Ty: There were voices, I’m not sure whose, asking me questions.
“Who should we call immediately? Who do you need here right now?”
I had just been told minutes earlier that my Dad had passed away, a victim of suicide at age 50. My mind had been cloudy, foggy, overwhelmed ever since I heard that horrible news. There seemed to be a haze hanging over me. I knew that time was ticking on, but I felt like I was standing still, unable to progress forward.
But to that particular question, my mind cleared in an instant and I was able to form a response. I knew right away, in the eye of that storm, the people outside of my immediate family that I wanted there in that moment.
“I need my pastor, Harville. And I need Dr. Bob.”
Harville Duncan had been there through so many ups and downs of my spiritual journey. He knew the ins and outs of my struggles and my triumphs, and most importantly, he knew my family. He had ministered to my Mom and Dad since they were young. He had been there for us whenever we needed him. It makes sense that a Christian would call for their pastor in the immediate aftermath of a family death as tragic as ours.
But it probably makes less sense to an outsider looking in for a four-years-ago graduate of college to call for their Dean of Students. But to me, it made all the sense in the world.
I came to know Dr. Bob Rusbosin as a nervous college freshman when I started at Miami University’s Regional Campus in Hamilton. Pure chance inspired our first meeting. After leaving my geology class in Mosler Hall, I spotted a sign with flyers below it that read “Interested in Joining the Student Government Association?”
I had never participated in student government before, but I had always wanted to. My nerves and general shyness in high school had bested me in that chapter, but I refused to let it beat me in this new one. I flipped through the packet, read through the guidelines, and spotted a contact number: Dr. Bob Rusbosin, Dean of Students, Miami University Hamilton.
Once I arrived home, I picked up the phone and called Bob. I told him who I was, that I was interested in joining the Student Government Association (SGA), and hoped he might be able to answer a few questions. What I thought would be a ten-minute phone conversation quickly turned into 30 with the promise of a meeting on campus the next day.
I immediately knew I liked Bob from the moment I met him. I didn’t know exactly what it was, but he was unlike anybody I had ever met before. He was in a powerful position of authority at Miami, but he was humble and full of generosity. He was in a position to be a teacher full of knowledge to impart to his students, but he asked more questions than he answered. He was responsible for overseeing and attending to the needs of thousands of college students, but in that moment he made me feel like I was the only person who mattered.
At his urging, I ended up joining the SGA. And I ended up hanging around Bob’s office as long as I could—for the next four years. Bob was more than a student government advisor. He was a teacher when I needed to learn a lesson. He was an encouraging coach when I doubted myself. He was an advocate for me whenever he saw an opportunity I should take advantage of. Ultimately, Dr. Bob was always the person who would be there for me whenever I came calling. Just being there is one thing, but being entirely there to support someone else in every single moment is a trait we should all strive to develop. Bob embodies this trait better than anyone.
Bob: When Ty called me that fateful morning in late July 2013, he was completely devastated, distraught and beside himself in a way that I had rarely experienced ever before in my life. Ty was able to tell me through his uncontrollable sobbing that his Dad was dead. He told me that it had just happened at his Mom and Dad’s house, that Becky was at work when it happened but was now there but in a state of shock and that his grandfather was there with him. I was in my office at Miami University Hamilton and I told him that I would come over immediately. He thanked me profusely.
I did not hesitate in telling Ty that I would be there for him in his time of need. Tyler and I forged a bond that started at the end of his senior year in high school. He is the only high school student who ever called me to set up a meeting to discuss the Student Government Association (SGA). Needless to say, I was duly impressed with this aspiring leader’s interest and enthusiasm in being a young activist on campus. Little did I know that Tyler was someday going to be a model SGA President who would lead the organization with honesty, integrity, compassion and skills that were truly remarkable and noteworthy.
