Donald’s son joined the FDNY in the early 1980’s, continuing the Ruland family’s tradition of service.
Donald’s wife, Geraldine, succumbed to cancer in 1993 and shortly after that he was elevated to Chief of Department. He retired September 7th, 1995.
While in retirement he pursued many interests including active participation in his church; flying lessons; playing the guitar and harmonica; travel and fine dining; and expensive cigars.
While taking flying lessons he mistakenly emailed Christine Caligiuri about scheduling a session. She had no idea who he was because of a simple typographical error in the email address he’d used. They corresponded briefly and the correspondence blossomed into a whirlwind romance, culminating in their wedding on the beach in the Bahamas two months after they had met in 1998.
Chris had previously been married and had raised six children of her own and each of them upon meeting him, had decided that he was a great person and would treat their mother well. Which he did.
Highlights of their time together included Don playing guitar with a Bluegrass band and singing cowboy songs at her son Marty’s wedding; attending Eden II benefit galas (Don’s grandson Jeffrey is autistic); visiting various family members across the country; expanding their faith together; and just enjoying each other’s company. They eventually settled in Macungie, PA, just outside of Allentown.
Throughout their marriage Don had never been physically healthy. Skin cancer; colon cancer; lung cancer and diabetes took their toll on him but mentally, Don remained sharp and his spirituality helped him remain strong when others would have resigned themselves to their fate.
In 2010 Don had half of his left lung removed and upon awakening from the anesthetic he had a psychotic break and it was then that he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Don’s beloved brother Jimmy had also contracted the disease and he passed away February 10th, 2014. Don was unable to attend the services due to his own battle with Alzheimer’s.
During the last year of his life he was systematically denied the ability to sleep normally; eat without assistance and finally, the ability to walk or stand for even the shortest duration. There were several other infirmities and challenges associated with Alzheimer’s but I don’t want to remember him with those in mind.
The family utilized Lehigh Valley Hospice Care and they afforded Chris and Don’s family the ability to keep him home.
On December Eighth Don’s breathing worsened and his daughters, Carol and Geri stayed overnight at his bedside. His son Donald and his wife, Mary and son Jeffrey came and stayed by his bedside. Father Seifert from St. Stephen of Hungary Parish arrived at nine pm and administered the final sacraments. At three a.m. Chris and her son, John retired for the evening, too exhausted to continue their vigil.
At 3:30a.m. Mary called out to Chris' son, John and Chris and told them that they should get downstairs in a hurry. Don had stopped breathing. He didn’t die alone and his pain was finally ended.
Being a former Chief of Department, Donald was entitled to full honors normally reserved for Line of Duty Deaths and his family was treated as if they were visiting dignitaries. Don had two showings on Friday, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. In addition to his many friends and family in attendance, there were seemingly thousands of current and retired FDNY members. The ceremonial unit maintained an honor guard during the showings and their changing of the guard ritual touched Don’s family, especially Chris, with their reverence in honoring Don.
On duty firefighters came in off their rigs and rendered salutes to a former chief. The Commissioner of the FDNY, Daniel Nigro and the current Chief of Department, James Leonard paid their respects to Don and Chris, as well.
Don was taken to St. Charles Catholic Church on Staten Island aboard a refurbished 1957 Mack truck courtesy of the Fire Family Transport Foundation. This foundation is fantastic. They help family members of firefighters get to and from ceremonies or to their hotels or just to get something to eat. Each of the vehicles has been donated and are memorials to various firefighters. Chris, for instance, was traveling in the “Lt. Johnny Nice Guy” rig, which incidentally was driven by the nephew of Johnny Nice Guy.
The Pipe and drum corps played “Amazing Grace” while a formation of FDNY’s best and bravest rendered salutes and Don was taken into the church.
Mass was officiated by Father Perez, and Don's son, Donald gave a moving and, at times, amusing eulogy for his father.
Don was again placed upon the caisson while the pipers played “America the Beautiful.” Hundreds of FDNY officers and men lined Clawsson Ave and rendered salutes as he passed by on the way to Moravian Cemetary.
At the graveside service a Department Chaplain performed his duties and a Marine Honor Guard performed theirs as taps played. Don was interred next to his first wife, Geraldine.
It was my privilege to help my Mother and Don these many months and I want there to be more to his story than just another Alzheimer’s statistic. I want people to know that his was a life well lived and well loved.
So long, Donald Ruland. We hardly knew ye.