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Obituary for Keith Joseph Ruelle

June 12, 1944 – July 12, 2023

Keith Joseph Ruelle, 79, of Racine, died Wednesday, July 12, 2023, after a short but hard-fought battle with a rare form of blood cancer.

Keith Joseph Ruelle
Keith Joseph Ruelle

Born on June 12, 1944, in Kenosha, Wis., Keith was the son of Earl and Ottilia Ruelle (nee Gedemer).

Keith graduated from St. Catherine’s High School in Racine, Wis. in 1962. He worked in the factory at Styberg Engineering to put himself through college. Keith graduated from Dominican College in 1967 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music Education. In 1972, Keith earned his Master’s Degree in Music Education from VanderCook School of Music in Chicago.

Keith spent his 46-year teaching career as the band and choir director at St. Catherine’s High School. He served as Dean of Students for over 15 years, directed the pit orchestra for the annual Spring musical for over 50 years, conducted jazz, pep, and concert bands, and directed countless choirs. Additionally, he took the select singing group Angel Arrangement to perform at over 30 events each holiday season.

He coached both freshman and JV football for over 30 years. He also coached both JV and Varsity softball teams, winning the state title in 1993 and receiving coach of the year honors. After retiring in 2013, Keith was invited back to teach choir part-time and coach varsity softball. He retired for good in 2019. Throughout his years at St. Catherine’s, Keith built lasting relationships with his students and their families that continued until his passing. Keith had many colleagues at St. Cat’s who became lifelong friends.

Keith enjoyed watching sporting events both live and on TV. He liked to go to minor league baseball games with his family and spent countless hours scouting the opposition when he worked as a coach. Keith was also an avid supporter of live music. He loved to attend military band concerts as well as drum corps competitions.

He had his own big band and was a proud member of the “JR’s 4” wedding and dance band. He also participated in the Racine Park Board Band and played with the UW-Parkside Community Band. In his 50s, Keith started to attend Band Camp for Adult Musicians in Pennsylvania each year with his brother, Don, where they spent a week in the dorms and ate in the cafeteria!

Keith enjoyed directing the St. Richard’s church choir for over 20 years, cultivating friendships through song. He also directed the St. Catherine’s Alumni Choir joining generations of musicians together. Above all, he loved to attend any and all events in which his grandchildren participated. He was a constant and reliable presence, always showing his support in their endeavors.

Keith is survived by his wife of 56 years, Judy (nee Johnson), daughters, Jeanne-“JT” (Tim) Kocha, Julie (Brian) Vodicka, grandchildren, Becky (Ryder) Kent, Jack Kocha, Abigail Vodicka, and Emma Vodicka. He is further survived by sisters-in-law, Judy Ruelle, Kathleen Hicks, Barbara (Danny) DeFaut, and Karen (Willie) Johnson, and brothers-in-law, Wally (Eleanor) Johnson, Gary (Kathy) Johnson, Kenny Johnson, and many nieces, nephews, and friends.

In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by his brother, Donald J. Ruelle, and sister Mary Jean Anderson and her husband Bill, in-laws, Walter and Joan (nee Pfeiffer) Johnson, brothers-in-law, Dean Hicks, Allen Johnson, and Gene Allen Johnson, and niece, Shannon Johnson.

The family would like to thank neighbors Jim, Perry, and Jerry and Michelle for their continuous support and friendship and for all they’ve done to help Keith and Judy throughout all of Keith’s health challenges.

The family would also like to thank Dr. Edward J. Quebbeman, Dr. Kathleen Christians, Dr. James A. Roth, and Dr. Kia Saeian of Froedtert Hospital for the successful Whipple surgery and subsequent care that gave us an extra 17 years with Keith. We would also like to thank Dr. William Litchy (Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.) for not giving up on Keith’s neurological mysteries. Thanks to Dr. Mark Choi for his thoughtfulness and guidance during this recent illness. We are especially grateful to Dr. Robert Gullberg for his kindness, sense of humor, compassion, and friendship over the course of 30 years of dedication to Keith’s health.


Family and friends are invited to meet in the chapel at Siena Retreat Center (5635 Erie Street) on Saturday, July 22, 2023, for a visitation from 10 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. A prayer service will follow at 12:30 p.m.

In honor of Keith, please support live music, spend time with family and friends, and share a laugh with a friend! In lieu of flowers, memorials can be directed to the Racine Dominican Mission Outreach (5635 Erie St., Racine, WI 53402) or the Ronald McDonald House (8948 Watertown Plank Road, Milwaukee, WI 53226).

Obituary and photo courtesy of Draeger-Langendorf Funeral Home.

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