Tyler and I also bonded on a very personal level during our first meeting in my office shortly after that first phone call. The meeting was going quite well and it appeared that Tyler was the real deal for the SGA until he suddenly realized that he was meeting with the proud father of an amazingly talented son from his bitter rival Hamilton High School who had scored a last second, game winning three point shot against his beloved alma mater four years earlier. He told of the intense hatred that he felt towards my son over the past four years because of that shot. I told Ty how proud I was of Nate (and our daughter, Anna) for being great children and for their many amazing accomplishments including Nate’s memorable shot against Fairfield. Ty was listening (one of his greatest attributes I later learned) and he immediately was able to put the dreadful shot into perspective and went home with every intent to filling out the SGA application.
Tyler was an exceptional student leader at Miami whose accomplishments always seemed to eclipse one another. For example, he gave the best speech ever of all of the Communication 101 students as a freshman and this included all of the Oxford students as well as the regional campus students. His communication skills were and still are top notch! He developed the highly successful Campus Pride Initiative with the SGA on the Hamilton campus that was transformative and hugely significant in making the campus more vibrant, dynamic and visible. He spontaneously presented on the Campus Pride model at a national conference for student government leaders and advisors in St. Louis. He led campus-wide memorials for both 9/11 and the death of our hometown hero, Joe Nuxhall. He was presented the notable President’s Distinguished Service Award for his service to the campus and the community. He was the Voice of the Harriers for the basketball, volleyball and baseball games and was eventually tapped to fill in as the Voice of the RedHawks on the Oxford campus. This is when I first met Scott and Becky. They were proud parents of their son and rightly so!
Ty told me a lot about Scott through the years. I knew he was still playing basketball as was I and I kept thinking we would be meeting up somewhere on the courts but it never happened. Ty told me about Scott’s tremendous work ethic and his ability to work with his hands on just about anything. Ty told me about the love he had just being with his Dad that sounded so much like mine for my Dad. When Ty called, I just had to be there. Ty hugged me like he never wanted to let go. I tried to console him and Becky as best I could. Both seemed to be grateful for my presence. I was so pleased that his grandfather and his pastor were there. They were both saying good things and helping me feel welcome at this most challenging time for the family. More relatives began to arrive and I eventually retreated to allow the family love and compassion to freely flow.
I see Scott in Tyler in many ways today–funny, loving, devoted, accomplished and very compassionate. I was honored to be a mentor to Tyler during his undergraduate years at Miami and I am even more honored to have Tyler as a friend for life and now an almost brother to Anna and Nate!
Ty: I remember when Bob walked in that day. I saw him come through the foyer of our neighbor’s house, donning a blue polo and a look of complete, utter sympathy that I had seen him show to me so many times before. I broke down and fell into the arms of a man who had been a father to me at Miami. That hug lasted for a long time, but although our embrace did eventually end, the support, love, and care he exuded in that moment never has.
Yes, there were medical first responders and law enforcement officials on the scene who did an outstanding job attending to the situation. But there were also folks that I think of as emotional first responders that were there to support and care for me, my Mom, and my entire family.
Some people make good first responders, and others are born for it. Dr. Bob Rusbosin was born for it.
It’s no surprise that Bob Rusbosin is originally from Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Latrobe, for those who don’t know, is also the hometown of television icon “Mister” Fred Rogers. Dr. Bob and I have always had a mutual admiration for Fred Rogers, so much so that we traveled to Latrobe and the Greater Pittsburgh area to conduct research on our favorite television educator as part of my graduate studies. We met with people who knew Fred, including Bill Isler from the Fred Rogers company, Fred’s high school classmates, and many others.
Fred Rogers had an uncanny ability to talk about tragedy and make folks feel loved. Take a look at your social media feeds the next time that a large-scale tragedy strikes, and I’m sure you’ll find one of his more famous quotes posted and reposted over and over again:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.” (Mister Fred Rogers)
People say that Fred Rogers was one of a kind and that we will never see anyone like him on this earth ever again, but I have to disagree with those people. Those people haven’t met Bob Rusbosin.
