Grey-haired Bernard: Playwright, painter, businessman

Douglas Bernard Rucker is leading two lives.

In the theater world, he’s Douglas Rucker, a playwright, director, and breast cancer activist.

In his East Germantown neighborhood, everybody calls him “grey-haired Bernard,” a 49-year old commercial and residential painter who is starting a business – as a first time entrepreneur, during a recession.

Rucker discovered theater when he was a student at Ada Lewis Middle School in East Germantown. He was appointed assistant director of the school’s production of “A Raisin in the Sun,” a play by Lorraine Hansberry about an African American family in 1950s Chicago. The school took a group of students to New York City to see a production of the play on Broadway, and Rucker was hooked. He’s been working in theater every since.

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“When the economy started turning, I couldn’t find employment,” Rucker said. “I decided to take the creativity that I had in theater and start a painting company.”

His company, Paint the Walls, works as far afield as Bensalem and Norristown, but the bulk of their work is in Germantown.

“Chew and Chelten—that’s my canvas,” he said. He has recently painted Vastine’s of Germantown, a beauty parlor at 736 E. Chelten Ave, and a daycare center at the corner of Chew and Chelten that was once a Rite Aid.

Sunny Shin, the owner of H&M Deli, said Rucker painted the outside of her building in 2009. “He does good work,” she said.

Rucker is not taking his new initiative lightly. Feeling hampered by a lack of formal education and business know-how, Rucker is starting an accelerated bachelor’s in business administration program at Gwynedd-Mercy College in January. “I want to have the concept of what it is to do business,” he said.

In the meantime, Rucker is networking like crazy. He attended his first Greater Germantown Business Association meeting on December 14, and he’s running a Christmas and New Year’s sale on his services to bring in new business, painting rooms in people’s houses for around $250.

“You supply the paint, we supply the touch, and it won’t cost you that much,” is his motto.

Rucker understands what it’s like to be short of cash. His rates vary depending on the customer—a sliding scale that takes finances into account. He’s proud that he doesn’t accept a deposit, getting paid only when the job is done.

When he has enough work, Rucker makes an effort to hire young men in East Germantown, hoping to give them something positive to do so they won’t be drawn into drug use. Mostly, though, Rucker works with Ronald Green. They painted H&M Deli together, and Rucker said he and Green have helped each other out over the years.

Meanwhile, Rucker still has his hand in the theater business. His last production was a play called “Walter, I’m Alive!” It was performed at the Kimmel Cancer Center in 2007. Now he’s working on a piece called “I Paul: Apostles of the Gentiles,” an adaptation of the Epistles of Paul from the New Testament, set to African American spirituals. He expects to produce the play in the fall of 2011 at Saint James Community Baptist Church near Chew and Chelten.

Rucker is a striking figure, walking through East Germantown dressed in bright white, greeting every third person as he gives me a tour of the buildings he and Green have painted together.

“They’re doing an article about me, about my painting business,” he tells Reggie Todd, giving him a handshake that morphs into a hug.

“It’s your time, brother. Everybody’s got their time,” says Todd.


 Paint the Walls is currently accepting new clients. Call 267-650-8915 or 215-849-2897

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