Sheriff Race: Washburn native learned value of hard work on 240-acre farm
A lifelong resident of Barry County, Sheriff's Deputy Justin Ruark said his decision to run for the office's top job did not come lightly, and required a lot of thought and a lot of prayer.
Ruark has been with the Barry County Sheriff's Office since 2010, reaching as high a post as night shift sergeant during his tenure.
"I decided to run when Mick said he was going to retire," Ruark said. "It was a long process to make the decision. My wife and I talked about it, and there was a lot of prayer. Had I thought God didn't want me to do this, I wouldn't have signed up.
Ruark said living here his whole life, he has seen the good and the bad throughout the county.
"I know the problem areas and the non-problem areas, and I want to make a difference," he said. "The best way to make meaningful change is from the top."
Ruark said he ran as a Democrat in honor of his father, a lifelong Democrat who ran a 240-acre farm in Washburn.
"He was born and raised [as a Democrat], and he always voted Democratic,"
Ruark said. "I do a lot of things to make my dad proud. People think it was a [political move], but that has nothing to do with it. I wanted to make my dad proud and run as a Democrat in his name."
Growing up on his family farm, Ruark said he is no stranger to hard work, as there was always something to do.
"We raised cows and cut hay in the summer, and there were always repairs to do and other manual labor," he said. "I learned on the farm to never give up, because there's always a solution to a problem if you strive hard enough to look for it. We didn't have a set schedule, and I don't know how many times I had to get up in the middle of the night because our cows got out. We'd have to go get all of them, then fix the fence by the headlights of our vehicle."
Ruark attended Southwest schools until the 10th grade, when he was forced to leave high school to run the farm.
"My dad had brain cancer, and I had to run the farm while he was getting his surgeries and treatments," he said. "My brother and sister, both older, had already moved away."
Not overlooking the importance of education, Ruark earned his GED in 2007 from Crowder College.
"At the time, I was forking at Fasco, mowing yards on the side and going to night school for my GED," he said. "I did that to show my children the importance of education, so they don't come to me and say, 'You quit school, so why can't I.'"
Ruark married at the age of 18 in 1996, to a woman whose father was in the Air Force and who he met through his brother. After a divorce, he began seeing his wife, Rachel Ruark, in 2004, marrying her eight years later.
"We worked together at Fasco, where I was the head of my department and she was the head of hers," he said. "Our departments sent parts back and forth, so we always ran into each other and talked about different stuff. She's just a great person overall and a beautiful woman."
Ruark has six children, three boys from his first marriage, two boys from his second and a daughter his wife had from a previous marriage. His oldest is 19, and his youngest is in second grade at Cassville schools.
His oldest, Levi Ruark, is at Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology in Tulsa, Okla., sporting a 3.8 grade point average.
His second-oldest, Kyle Ruark, is a senior at Cassville and plays on the football team.
"He has graduated boot camp and is finishing his senior year before he goes to [Advanced Individual Training]," Ruark said. "Then, he will do four years of college at Missouri Southern State University, so he already has his future all planned out."
Ruark has another son on the football team at Cassville, Devin, who is a freshman. His three other children, Sahara, Riley and Chase, are all also attending school at the Cassville school district.
Ruark said his first interest in law enforcement came at a young age, spurred by the police scanner his father kept in their home.
"Growing up, my dad always had a scanner, and we would always listen to it a lot," Ruark said. "He always wanted to be a cop until he had to start running the farm. I left Fasco in late 2008, and a buddy I had at Fasco got me into the Missouri Sheriffs Training Academy. I spent 11 months there and I graduated in 2009."
Ruark started working for Sheriff Mick Epperly as a reserve in about February 2010. Once he got his field training out of the way, he became a field deputy in October 2010.
"One thing I learned from Mick is to always do your best," he said. "As long as you try as hard as you can, there's no fault in the outcome."
Ruark said one of his greatest memories as a deputy was earning an award for saving the life of a man suffering a medical episode.
"One night we got a call, and [Deputy] Rob Evenson and I went out to the house and found a guy not breathing," he said. "He had no pulse and no heartbeat, and he was basically dead when we got there. We gave him CPR and got him breathing again.
"By the time the helicopter arrived to take him to the hospital, he had a good pulse and was breathing on his own. Mick gave us a live saving award, and that was a big deal for me -- not because of the award, but for what it meant to save someone."
Ruark said he threw his hat in the ring for sheriff because he wants to continue making a difference in Barry County.
"I just want families in Barry County to be able to raise their kids without the fear of the drug and crime problems," he said.
Editor's note: More information about Ruark's children has been added to this article after it was cut from the first draft for space in print.