The Rebirth of Cheeks & Ruff
Updated: Nov 10, 2021
Dr. Carl L. Cheeks was born in 1937 in Poplar Bluff Missouri. After spending his first eight years or so in St. Louis and Poplar Bluff, the Cheeks family moved to Evanston, Illinois. Carl attended Evanston Township High School as did his younger sister Mary and younger brother James. Their father Garland Cheeks was a pioneer in Evanston as he was one of the first blacks to build and own property in Evanston. Garland was also one of the first barbers in the city from which many future barbers got their start.
After high school, Carl attended the University of Illinois at Navy Pier but transferred after a year to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. It was there where he met my mother Beaulah Brittian. After undergraduate, Carl then attended Meharry Medical School, also in Nashville, where he became a D.D.S. Carl did his residency in the navy at the Great Lakes Naval Base and then opened up his own dental practice back in Evanston.
For the next 50 years, Dr. Carl Cheeks served the Evanston community with integrity and passion. He even served as Evanston’s city dentist for a period of time. Ask any black family who has been in Evanston for a considerable time, they know Dr. Cheeks. Carl retired from services in 2019.
I have known Oliver Ruff for 40 years now, and let me tell you, I am a better person for it. I first met Mr. Ruff when I was 12-years-old, attending Chute Middle School. Mr. Ruff and Mr. Pate were our principles. Back then, I was not even aware that he and my dad were friends. To me, Mr. Ruff was a well-dressed man who was always serious and about the business at hand. He was young and appeared very strong (I will come back to this later).
There is a funny, but very telling story, I share about an experience I had with Mr. Ruff when I was in 7th grade. Mind you, although I am 53 years of age, out of respect for this amazing man, I still call him Mr. Ruff. Back to my experience… Again, the junior high I attended was Chute. It used to have an open atrium right in the middle of the school. One day, I was in that open atrium with my so-called girlfriend, at the time, and I had just given her a kiss. Suddenly, Mr. Ruff came running behind us and ran past us. I was terrified as I thought he was coming to get me for the kiss. “What is going on with Mr. Ruff?” about three minutes later, Mr. Ruff came back to the school with two teenagers in his hands. I do not know what they had done but I knew not to ever mess up with Mr. Ruff.
As an adult, these two men have continued to impress me. I am aware that Dr. Cheeks is my dad but I give credit where it is due. I have had the pleasure of watching my father love and sacrifice for his grandchildren, provide me support on all levels in my life, care for me as I work through this horrible illness, and not leave the battlefield of our God. Likewise, Mr. Ruff has established the Oliver A. Ruff Education and Mentoring Scholarship, that recognizes young people for their academic achievement and leadership prowess. Mr. Ruff and his foundation bestowed a wonderful honor upon my son Logan Cheeks, in these areas. An absolute blessing to me and my wife Rebecca, Mr. Ruff stays in contact with us both, providing his prayers and spiritual guidance along with a steady stream of encouragement.
I want to tell you something about these two men, Cheeks & Ruff. On Saturday, November 6, 2021, Rebecca and I held an Appreciation Luncheon through Dayenu Ministries, for first responders, frontline workers, and medical staff from Rush Hospital. The day before the Appreciation Luncheon, we three of our volunteers had to drop out. We were in a bit of trouble. Don’t you know, the day of the event, my 84-year-old father (Dr. Cheeks) came to our home, loaded all the food and supplies in his car and left for the facility prior to Rebecca and me.
Mr. Ruff came to the event early (he had a special invite) and immediately began helping us set up and making sure I was attended to, as I am presently in a wheelchair. Throughout the entire event, both Ruff & Cheeks (I believe Ruff is also in his mid-70’s) did nothing but serve and they too worked the crowd of over 50 guests with Rebecca and myself. At the end of the event, their presence was again made known prominently. They both helped break down the room, store the food and load the car. There was a lot to do and the two oldest invitees got it done. One last thing I must share. Remember earlier that I told you my opinion, when I was a youth, that Ruff was strong. As Ruff rolled me out of the facility to my car, my wheelchair got stuck in a crevice. Ruff lifted me and the wheelchair (at least 180 lbs.) as if we were a bag of groceries. This man is something else.
So you ask me, Darryl, did you actually just write an entire blog about two old men? YEP! These men represent what is good in our society. They represent hard work and integrity. They represent wisdom and love in motion. Thank you Ruff. Thank you Cheeks.
Clockwise from left: Rebecca Cheeks, Carl Cheeks, Oliver Ruff, Darryl Cheeks