As a third-generation farmer in Arroyo Grande, Tom Runels’ passion was seeing the rewards of his hard work and toil pay off.
But Runels’ roots in Arroyo Grande ran deep, and over the years, he gave back to the community in numerous ways. Some were very visual — serving eight years on the Arroyo Grande City Council, for example — while others were behind the scenes.
“He was there to do what he thought was best for the community,” said former Arroyo Grande Police Chief Rick TerBorch, who headed the department when Runels was on the council.
Runels, 71, died May 29 from kidney disease. A service is scheduled for Saturday.
Friends and family remembered Runels this week as a straight shooter, a persuasive speaker and an avid bowler.
His public service included 31 years on the city’s Cemetery District board and two terms on the City Council from 1996 to 2004.
“Even if you were on the other side of an issue, you would respect him,” said former city Mayor Mike Lady, who served on the council with Runels. “Tom was just a true gentleman.”
Added current Mayor Tony Ferrara: “(Tom) brought forth a common-sense, experienced-based perspective to the council. He had a firm handshake and ready smile.”
Runels was also involved in youth sports, playing an integral role in starting a youth football league, said his daughter, Laurel Maas.
Runels’ knowledge of local water-related issues was well-known throughout the community, and “up until he died, people were calling for his opinion” on water issues, Maas said.
Runels was born Nov. 3, 1939, in Arroyo Grande. In fact, he “was born, raised and died there on Valley Road,” Maas said. Runels started farming when he was 13 years old, Maas said.
He and his wife, Edith Runels, both graduated from Arroyo Grande High School. They were married in 1959. Runels, along with his brother and father, grew leaf lettuce, cabbage, snap beans and other vegetables in Arroyo Grande and Guadalupe. The family now leases the land for farming.
Runels decided to run for council to bring it a different voice, Maas said.
“He was respected and admired because he stood for what he thought was right,” she said. “He didn’t do anything to make himself look better.”
Runels is survived by his wife and three children, Lance Runels and his wife, Andrea; Laurel Maas and her husband, Ken; Rodney Runels; six grandchildren; and his brothers, Robert Runels of Redding and John Runels of Arroyo Grande.
A memorial service will start at 11 a.m. Saturday at Grace Bible Church, 100 Rodeo Drive in Arroyo Grande. It is open to the public.
Donations on behalf of Thomas Runels can be made to the Central Coast Kidney Foundation, P.O. Box 13537, San Luis Obispo, CA 93406.
Cynthia Lambert and Gayle Cuddy write the South County Beat column on alternating Wednesdays. Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.