– When Tony Ruch stood before the Rebekah Children’s Services
board of directors June 10 in a light green polo shirt, jeans and
cherry brown dock shoes, it was hard to imagine the young man as
either the lost boy he used to be or the lawyer he will be
Gilroy – When Tony Ruch stood before the Rebekah Children’s Services board of directors June 10 in a light green polo shirt, jeans and cherry brown dock shoes, it was hard to imagine the young man as either the lost boy he used to be or the lawyer he will be soon.
“He’s focused. He’s intelligent. He’s responsible,” said Eleanor Villarreal, the chief development officer for Gilroy’s Rebekah Children’s Services where Ruch spent a year living in a residential facility. “He’s amazing to me. I wish we could say there are a thousand kids like Tony we have helped.”
Ruch’s early life set the odds against him. At the age of 3, the Santa Clara County Department of Family and Children’s Services removed him from his mother because she was abusing him. Ruch spent the next decade bouncing from placement to placement, 33 in all, before he found a place to call home.
“I had to learn to fend for myself at a very early age,” Ruch said. “I pretty much raised myself. Until Jack.”
Ruch, 26, graduated from Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Ore., May 23 and Jack Hennessey, the man he has called his father for nearly half his life was there to support him. Ruch was awarded local scholarships to help him with his college education.
“He’s a great son,” Hennessey said. “He’s like my biological son and daughter. They are equal.”
While more financial aid and scholarships are becoming available for foster children, the reality is that only 10 percent of former foster children go onto higher education and only 1-2 percent complete degrees at colleges or universities, said Villarreal.
At age 13, while living at the Adolescent Rehabilitation Center in San Jose, Ruch met Hennessey, a single father of two. During the holidays one year, Ruch was supposed to visit relatives in Southern California and Hennessey reluctantly agreed to drop the teen off in Riverside while Hennessey’s family headed to Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood. But Ruch was keeping a secret. He knew the relatives would be out of town and Hennessey would have to take him along. His plan worked, and he spent the entire four-day vacation bonding with Hennessey’s children.
Ruch began visiting on weekends, but Hennessey hesitated when his children, now 28 and 23, approached him to become Ruch’s foster parent. He saw the challenge as a life-long commitment and wasn’t sure he could become licensed as a single father.
“I am a really big believer that if you take a kid in, it shouldn’t be something you do until they are 18,” Hennessey said. “It should be a life-long thing because the kid usually doesn’t have a family or at least a family he can depend on.”
To his surprise, Hennessey was approved to be a foster father after six months and Ruch moved in. The going wasn’t always easy since Ruch had trouble trusting people. He acted out from time to time and Hennessey admitted there were times he had second thoughts.
“The thing is, I thought he was coming into my house and he’s going to have to follow my rules and do what we do,” Hennessey said. “Tony said there are some things he liked that we didn’t like and some things we liked that he didn’t like. He didn’t think it was fair to never do what he wanted.”
Ruch negotiated with his father so he could watch the television programs he liked that no one else in the family wanted to watch.
“A few times, I said he’d make a good lawyer someday,” Hennessey said with a laugh.
With the help of Family Linkage, a foster and adoption program located in Gilroy, the Hennesseys and Ruch managed the ups and downs of their early life together.
“I will be the first to admit I was a rough kid. I wouldn’t let people get close to me,” Ruch said. “It was tough for the first two years. Once I saw it was a stable thing, I allowed myself to connect.”
After accepting the Hennessey family as his own, Ruch flourished at San Benito High School, in Hollister. He continued his education at the University of California, San Diego and later transferred to the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he finished his undergraduate degree in law and society.
The avid surfer then spent a year living in Honolulu, Hawaii, working a temporary job and getting plenty of time riding the waves.
Ruch currently resides in Portland, where he is studying for the bar exam. As soon as he completes the grueling test in July, he plans to reward his hard work with a trip to Costa Rica.
Ruch knows he always has a place to return. Hennessey resides in Morgan Hill where Ruch is always welcome for a visit. The pair chat by phone or e-mail at least once a week.
“I think of Jack as my family first. Jack will always come first,” Ruch said. “If I had a will, I would give it all to him.”