The key keeper of history Roy Ruhkala shares passion for Rocklin’s rich legacy
At 96, lifelong resident is still the museum’s best story teller
By: Gloria Beverage for the Placer Herald
Rocklin History Museum
Roy Ruhkala may have started collecting pieces of Rocklin’s history nearly 50 years ago, but he has been gathering memories of the community’s rich history for a lifetime. On the first Sunday of each month, the 96-year-old lifelong resident of Rocklin serves as a docent at the Rocklin History Museum – sharing his memories and answering questions.
The museum, based in one of Rocklin’s first homes, is Ruhkala’s pride and joy. It houses a treasure trove of memorabilia, photographs and tools that pay tribute to the industries that drew people to this area: granite quarries, the Transcontinental Railroad and ranches.
As a community leader for most of his adult life (10 years on the Rocklin City Council, including four consecutive terms as mayor, and seven terms on the Rocklin School Board as well as service on numerous other agencies), Ruhkala began lobbying in 1989 for the creation of a museum as a way to create a bridge between Rocklin’s past and its future residents.
His efforts began long before that, however. Ruhkala began collecting historic photographs in the late 1960s and early 1970s when longtime residents would gather for an annual picnic/reunion at private homes.
“I talked people into bringing their old photos and would ask if we could keep them. Not many people wanted them back. They wanted a place to put them,” he said.
One of the biggest donations he received were hundreds of historic photographs from Ernest and Mayme Willard in 1968. Also a lifelong resident of Rocklin, Ernest Willard was the city’s first employee – starting in 1946 as a maintenance worker and retiring as police chief in 1965.
Eventually, Ruhkala founded the Rocklin Historical Society and was joined by longtime residents, including Gene Johnson, Gay Morgan and Carol and John Peterson, in campaigning for a museum.
After he successfully negotiated the purchase of the Moon residence (at the corner of Rocklin Road and San Francisco Street), Ruhkala enlisted the support of the Rocklin Lions Club members, who worked side by side with Rocklin Historical Society members to paint, repair and refurbish the house and garden.
“I toiled side by side with Carol Peterson working on the windows at the museum,” recalled Kathie Nippert, current president of the Rocklin Historical Society. “Roy showed us how to install the pulley system for each window.”
As work on the building progressed, memorabilia donated by longtime residents or their families began filling the main floor and a smaller detached building on the grounds. His personal collection of granite quarry mining tools and equipment fills the basement, while some of the larger pieces have been placed in the garden.
On a recent Sunday, Ruhkala showed two visitors from Holland how the granite mining equipment was used. Engineers Jan Raaijmaker and John Severijns were in town to attend a training program in Folsom. Raaijmaker said they learned about granite mining and the museum online and decided to explore.
“We didn’t know anything about Rocklin’s granite history. This is a very nice museum,” said Jan Raaijmaker.
In addition to celebrating the city’s granite mining history, Ruhkala pointed out to the visitors that other displays pay tribute to the years the Central Pacific roundhouse was based in Rocklin. Before it was moved to Roseville, the roundhouse (located on Rocklin Road and Front Street) housed engines for use by the Transcontinental Railroad on its way over the High Sierra.
Permanent displays also pay tribute to the legacy of J. Parker Whitney, who developed a 27,000 acre ranch in a triangular section roughly between Lincoln, Roseville, Rocklin and present day northern Lincoln.
Also featured are unique collections, including memorabilia from the years the San Francisco 49ers held their summer training camp on the Rocklin campus of Sierra College.
Ruhkala’s passion and enthusiasm for preserving Rocklin’s history is contagious.
“I am grateful to Roy for taking me under his wing when I joined the Historical Society in 2001. He asked me to be secretary during his term as president and I couldn’t turn him down,” said Nippert. “His hard work and dedication to the society and the museum make him a force to be reckoned with. I thank Roy every time I see him because we wouldn’t have the museum and wonderful exhibits without his planning and forethought.”
The tradition of sharing Rocklin’s history started by Ruhkala will continue with this year’s annual Rocklin Homecoming Reunion from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday, May 29 at Finn Hall on Rocklin Road.
“The purpose is to renew old friendships and to meet and welcome new friends,” said Gay Morgan, who is helping organize this year’s gathering. Photos and memorabilia will be on display.
Open to anyone interested in Rocklin’s history, a minimum $10 donation is requested. For more information, call Morgan at 916-624-2355.