Million dollar farm equipment dealer leaves behind legacy

Colleen Kottke
Editor/Wisconsin State Farmer
John Ruff (center) was the first million dollar dealer for Badger equipment.

FAYETTE -  John Ruf proudly called the crossroads of County Highways G and F in the town of Fayette his home for 80 years until his death on Nov. 17, 2017.

Born to Warner and Florence Ruf in 1937, Ruf grew up in southwestern Wisconsin, just west of the scenic Yellowstone Lake in Lafayette County.

Soon after graduating from high school in 1956, Ruf joined his father, Warner, in helping to grow the family farm equipment sales business. Two years later, Ruf married Nathalie Hale, and together the couple raised four sons, Richard, Bill, Mark, John "Duke" and daughter, Deana.

John Ruf partnered with his father, Warren, in establishing Ruf's Farm Service in 1956, the year he graduated from high school.

In addition to selling forage and manure handling equipment, the Ruf's farmed over 500 acres next to Yellowstone State Park and Boise Cascade, and milked cows until 1982. The acreage is presently in the Conservation Reserve Program and rented to neighboring farms.

The family business, Ruf's Farm Services, is still thriving 51 years later and is now operated by Bill, Mark, Duke and Deana, along with Bill's children, Jadin and Jessica. The business still runs it's hallmark line of Badger Farm Equipment, a brand that John Ruf experienced a great deal of success.

"Dad made his name selling Badger Equipment and Midwest Silos. He was the first million dollar dealer for Badger," said Deana Soper. "The business continues to be in the Top 10 dealerships in North America, now under the Valmetal name."

The family tradition at Ruf's continues with John's sons Bill, Mark, Duke and daughter, Deana, along with Bill's children, Jadin and Jessica.

In addition to traditional farm equipment, it wasn't unusual to see ATV and UTVs for sale on the lot along with a snowmobile or two. The presence of snowmobiles appealed to this salesman's love of the outdoors. During his life, Ruf helped to found many area recreational groups including the Pecatonica River Riders Snowmobile club, Fayette Sno-Goers Snowmobile Club, the Lafayette County Snowmobile Alliance and the Tri-County ATVers club.

"His true passions included the family business, the four-wheeler and snowmobile trails he worked so hard to open, those red Massey Harris tractors," said granddaughter Kari Ruf, adding that her grandpa was inducted into the Lafayette County Tractor Pullers Hall of Fame.

Kari says her grandfather was a passionate advocate for everything rural, especially Lafayette County where he served as a chairman of Fayette Township for nearly 20 years and received the Grassroots Government Leadership Award from the National Association of Towns and Townships in recognition for service to his community. 

Ruf was a storyteller and shared stories friends, family and customers alike. Kari recalls the many rides she shared with her grandfather in his big white truck. His kind heart, sense of humor and work ethic have always impressed her.

"Following his open heart surgery, dad and I went to see him in the ICU just as a nurse came in to check his the nurse reached for his hand to take his pulse, she exclaimed, "Wow, John, you have big hands! What did you do for a living?"

"Without missing a beat, he perked right up and said, "Build silos. I still do!""she recalled. "Here was a guy that just went through bypass surgery, and was talking about building silos. His passion for farmers and hard work was unwavering. Even at the end."