The eclectic Rube: He left us a double legacy

This the last of a series on your Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum’s Class of 2013.

John Michael Rubenstein, raised in Booneville, was a Vanderbilt University honors graduate and a man of many talents. The college major of this future Hall of Fame TV sports anchor and sports museum director?

Why Asian studies, of course.

He loved music, particularly jazz, and sports. He traveled the world but chose to stay in Mississippi. Eclectic, you say?

And then some.

Rube was the son of a Jewish store owner and a Southern Baptist school teacher. How could he not have been eclectic?

He became the most successful TV sports anchor in Mississippi history almost by accident.

William Dilday, then the station manager at WLBT happened to tune in to a jazz program on WJSU, Jackson State’s campus radio station.

“I heard this deejay, with this rich, baritone voice, who called himself just Michael the blue-eyed soul brother,” Dilday remembers. “He was playing really nice jazz, but it was his voice and his suave delivery that got me. The next day, when I went to the station, I told them to find that guy and then hire him.”

That was just fine with Rube. A high school basketball player at Booneville, he loved all sports.

As a sports anchor, Rube won numerous awards and dominated the ratings. He became the first TV broadcaster in Mississippi to seriously cover the historically black schools. He was very much a pioneer.

The Rube interviews The Godfather, Marino Casem. That’s Don Cash, Rube’s close friend, behind the camera.
“Rube had such a sharp mind and such a quick wit,” said Marino Casem, the former football coach and athletic director at Alcorn State. “You always knew where he stood and that he had no predjudices whatsoever.”

Rube, despite asking the tough questions and never dodging a controversial story, earned universal respect.

“As a sports reporter, Rube was always fair and engaging,” Archie Manning said. “That’s all you can really ask as a player. I always enjoyed my time with him, especially later on when we were getting the Hall of Fame Museum going.”

I was a sports reporter and columnist during most of Rube’s TV career. He was competition. He went after stories like a dogged newspaper reporter. He broke stories, too. He was not just a talking head.

Rubenstein and I sat in on the first meetings of an ad hoc group whose dream it was to build a museum to showcase Mississippi’s sports history. When that dream became a reality, he was the natural choice to become the museum’s executive director. He thus leaves behind a double legacy in Mississippi sports.

Rubenstein had no business or museum experience when he took the job. Yet, through a 16-year period when many similar museums around the nation closed or reduced operating hours, the Mississippi sports shrine remained open despite, as Rube always would remind you, “having never received a dime of government money for operating funds.”

Said Jackson attorney Cal Wells, past president of the museum’s board of directors: “Rube was the face of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. He was the perfect guy at the perfect time because of all his sports connections and because he was such a great speaker and ambassador for the museum.”

The Rube

Rubenstein died of a blood clot on Dec. 1, 2011. Appropriately, a crowd of hundreds packed your Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum — often referred to as the House that Rube Built — for his memorial service. He has been voted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

To honor Rube’s legacy, the Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors last year established the Rube Award to honor individuals whose love and passion for — and contributions to — Mississippi sports have made a meaningful difference.

The legendary Boo Ferriss won the first Rube Award in 2012. The late Ben Puckett will be honored tonight.

•••

A packed house is expected at the Jackson Hilton for Friday night’s BancorpSouth Hall of Fame Induction Banquet. For tickets, call 601 982-8264.

Ted Rubenstein presents Boo Ferriss the inaugural The Rube Award to Boo Ferriss as Cal Wells looks on.

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