At the 6th Biennial John Updike Society Conference in Reading and Shillington, Pa., four members were surprised with awards in appreciation for their longtime service.
The board members for this 501c3 nonprofit organization voted unanimously to honor David W. Ruoff and Dave Silcox for their invaluable service. Society members often remarked about the “two Daves” that do so much for The John Updike Childhood Home, and with great enthusiasm and energy, so the awards were “a no brainer,” according to society president Jim Plath.
The first distinguished service award was presented back in 2010, and the sixth Distinguished Service Award was given to Ruoff at the Friday, Oct. 1, 2021 conference dinner. The plaque he received praised Ruoff for “extraordinary docent work and other services to The John Updike Childhood Home.” Plath told the audience that from Day 1, when Ruoff began renting the single-story annex to the house that was built by Dr. John Hunter for his practice, he has been giving tours of the house to people who emailed, phoned, or just knocked on his door. Instead of just admitting them in and showing them around, Ruoff would tell them stories of growing up on that same street and having Updike’s father for a teacher. Some he would drive to other Updike sites in Shillington . . . and even Plowville. And for international pilgrims on the Updike trail, Ruoff would often surprise them with local delicacies like ring bologna and Tom Sturgis pretzels—Updike’s favorite.
Numerous people over the years have made donations to the society based on their interaction with Ruoff, who makes no secret of his love for John Updike, the Updike house, and the society dedicated to preserving Updike’s legacy. Of the 1001 things he does for the society, perhaps most appreciated are the many times he’s had to go down to the house in the middle of the night to check to make sure everything was okay. The building has a sensitive alarm system that can be triggered by very little movement, and it sometimes requires someone to interact with police. Ruoff has done all of that and more for too many years to count, Plath said.
The other “Dave” honored with a Distinguished Service Award—Dave Silcox—has an even longer history with the society. In fact, the details of launching the society were “hatched” in his dining room when he hosted Plath, Jim Schiff, and Jack De Bellis after they all spoke at a Reading Library tribute to John Updike. Silcox, who was Updike’s Shillington contact for roughly 10 years, helped Updike with all things, large and small. He’s done the same for the society, including recommending the right people for the right jobs. But perhaps his greatest contribution comes as a result of his being an avid collector. Silcox has been instrumental in developing the museum’s collection of artifacts and letters, acting as a go-between in many cases. Many of the exhibits currently on display would not have been possible without him. Silcox couldn’t attend the dinner, but Plath presented him his plaque at his Shillington home.
The surprises continued on Saturday night, when Michael Updike and Updike Society board members Sylvie Mathé, Biljana Dojčinović, and Marshall Boswell announced that they had a presentation to make. They told people in attendance that they wanted to recognize the “two Jims” that have done so much to move the society forward: President Jim Plath, for his work coordinating the house restoration and creation of a museum, and Vice-President Jim Schiff, for ten years of service through his editorship of The John Updike Review and the role that he played in securing support from his family foundation to purchase and fund the house.
The awards were framed, commissioned chalkboard slate carvings from sculptor Michael Updike, whose works both Jims have long admired. Plath appropriately received a carving of the Updike house, under which is an Updike quote, taken from the last line of “Grandparenting,” the final story in The Maples Stories: “Nobody belongs to us, except in memory.”
Schiff, who had been tapped by the Updike Literary Trust to edit a volume of selected letters, has spent the past five years elbow-deep in letters. For him, Michael Updike carved a letter slot with letters coming through it, featuring another Updike quote: “Once each day this broad mouth spews Love letters, bills, ads, pleas, and news.”