By Sean Miner
On April 11, 9-year old Orono resident Ben Ruedisili was, by all appearances, a perfectly healthy boy. He attended baseball tryouts for Orono’s baseball program and spent the night at a friend’s house.
“There was no indication he was sick,” recalled Ben’s father, Steve Ruedisili.
In a tragic turn of events, however, Ben passed away on April 12. A sudden viral infection dislodged from elsewhere in his body and blocked his airway, sending him into cardiopulmonary arrest.
“He was a really healthy kid,” said Ruedisili, continuing to say, “He had boundless energy. We called it ‘Benergy’.”
Ruedisili described Ben as a “really terrific kid” and “great athlete.” Ben played hockey and baseball on Orono teams.
“He was a really naturally inclusive kid,” Ruedisili said of his son. “He loved to make friends.”
Ben had been playing upstairs in his room when family members downstairs heard him collapse.
Ruedisili reported that Ben was “immediately in distress,” and an ambulance was called. Ben was soon after airlifted to Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis.
On April 13, Ben was declared brain dead.
“It was so sudden and catastrophic that nothing could be done about it,” said Ruedisili. “One minute, your kid’s healthy, the next minute, he’s gone.”
In the weeks since Ben passed away, his family, composed of father Steve, mother Anne Harbison, and 14-year old sister Hannah, have leaned on support from the community to cope with the tragedy.
“It’s been devastating, for us and the whole community,” said Ruedisili. “We feel so blessed with all the prayers, well-wishing and out-pouring of love from everybody.”
A visitation service was held for Ben at Wayzata Community Church, where the Ruedisili family attends church. Around 1,200 people turned out to support the family.
When they had returned from the service, the family found that their street, a large cul-de-sac lined by some 20 homes, was lit on either side by countless votive candles.
“What kind of neighbors do that?” said Ruedisili.
He also credited the family’s strong faith in helping cope with the tragedy.
“Friends and faith help you,” he said. “They multiply the happiness and divide the sorrow.”
“I think God’s heart broke the minute this happened, too,” added Ruedisili.
In just one expression of support for the family, Ruedisili was asked to throw out the ceremonial first pitch for Orono’s baseball opener on May 2. With every baseball and softball team in the Orono program seated on one end of the high school gym, and hundreds of parents occupying the bleachers opposite them, Ruedisili threw out the first pitch of the season.
The catcher was none other than Jordan Hansen, one of Ben’s friends, whose house he had stayed at the night before he passed away. After the pitch, Ruedisili and Jordan embraced as the entire gym erupted in supportive cheering.
“It seemed really fitting,” said Ruedisili of the pitch. “I’m glad I threw a strike.”
Moments later, Ruedisili and Harbison were presented with a framed baseball jersey bearing Ben’s last name and number, 11.
“He loved the competition,” said Ruedisili of his son’s love for baseball. He went on to say how valuable he thought the lessons Ben learned in baseball were for him and the other players.
“You learn to bounce back from striking out, or making errors,” said Ruedisili. He also highlighted the time spent forming relationships with other players as important.
“You don’t remember the scores, but you do remember the friendships.”
Ben’s family has requested that any memorial gifts be directed to a memorial scholarship fund at Groves Academy, where Ben had attended school for the last year and a half. Ben struggled with dyslexia, and Ruedisili reported that the academy’s approach had helped Ben immensely.
Ruedisili had coached Ben’s baseball team, and he will do so again this year. The team recently played its first game of the season, and he said that coaching the kids through that first game was “bittersweet.”
“I know we’re going to get through this,” said the father. He expressed that he had no regrets, remarking that he was glad to have taken three years off work when Ben was young to stay at home with him.
Asked what he would say to other parents, Ruedisili said, “Hug your kids tight, and appreciate them for the miracles that they are.”
Contact Sean Miner at [email protected]