Mendocino Talking: Herb Ruhs
by Dave Smith, May 20, 2015
Herb and his wife Vicky, practicing Pediatricians, have lived in Boonville for about 4 years.
My parents were both active duty World War II. My mom was a Marine when she conceived me. My dad was a Navy Corpsman. When I was little, my really nasty paternal grandmother told me that my mom had me in order to get out of the military. When my parents divorced, I went to live with my mother and her family in Chicago, which didn’t go well. My grandfather, Eddie Carr, had run a speakeasy and was a straight up mobster. I was told that “your grandpa, Eddie, is sleeping at the bottom of the Calumet canal with his friends.” That turned out not to be true… he had escaped to Pennsylvania and had lived and died under an assumed name.
When I was a second grader I was sent to a home for disturbed boys run by the Catholic church. I was a lot younger than the mostly high school age incorrigible boys and was the official “chase, catch and torture” boy. It was horrendous. I learned to hold my breath because one of their favorite things was to stick my head in the toilet. So I learned to hold my breath for 3 minutes and to go limp. That’s how I survived. I got really good at evasion, which came in handy later when I lived in Vietnam.
My dad, who lived in Louisville, was never really together. He came from a horrible family and came by his emotional imbalances honestly. I was able to get out after a year and refused to go back, so he found a foster home for me which began a series of informal foster homes I lived in. Being a foster kid, I was a target of all the bad kids and right through high school I was known as a trouble-maker although I got very good grades, was a merit scholar, and received a full scholarship to Goddard College where I studied Drama.
In 1966 while I was about to start my senior year, they started drafting college kids. I was looking at the bus schedule to head for Canada and somebody asked me if I was interested in getting a deferment by going to Vietnam to work as a community developer for International Voluntary Services. I lived in a refugee village in South Vietnam with a 2,000 population. They were a village in North Vietnamese Catholics that had moved together to South Vietnam. I learned the language and was there for five years.
Then I was briefly with ABC News before being hired as a Field Director by The Committee of Responsibility bringing war-wounded kids back to the United States and Canada then returning them to Vietnam when they were rehabilitated. I left Vietnam in the late 70s.
When I got back to the states, I decided to become a Medical Doctor and took my pre-med studies at UC Berkeley. I had to wait for a year to get into a medical school so I attended the Seminary there, Starr King School (Unitarian Universalist) for the Ministry at Graduate Theological Union.
After completing medical school in Pediatrics, I did my Internship at Mt. Zion Hospital in San Francisco. There I met wife Vicky and we moved to Davis where they had a shared job program at the Medical Center so we could complete our residency programs.
Meanwhile, I had acquired a huge debt with the National Health Service Corps for my medical school expenses. The program required me to pay them back, year for year, by working in designated low-pay, hard to fill service jobs for 4 years. I only ever wanted to practice service anyway. It’s a spiritual thing for me. So I was working in juvenile halls and Vicky was working in county health clinics in San Bernardino, both making next to nothing.
In 1983, Reagan was really cutting into things and they cut back on our service positions from 3500 to 1500… so 2000 of us were left high and dry. I was invited to this lawyer’s office in L.A. who asked us to come up with $50,000. It was a shakedown. We had actually done our service time, but they refused to honor that agreement. We told them that we weren’t that kind of doctor… that we didn’t have money. So I now have the worst credit than anyone else you could meet…$40,000 from 1974 with added compound interest. They have pursued us ever since.
Since then I have worked for Kaiser, then did private practice, then the Feds said that if I would go to work in a health clinic in South Carolina for 2 years they would call it even. It was a scam. The doctor in charge made us sign over all our billings to him. It was a horrible, horrible place. When I tried to raise issues, he reached in his drawer and brought out this huge chrome plated revolver and shoved it into my chest.
We left there and went back to San Bernardino, then on to Northern Maine, and then to Missoula, Montana, practicing Pediatrics. Four years ago we moved here in Boonville and Vicky is working in Ft. Bragg.