June 13th, 2019

Board Member Profile: Steve Ruoff Brings Wealth of Experience to the Board


Steve Ruoff

Steve Ruoff has lived in the Ithaca area his entire life, but he has discovered many new facets of Tompkins County since joining the Community Foundation Board of Directors in January.

He didn’t realize, for example, that libraries are not only places to check out books but also community centers where kids can get a free meal in the summer. And he didn’t know there were so many nonprofits helping people in Tompkins County.

“I’ve lived a pretty privileged life,” says Ruoff, who founded a materials testing firm that expanded into a global company. “I decided I should learn about what goes on in Ithaca because I’ve got a pretty narrow view of the needs of the people and the organizations that are out there.”

Ruoff grew up in northeast Ithaca and graduated from Cornell with a degree in Materials Science and Engineering in 1978. After working for Morse Chain, a company that spun into Borg Warner, he spent six months traveling around the country trying out for professional soccer teams.

Back in Ithaca, he landed a position as a research support specialist at Cornell’s Department of Material Sciences under a professor who was doing consulting work for IBM. That gave Ruoff the idea to start a company in 1984 that focused on materials testing, which later became IMR (Ithaca Materials Research) Test Labs.

With a loan from Tompkins Trust Company, Ruoff purchased a Scanning Electronic Microscope that could provide high-powered images of fractured surfaces on a variety of components, from helicopter blades to car engine parts.

“We would get a lot of things that failed and try to figure out why they failed,” Ruoff says. “That was my expertise — looking at the broken parts and trying to figure out what happened.”

Headquartered in Lansing, the company eventually employed 130 people and opened offices in Charleston, S.C., Louisville, Ky., Portland, Ore., and Singapore. In 2011, Ruoff sold the firm to the Curtiss-Wright Corporation, which is based in Davidson, N.C.

Since retiring, Ruoff has become an angel investor in local startups and a co-owner of the Lansing Market. He also developed a group of soccer fields and clubhouse on property he owns in Lansing and served on the board of Planned Parenthood of the Southern Finger Lakes.

Ruoff agreed to join Community Foundation’s board after a longtime friend on the board, Sandy Dhimitri, asked him for the third time. Since then, he has served on the community impact committee and the library review team.

“The library review team was very eye-opening because a lot of these libraries applying for grants are rural libraries,” he says. “The grants they were asking for often included statements about kids not getting enough to eat, and they would request money for snacks or lunch.”

As part of the community impact committee, Ruoff helped review applications in the spring grant cycle. This year, there were 54 applications, and Community Foundation funded about 55 percent of them, he says.

Ruoff lives in Lansing with his wife, Sue, and has two grown sons. He is looking forward to contributing his time and skills to the board. “I’m learning about the community — that’s one of my goals,” he says. “Beyond that would be what I can do for the community.”