“Daddy, I promise to tell anyone who will listen to me about the amazing man you were. I promise to raise hell, be the life of a party, and enjoy every moment I have with those I love. I couldn’t be more thankful to have you as my guardian angel.”  - Devon Wolter

Rudy Wolter took pride in three things: his work, his family, and his black suburban trucks—in no particular order. 

A Chief Technology Officer for Citibank, Rudy traveled all over the world designing, building, and implementing different security systems. “He took great pride in his work,” shares his daughter, Devon, who, to this day, is still baffled by her father’s ability to design such high-tech centers, while, not being able to figure out his iPad. “Anytime we went to Citibank, everyone would come up to us and say, ‘Oh you’re Rudy’s daughters!’ It was great to see what a family man he was. He talked about us all the time and kept family pictures in his office.”  

“Growing up I had the dad people dreamed and wished for. He showed up for everything, supported you, and gave you a kick on the ass when you needed it. Watching CJD take him away from us was the hardest thing I’ll ever have to do.” 

With Rudy’s career came many opportunities to travel, including a South Asia tour where he visited all the Citibank locations in Thailand and Japan. On domestic trips, he was often able to bring his family. “As an adult, I don’t know how he had so many conferences,” laughs Devon. “He must have had like four or five a year. It was cool, though, because we got to travel the United States with him.” 

She shares that, if, for whatever reason they couldn’t go along, Rudy brought each of his girls back a sweatshirt. “We started this ridiculous sweatshirt collection,” states Devon. “We have sweatshirts from Yale and MIT—universities we never went to. And we wore them all the time, even in the Florida heat.” 

Like Father, Like Daughters

“My dad could talk to a brick wall,” shares Devon. “ He could find a connection with anyone. I’m a lot like him in that way, and I know that’s helped me in life. It’s a nice trait to have.” 

While Devon inherited Rudy’s congeniality (and his sailor's mouth), her sister, Amanda, inherited his personality. “She’s definitely the most like my dad,” says Devon. “She’s very stubborn, but she’s your ride or die, and when she gets on a tangent—watch out. When I miss him, it’s nice to give her a call and amp her up.”

One in a Million

On May 26, 2021, Rudy was hospitalized for a deadly neurological disease that would claim his life less than three months later. 

It’s called Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) and is a rare brain disease that affects one person per million each year. CJD occurs when a normal brain protein spontaneously changes into an infectious abnormal form called “prion” and accumulates in brain cells. Individuals with CJD experience a rapid onset of dementia, and a range of neurological symptoms including walking difficulties, sudden jerky movements, confusion, mood changes, and sometimes, visual disturbances. 

“We had no idea what it was,” explains Devon. “At first, the doctors thought it was an auto-immune disorder. They tried treating him with an antibiotic, but the only way to diagnose CJD is with a spinal tap or brain autopsy.” 

Devon and Amanda went to see their father in Tucson, Arizona a week after he was hospitalized. Devon shares that when she first got there to see him, Rudy was joking around, and was even able to say a few words. “He was in a constant state of seizures,” Devon says. “He was pretty much gone by that point. There was so much damage to his brain.”

A short time later, he was air-ambulanced to Sarasota, Florida to be closer to his family. A few weeks after being moved to Sarasota they received his diagnosis via spinal tap for variant CJD (vCJD).

“The last words he ever said to me were ‘I love you.’”

Devon shares that she and her three siblings started the grieving process before Rudy passed away. At the top of their minds—and their hearts—was that they wanted him to receive a blessing from everyone that it was okay for him to pass on. “Even if he could have come out of his coma and been cured, we knew he would never be the version of himself that he’d want to be. We knew that he would have to pass in order for him to be the Rudy we all know and love.” 

“It was such a learning process at the ripe age of twenty-five. We wanted Dad to not feel pain and not be trapped in a body that isn’t even him anymore. We wanted him to be free.”

Raising Awareness about CJD 

Rudy passed away on August 3, 2021, exactly one month after receiving the diagnosis. In the wake of his death, his family donated his brain to science—so medical professionals could perform the brain autopsy and learn more about this fatal disease. 

My sister-in-law got in contact with the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. There’s one doctor there who studies CJD. It’s so rare, all the doctors we talked to said they’d never seen it in person.  

Because he was passionate about philanthropy and supporting his community, his four children feel it is important to carry on his legacy of giving back and paying it forward. 

The Rudy Wolter Memorial Grant

At Rudy’s memorial service, in lieu of flowers, his family encouraged donations toward CJD research, having set up the Rudy Wolter Memorial Grant, and met their goal of $10,000. “It was amazing to see the impact my dad had,” shares Devon. “So much so that people were willing to donate $500, $1000, or even $100 to help other families.” 

Strides for CJD

In addition to Rudy’s memorial grant, Devon and her family will be participating in CJD walks in both Colorado and Florida. 

Strides for CJD is an annual walk/run event where anyone—anywhere—can pay tribute to their loved ones and raise funds for the CJD Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization, to provide family support, medical education, and research programs.

“We’re probably the only people in our lifetime who we will know to be affected by CJD. But if we can help one family recognize the warning signs, or to comfort them and share best practices for things like telling your loved one it’s okay to go… we will have done what we set out to do.” 


Signs from the Great Beyond

Devon shares that, since her father’s passing, she has received signs from him, letting her know that he’s near, and that he’s okay. 

It’s very healing to know that there is a Great Beyond, regardless of what religion you believe in. After he passed, my biggest thing was just doing my part to make sure his soul could move wherever he needed to go, so he could do whatever they do in the next life.”

From time to time, she’s visited by dragonflies, beginning with the three that stayed by her dad’s window the day before he passed away. Since then, they gathered around her when she spread a portion of his ashes in the Rocky Mountains, and one that stayed with her all evening at a campsite. “I looked it up,” she says, “and in certain cultures, they believe it’s a sign of a passed loved one saying hello.” 

Another way that Devon still feels a connection to her dad is through black suburbans. “Whenever I see a black suburban, I think it’s my dad saying hey. He LOVED his black suburban. He taught me how to drive on the Georgia Interstate, telling me, ‘You just gotta go and everyone will move out of your way.’ And that’s honestly a testament to how he lived his life. He was unapologetically himself.” 

“He called his suburban, Black Moses. Because everyone parted for it like Moses parted the Red Sea.” 


Rudy’s Diamond

Another trait Devon inherited from her dad is the love of family. That, along with her desire to keep a piece of him close forever, inspired Devon to connect with Eterneva to create a memorial diamond from a small portion of his ashes. 

“The diamond is something I’d love to pass on to my kids one day, and I want my dad to stay in the family. It will be a new family tradition, passing this ring down from generation to generation.” 

She chose a colorless diamond, stating: “It’s very beautiful, and it’s very him. He only wore colorless diamonds,” and plans to have it set in an east-west orientation to complement her promise ring. 

With her dad’s diamond shining bright wherever she goes, the tales of Rudy "life-of-the-party" Wolter will live on forever.