In so many ways, from his personality and mannerisms to his genuine heart for others, Bob Rusbosin has always reminded me of Mister Rogers; but the similarity was even more recognizable in this tragic chapter of my life. Bob Rusbosin is the helper that people should always look for, and he was the person I knew that I could count on in my darkest, scariest moment.
I rarely speak in absolutes, but I will on this topic: It’s impossible to grieve and cope successfully in complete and utter isolation. We aren’t built that way. You can consult any psychologist or scientist, or you could also read your Bible, but either way you’ll come to this same conclusion. We need great people in our lives—people I call “emotional first responders”—to help us navigate these treacherous waters. Bob Rusbosin was, and still is, that person for me. Bob became an ideal helper and first responder for a number of different reasons:
He was there. I had no doubt that I could call Bob and he would drop everything he was doing to come help me. I wasn’t guessing that he would show up; I knew he would be there. I was confident that Bob would be there because he had a track record of being there. Over the years, I had dealt with questions and moments of uncertainty, and Bob had always been there to listen to me and care for me. He had developed a level of trust with me in a way that no other educator ever had. And I saw that his trust was more than a professional promise.
He accepted me for who I was in that moment. As you can imagine, college students deal with all sorts of different crises, from small disagreements with friends and family to larger, existential questions about their career and life purpose. Bob had seen me at my best, but he had also seen me at my worst numerous times. Bob is authentic and he is always genuine, and I knew that there was no wavering when it came to his core values. That reliability provided the stability I needed in a moment where it felt like my world was falling apart.
In the aftermath of my Dad’s death, I was (predictably) a mess. I was having trouble breathing. My vision was blurred. I would collect my emotions and then sob uncontrollably when someone else came into the house. I am thankful that I felt the freedom to be myself, my grieving self, in front of Bob. And it was only because he had spent so much time and honest energy getting to know me as a student that I felt free to be this unpolished version of myself in front of him.
He didn’t try to solve the problem. When Bob came into my neighbor’s house, he didn’t try to take control of the situation. He didn’t try to collect information about what had happened. He just came in, said hello to me, and hugged me. He sat in a chair across from me, and as he had done so many times, he just listened. No one had answers in the aftermath of my Dad’s death, and as much as Bob wanted to be my protector, he didn’t pretend to have answers either.
For an educator, it only seems natural to want to help people and try and solve their problems—but Bob understood that the best way he could help me was not to try and provide answers but to instead support me as I tried to find them on my own. There would be no quick answers, and there definitely wouldn’t be any just an hour or so out from the tragic news. So Bob, always patient and always kind, let the grieving process slowly unfold in front of him without trying to put a band-aid over a fatal wound.
He asked how he could help. In moments of tragic loss, especially death, I think we all feel a little uncomfortable when we ask grieving folks “Is there anything I can do to help you?” It seems strange, but in my situation it was particularly reassuring to have so many people offer to help me—even if my response to them was no.
Before he left the house that day, Bob made sure to ask me if there was anything I needed his help with. The gesture alone was enough to tell me that although my Dad, my provider, was gone, there would be people that would attempt to try and fill the voids that were now left in my life. And to my surprise, there were some things I needed immediate help with and I knew that I could trust Bob to accomplish them. I needed someone to communicate with my colleagues at Miami and let them know what was happening—and that I wouldn’t be at work for quite some time. I needed someone to call my graduate school faculty advisor, Peter, and alert him to the emergency happening at home. There were a few other folks who I needed to notify, and Bob agreed to take on all of this responsibility. I couldn’t imagine making some of those calls to try and explain to people what had happened when I couldn’t even explain it to myself. Bob was willing to shoulder this burden, and it made me feel so loved.
