by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It was a kind of “old home day” or an extended family reunion on Sept. 14 when people associated with El Centro, Inc., gathered at its downtown office here for a special ceremony.
The social service agency’s building at 650 Minnesota Ave. was being dedicated as the “Richard A. Ruiz Administration and Services Building.”
Perhaps it was inevitable that something would be named after the man who helped found El Centro and lead it through the first 30 of its 40 years.
“I welcome you to an event that’s been a little while in coming, and I blame Richard,” said El Centro chairman of the board John “JD” Rios. “I want to be clear on that. When a man does so much for so many, it’s hard to know what a real, appropriate recognition is.”
El Centro, Inc., was founded in 1976, as a social service outreach ministry of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
Three key founders — Father Ramon Gaitan, OAR; Father John Stitz; and Ruiz — saw a need to serve the growing community of Spanish-speaking Latinos who were making Wyandotte County their home.
El Centro (which means “The Center”) received a $10,000 startup grant and the use of a former convent from the archdiocese and Archbishop Ignatius J. Strecker. The Cordi-Marian Sisters played a key role in the organization’s early years and continue to do so today.
Today, El Centro has three locations — one in Olathe and two in Kansas City, Kansas. It continues to maintain a relationship with the archdiocese and is a Call to Share ministry.
Ruiz, seeing the need to expand services and establish a presence in downtown Kansas City, Kansas, led efforts to buy the building for $300,000. The Depression-era building is now valued at $819,700.
In his remarks before the unveiling of the new name on the building’s facade, Ruiz thanked El Centro staff and leadership of the past and present. He thanked many by name — and apologized for perhaps missing some of the many — who were part of El Centro during his tenure.
“Today, I am very honored,” said Ruiz. “I’m not naive enough to think that I did this all by myself — no way. So many people were involved in this effort to bring about an organization that would serve and be a leader in the community.”
As he spoke, he also introduced his wife Rosalinda, their children — Gina, Cherie and Richard Jr. — his six grandchildren, and his siblings. Today, he and his family are members of Sacred Heart Parish in Shawnee.
Ruiz was born and raised in Kansas City, Kansas. He graduated from Rosedale High School in 1968. He helped found El Centro in 1976, and then served as executive director from 1978 to 2005, and briefly again in 2006, before being succeeded by Mary Lou Jaramillo in 2007.