Man’s hospitality, help earn hometown hero honor

Published: March 6, 2007 | 5743rd good news item since 2003

“I had a Utopian childhood in North Aurora,” said Genevan Paul Ruby. “Everybody knew everybody.”

His parents were schoolteachers. Eventually, his father became mayor.

Ruby’s mother died when he was 10.

“But we were very fortunate in the stepmother my father married a couple of years later,” Ruby said.

Ruby loved camping, hiking and animals.

In first grade, he and a friend started a pet mail-order business. They put an ad in the newspaper, and when orders came in, obtained the animals from a catalog.

Their first call was from a parent who wanted to rent an elephant for her child’s birthday party.

The family often took train excursions into Chicago, eating lunch at the Berghoff on the way to Marshall Field.

“We’d stop at the Palmer House to use the bathroom,” Ruby recalled. “The same attendant was there forever, handing me a towel, always saying ‘Have a good day, governor.’”

Ruby played tennis all through high school and played the trombone. He played in the jazz band, the marching band and the concert band.

His godfather, Mike Adolph, was chess coach at the high school, and Ruby learned the game when he was 10 and soon became an accomplished chess player. Ruby feels the qualities that made him successful were patience and the ability to think ahead – qualities he still calls on.

He enrolled at Iowa State University to study wildlife conservation, but he couldn’t forget his memories of the Palmer House and the loyal attendant. He changed to hotel and restaurant management.

One summer, he worked on a farm in a remote village on a fjord in Norway. “Had my fill of reindeer meat and fish. It was the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, and the hardest labor I’ve ever done.”

After graduation, his first job was at the Palmer House. “Telling that story helped me get the job,” he said. He managed the front desk for the 1,700-room hotel. Ruby recalls one convention when the hotel overbooked by 300 rooms.

“Guests were arriving tired and travel worn from O’Hare. They had to wait 45 minutes to find out they were being sent back to the O’Hare Hilton because we didn’t have space. One guest jumped up on the front desk and yelled to the people at the end of the line, ‘Don’t bother to wait. There aren’t any rooms!”

After two years, Ruby took the job of evening manager at the Drake Oakbrook, moving up to general manager. At the age of 26, he was managing department heads who had been there for 30 years.

He loved the week of the Western Open Golf Tournament each year, played at the Butler National Golf Club across the street. “I got to make friends with a lot of professional golfers,” he said. “That’s when I started playing golf.”

His favorite picture on his office wall shows Ruby with Sam Snead and Kathy Whitworth, the winningest men’s and women’s golfers in history.

While at the Drake, Ruby met Linda Bairdm Director of Sales. “We didn’t always get along,” he recalled, “but we remained friends after I left the Drake.” They were married three years later.

Ruby decided to open his own restaurant, Ruby’s on the Park, in Lincoln Park across from the zoo. “I learned the hard way what not to do. The biggest lesson was that, in order to be successful, you have to be involved in every aspect of the business at all times. There is no such thing as a vacation.”

After three years with three days off, Ruby accepted a job as clubhouse manager at Lake Shore Country Club in Glencoe. He was responsible for the dining room, banquets, hotel, pool, cabana, grill room, and golf outings. He was called on to manage weddings that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. “I learned to be very detail-oriented, choreographing who was doing what, how many it would take to do it, etc.”

The couple’s first son was born, and Ruby found that working evenings and weekends was not family friendly, so after three years he went to manage a dining and athletic club on Wacker Drive, increasing its membership from 600 to 1,100.

Two years after the Rubys moved to Geneva in 1999, Paul Ruby was drawn by an opportunity to manage the Herrington Inn. “The banquet facility was about to open, and there were plans to expand the hotel from 40 to 63 rooms.” Soon he had the idea of opening a spa to help make the inn more of a destination. “I thought it could bring a whole new market to the hotel,” he said. “It did.”

He has played host to numerous famous comedians, movie stars and musicians and even the President of Rwanda. Some, like Bob Dylan, prefer to remain invisible. Others, like Jerry Lewis, enjoy the spotlight. Paul was invited to meet and greet President Clinton, and he even took a spin on the President’s desk chair on Air Force One.

Ruby was very involved in his sons’ sports activities, coaching baseball for four years. Wesley is now 11, and Logan is 8.

In 2004, Ruby opened T. F. Boonie’s Saloon and Eatery in Mill Creek where he lives. Last summer, he opened Mill Creek Swim Club. Planned for this summer is Mill Creek Market, a full service market with deli, liquor store, and coffee shop.

Ruby, with his brother Mike and Steve Warrenfeltz, was recently honored by the American Red Cross as a Hometown Hero for the Bash for the Bayou fundraiser they arranged after Hurricane Katrina. “We felt it was important to keep it timely, so we organized the all-day music festival within three weeks of Katrina.. We raised $43,000 for the Red Cross.”

Last summer, Ruby was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He finds working out at Pilates helps reduce symptoms. In typical Paul Ruby mode, he is planning to host a golf outing next August 17 at Mill Creek Golf Club to benefit the Michael J. Fox Foundation. “We want to increase awareness as well as raise money,” he said.

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