Anyone who meets Randall "Randy" L. Rutta, Easterseals new President and Chief Executive Officer, can instantly tell he’s got it together, from his crisp pinstripe suit, contagious energy and warm smile. He has worked for and represented Easterseals for the past 33 years and counting, and he takes his role seriously. You can see it in everything he does, from his hearty handshakes to his ability to focus on just the person in front of him, no matter the number of tasks on his to-do list.
That being said, you might not guess he was born and raised in a small town in Central Wisconsin and one of his favorite hobbies is digging in the dirt. He likes to garden and hike. Throughout his tenure at Easterseals, he has taken his love of the outdoors, and his respect for individuals from all walks of life, and applied it to his work. He’s championed legislation and programs that create widespread accessibility in communities both big and small.
Randy was especially moved to action in 1988 when he witnessed people with disabilities protesting the lack of accessibility in public transportation, with some even chaining themselves to buses.
He examined communities with accessible transportation systems like Champaign Urbana, Illinois, and Denver, then he and other Easterseals folks got together with The American Public Transportation Association and the Paralyzed Veterans of America organization to brainstorm solutions. They scribbled ideas on napkins, and those ideas garnered a million-dollar grant that helped Easterseals put accessible transportation systems in place nationwide.
“I look back and say ‘Wow’,” says Randy. “Now every bus that’s put in operation has a lift! Transportation systems are accessible. … We played a huge role in that.”
Easterseals Project Action, the National Center for Mobility Management, and nearly every accessible transportation program and piece of transportation legislation for people with disabilities are rooted in Easterseals’ work.
In fact, Randy was among the Easterseals staff that helped draft the transportation aspects of the groundbreaking Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.
“Easterseals has been influencing public policy since we were founded,” he says. “We pay attention to what people with disabilities need and how those needs can be better met. The organization, to me, has always been proactive and innovative.”
That’s what drew Randy to Easterseals 33 years ago, and why he’s still invigorated by the work to this day. Having replaced Jim Williams as President and Chief Executive Officer as of January 1, 2015, Randy says he’s “honored and energized to take on such an important responsibility in service to Easterseals.” Jim Williams is now President of the Easterseals Foundation.
Previously, Randy was Chief Strategy Officer and Executive Vice President for Public Affairs, focusing on legislation as well as forward-thinking programs around inclusive childcare, veterans and military families, accessible transportation, brain health and more.
He realized Easterseals was the match for him not long after college. He studied pre-med and almost became a doctor until he realized he had a choice. He could make a difference in healthcare on a one-to-one basis through patient care as an M.D., or he could make an impact on healthcare in systematic, far-reaching ways through public policy. He noticed Easterseals did both.
He earned a Bachelor's degree in sociology from the University of Minnesota, and then worked in community clinics for a couple years while taking courses in healthcare administration and policy at Duke University. In 1981, he joined Easterseals’ Washington, DC, office. He earned a Master's degree in politics with a focus on international health policy from The Catholic University of America (Washington, D.C.) while working at Easterseals.
“One of the things that I enjoy most about my job is being able to see a gap—a need—and work to make a difference to address that need,” he says.
Randy splits his time between a 101-year-old home in Washington, DC, and a contemporary condo in Chicago. He exists in the world much like Easterseals does: inspired by his roots but constantly forward-thinking.
And whether he’s in DC or Chicago, his heart is always in Easterseals’ mission. “Stepping into the role of president and chief executive officer, and following Jim Williams, who I’ve worked with for my entire career at Easterseals, feels very natural,” says Randy. “I have big shoes to fill and an awesome legacy and mission to advance. It’s very exciting.”