to the discovery of a whole skeleton as part of a project sponsored by Penn State and Juniata College. The skeleton was quite the finding — buried in a non-fetal position, it broke the custom of the area’s tribes from when it was buried. Ruskin was tasked with guarding the skeleton, which required staying up all night holding a shotgun in the rain at age 19.
“So, I had interesting experiences as a Penn State student I didn’t think I’d have,” Ruskin says matter-of-factly.
From there, he got his Master’s degree in TV, Film and Radio from Penn State, and then he was off to Texas, where he kept the troops entertained and informed on the radio.
Alaska came, then he headed overseas to Spain. Having a communications background, he got into the film business, initially wishing to work behind the camera but earning a small speaking role in “The Wind and the Lion” starring Sean Connery. In his screen test for the part, he was to walk up to a woman and light her cigarette. But never having smoked in his life, he did not know which side to light, so he ranted about the perils of cigarette smoking instead.
In classic Ruskin fashion, he then he got the part.
“It’s a good film,” Ruskin promises. “I didn’t ruin it.”
Find him on IMDB’s cast listing of the 1975 flick, with his name spelled “Rusking.”
“All of my buddies around here have copies of the DVD and they show it at meetings to get a laugh out of it,” Ruskin says.
But Ruskin’s realistic.
“If I go to Hollywood, what’s for me out there?” Ruskin wonders. “I didn’t want to end up washing cars…I probably would have ended up as a storm trooper with a helmet on in a Star Wars film.”
Next, his path brought him back to Penn State by pure chance, when he found job openings here during a convention in Washington, D.C. At Penn State, he’s worked as an Executive Producer for the College of Agriculture TV studio, the Director of Operations for the then-School of Communications, and finally ended up as the Communications guy at OPP. He is in charge of internal and external communications for OPP, which maintains all of Penn State’s hundreds of campus buildings. His office contains assorted trinkets from his travels. A giant black helmet that he wears when riding his energy-efficient Segway around Penn State’s campus is stationed above his cabinet. Articles documenting his environment-friendly ways nestle in a drawer behind him. The 38-year career he’s spent here with come to an end this weekend.
He says he wants to make the world a better place for someone every day in his job. He turns off every unused light when he sees them and keeps his office dimly lit.
“I’ve never had a bad day at Penn State. I’ve had challenges and tough days, but they’re all good,” Ruskin says. “Every day is interesting and exciting in some way. I learn new stuff every day.”
What’s next for Ruskin? Perhaps what one would expect: He will officially retire on June 1, after which he’ll travel to the National Radio Observatory in West Virginia, where he’ll learn to study distant galaxies through radio astronomy. After that, he plans to volunteer with Earthwatch and excavate a Roman fortress at the eastern end of Hadrian’s Wall north of London. He says he also wants to teach his five grandkids to think for themselves, question everything, and lead sustainable lives as they “explore the universe.”