Ferdinand E. Ruge, 76, Master of English at St. Albans School for Boys for the past 44 years, died of a heart attack Sunday at Doctors Hospital.
After teaching at several other schools and once working as a stockbroker, he devoted more than half of his life to St. Albans where he became something of a legend among students and colleagues.
More than a teacher of the language, he was an inspiration to several generations of boys, some of whom remembered him as a demanding, but beloved and unforgettable instructor.
"He taught not only English, but integrity, honesty and responsibility," said the Rev. Charles Martin, headmaster of St. Albans. "He demanded work from his students and friends, but he always demanded more work from himself."
Mr. Ruge served as assistant headmaster from 1960 to 1968, as adviser to the St. Albans News, and as a member of the school's board of governors, in addition to chairing the English department for 44 years, but "it was in the classroom that he made his most significant contribution," his fellow teacher Paul Piazza said.
Astronaut and St. Albans alumnus Michael Collins, now curator of the National Air and Space Museum, said Mr. Ruge "kept his students sitting on the edge of their seats. All in all he was the best teacher I have known."
Piazza said Collins reflected the indebtedness felt by thousands of former students in his book "Carrying the Fire," when he expressed appreciation to "Ferdinand E. Ruge . . .who taught me how to write a sentence.
Mr. Ruge was known not only for his insistence that students learn to write "clear, simple and reasonably graceful English," as he expressed it, but for his unique ways of making them retain the lessons.
Bruce Meader, director of development at St. Albans and another former student, recalled that Mr. Ruge drew elephant tracks on a returned paper to "indicate that the writing was particularly slow and pondersous."
"He loved his work and he found satisfaction in giving countless extra hours to boys who needed his help," said former assistant headmaster Alfred True. "His zest for life and his direct, often blunt approach gave him an easy rapport with the boys he guided, instructed and entertained."
"Mr. Ruge used the teaching of English as a pretext for teaching about life," recalled another former student, Donald Graham, executive vice president and general manager of The Washington Post. "He put the English classics in front of 17-year-olds and insisted that they think not about how the sentences parsed, but about what the words meant."
Mr. Ruge used his own time on Saturday mornings to give special attention in extra classes to boys who needed more help.
He was the trainer of the school's spelling team, and drew a surprising crowd of about 200 alumni last Fall when he held a nostalgic spelling been at St. Albans.
"A commanding presence, a sure knowledge of how to deal with boys and a vast, yet unassuming culture all went into making him the most influinitial teacher at St. Albans that I have known," said John C. Davis, a 35-year St. Albans official and present assistant headmaster.
J. Willard Marriott Jr., president of the Marriott Corp., who noted that Mr. Ruge taught two generations of his family, said he "had a great sense of humor and was a superb teacher . . .loved and remembered by all of his former students."
A native of Liberty N.Y., Mr. Ruge spent his boyhood in Decatur, Ga., and earned an AB degree from the University of Georgia in 1921. He received a masters degree from Harvard in 1929.
Before coming to St. Albans in 1933 he had been a stockbroker for W.H. Byers and Company and had taught at several schools in the East and in California.
Mr. Ruge was hospitalized for eye surgery when he was stricken on Sunday.
He is survived by his wife, the former Louise Baldwin, of the home, in the 4600 block of Asbury Place NW: a son, Richard of Washington; a daughter, Elizabeth Noe, of Ridgewood, N.Y.; a brother Arthur, of Lexington, Mass.; a sister, Genevieve Riddle, of Minlation, South Australia, and one granddaughter.