He called later to follow through and check on me. Bob is one of those rare individuals who thinks about others more than he thinks of himself. Bob fulfills the commands of Scripture that tell us “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2, NIV). Bob didn’t just show up that morning to be there for me in the moment—he showed up to show me that he was there for the long haul. Later that day, Bob called me to see how I was doing and how I was coping. He also updated me and let me know that he had fulfilled his promise to help me reach out to folks at Miami. But he was more concerned with how I was doing and what I was thinking, and he also shared some great memories of my Dad. It was unbelievably encouraging to hear his voice and know that he would always be there to help.
And yes, he brought ice cream. Bob knew that I loved ice cream. Specifically Graeter’s ice cream. Later that evening, I awoke from an unsuccessful attempt at a nap to learn that Bob had been back to the house to check on me and my entire family. He had stayed, getting to know all of the folks in the house that had visited that day. I had missed getting to see him, but his gestures of kindness were still there even though he had left.
“Ty,” my Grandma told me, “Bob brought you some ice cream. Your favorites from Graeter’s. The pints are in the freezer whenever you get hungry.” There are few things in this world more beautiful than a pint of Graeter’s ice cream, and Bob knew how I felt about this. Although life did not feel normal in that day, there was something beautiful about knowing that some of the things that represented a normal life, like ice cream, would still be there even though my Dad wasn’t. I didn’t eat much that day, but I did take a few bites of ice cream. I’m glad it was there, but more importantly I’m glad Bob was there.
I thank God for a lot of reasons each and every day, but near the top of that list I thank God for leading me to the stairwell on the campus of Miami University Hamilton where I picked up a student government flyer. I thank God that he led me to call the number of the Dean of Students and go meet with him. I thank God that he used my time in student government to help forge a friendship with one of the finest men he has ever put on this earth. And I thank God that he gave Bob Rusbosin the heart of an emotional first responder: authentic, vulnerable, and genuinely loving in every sense of the word.
We all need someone like Bob in our lives. When you hear the words that tell you your Father (or any loved one) is dead, you need people to surround you who can help you walk when you fall and who can help you stand when you feel as if you might never stand again. I’m thankful that God prepared Bob for that moment and chapter of my life by giving him such a tender and thoughtful spirit. He has been there ever since, and I know that any time I call, he will always be there to respond first.
In the days where I need my Dad and realize that he can’t be here for me, I’m grateful that I have Bob Rusbosin—a man who has become a father-figure to me whenever I need him.
Dad, Your death has left a huge hole in my heart and in many areas of my life. There are particular voids that will never be filled until I’m reunited with you on the other side of Eternity. But I am so thankful and so grateful that God positioned certain people in my life, like Bob Rusbosin, to help be there for me when you couldn’t. I know you’re in heaven watching over me, and I know that you are making sure that there are good people and helpers to fill in for you while you’re not here. Keep watching over me, Dad. Keep connecting me with your angels here on earth. I may be grown, but there are days when I need my Dad more than ever. I know how highly you thought of Bob, and I know that if you had a chance to hand-pick someone to fill your shoes, that man would be Bob. We all miss you, Dad, but we are all thankful that you are in a place where the pains you experienced in this life are no longer there. Until we are together again, keep watching over me like you always did when you were here. Seeya, Bub.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Romans 12:15 (NIV)
For nearly 30 years, Dr. Bob Rusbosin served as the Dean of Students for Miami University’s Regional Campuses. In this capacity, Bob supported tens of thousands of students as an advisor for the Student Government Association, and oversaw all aspects of student life services, including student activities, athletics, counseling, disability services, career services, diversity and multicultural services, new student orientation, judicial affairs, and child care. A lifelong proponent of civility, Bob helped a group of students at Miami found “Project Civility”, which dramatically improved the campus climate at Miami and became a national model for character education. After a successful career in higher education, Bob is now enjoying his retirement in Venice, Florida where he lives with his wife, Sharon. Bob earned his Ed.D from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, his MAT from the University of Pittsburgh, and his BA from the University of Dayton.