Publisher was ‘a pioneer of the information age’

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Heading a pair of publishing companies dedicated to educational and reference materials, Fred Ruffner was guided by the idea that knowledge derives from the information one retains and learning where to find more.

“That so many of the innovations that he launched over the years have been adopted as standard practice by other publishers serving the library markets is a testament to his publishing acumen,” said son Peter Ruffner, who helped Mr. Ruffner launch the Detroit-based Omnigraphics Inc. after selling Gale Research Co., which he founded with his wife.

“He worked to improve systems for classifying and categorizing information and when one didn’t exist, he’d create it. Wherever he saw holes in the reference collections, he filled them.”

Mr. Ruffner, who earned renown for producing directories and literary resources, died Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014. He was 88.

His love of learning bloomed early, stoked by reading mythology, classics, comics and more, said another son, Rick Ruffner.

While working as an advertising manager in the early 1950s, Mr. Ruffner was frustrated by the few marketing information sources available and started assembling a list of groups, according to Detroit News archives.

“I discovered there are an enormous number of associations,” he told The News in 1967. “I quit my job, rented a desk from an answering service and set about compiling an encyclopedia of associations. It took a year.”

With the help of his wife, Mary, Gale Research was born. Based in downtown Detroit, the firm became one of the world’s largest and most influential reference book publishing companies, producing library staples such as “Contemporary Authors” and the “Dictionary of Literary Biography.”

“The impact of Gale Research cannot be overestimated in both commerce and library services and science,” said Fred Ciporen, former publisher of Publishers Weekly. “Fred Ruffner was a pioneer of the information age, providing America with tools to facilitate commerce and his publishing company made libraries an invaluable economic resource.”

After Gale was sold in 1985, Mr. Ruffner and his son formed Omnigraphics, which produces reference books and online materials for schools and libraries.

Mr. Ruffner also was a founding president of the Michigan Center for the Book and instrumental in forming the Friends of Libraries U.S.A.; led affiliated groups in both Detroit and Fort Lauderdale, Florida; served the Detroit Public Library board of directors; and co-founded the annual Key West Literary Seminar, relatives and associates said.

“With his frequent contact with librarians, Fred became one of their most effective advocates,” said Dedria Bryfonski, former CEO of Gale Research Co. “He strongly believed in the importance of giving back to the community, both the physical community he resided in and the larger library world.”

His efforts earned him recognition from the Association of American Publishers and the American Library Association as well as participation in the Florida governor’s and White House conferences on libraries, family and colleagues said.

Other affiliations included joining the executive board for the Boy Scouts of America’s Detroit Area Council and becoming vice chairman of the Central Business District Association in Detroit, relatives said.

Born Aug. 6, 1926, Mr. Ruffner enlisted in the Army at age 17 and fought on Saipan and Okinawa during World War II, earning the Bronze Star Medal for valor and the Combat Infantryman Badge, relatives said. He attended Ohio State University on the G.I. Bill, graduating in 1950 with a degree in business administration.

When not working, he loved jazz, boats and, of course, poring over books, magazines, newspapers or other published goods, said Rick Ruffner. “He was constantly reading.”

Besides his sons, he is survived by granddaughters Zoe, Jessa and Isabella. He was preceded in death by his wife and grandson Tyson.

A memorial service is planned for 3 p.m. Sept. 20 at Grosse Pointe Memorial Church, 16 Lake Shore, Grosse Pointe Farms.

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