Ruffatto put thoughts into action

Joan Ruffatto, a DU benefactor and former staff member at DU, died Nov. 18. She was 55.

Ruffatto recently left after two years as a study skills specialist and academic counselor for DU’s Learning Effectiveness Program (LEP).

“She was very nurturing, very passionate about what she did,” says Jenna Wilson, an LEP academic counselor. “She really pushed her students hard and expected a lot from them.”

Barb Gerhardt, another academic counselor, says “Joan found ways to make people’s lives better or more comfortable. She was dedicated to pushing people into finding and using the very best within themselves.”

Shey Wiley, a student of Ruffatto’s, says that although she only knew Ruffatto a few months, she made a “significant impact” on her life. She says that after moving to Denver with no support, “Joan gave me that support. She gave me hope and filled me with a passion for life that I never knew I would have again.”

Ruffatto’s passion for DU students was initially sparked by her daughter Kathie (BA ’05), who was enrolled in LEP. Although Kathie and Joan both had Lupus, an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks normal tissue, they didn’t let the disease stop them from living a full life.

Joan had credited LEP for her daughter’s success at — and graduation from — DU. 

In February 2007, Joan and her husband, Mike, donated $5 million for the Morgridge College of Education building campaign. The new building — which will also house the LEP — will be named after their daughter. At the time, Chancellor Robert Coombe had called the Ruffattos “passionate supporters of the University and the Learning Effectiveness Program.”

Joan Terhune was born in Carmel, Calif., on Jan. 3, 1952. She graduated from Northern Arizona University in 1974 with degrees in elementary and special education.

She met and married Mike Ruffatto in Phoenix in 1978. 

“She leaves a legacy — counseling her students, spearheading staff development and [being] a dear friend to all her coworkers,” says Jane Parks, LEP admissions coordinator. 

Just before her death, she was planning a holiday party for underprivileged people. In her memory, her husband provided 250 people a Thanksgiving meal as part of the University’s Bridge Project, a non-profit organization to help Denver’s inner city youth. The organizers plan to hold a similar event annually in her name. 

“This really talks about the kind of person she was. She wasn’t just a talker, but put things into action,” Parks says. “She affected people.” 

In addition to her husband and daughter, Ruffatto is survived by a son, Chris.

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