Ruritans celebrate 50 years of service

MD-Ruritan club celebrates 50 years_3x

Dorchester Banner/Gloria Rojas
Sonny Peters, Jimmy Ellis and Elmer Willey of the Dorchester Ruritan Club show off their photo albums of 50 years of giving.

Fifty years is a significant milestone for the Ruritan Club of Dorchester, a club with the motto of “Neighbors Helping Neighbors.” The name “Ruritan” explains the makeup of the men who formed the national club in 1928. The Latin word “ruri” refers to “country” or “rural” and “tan” stands for “town.” When 23 men in Dorchester County founded the local club in 1965, membership reflected both the farming and merchant communities.

Elmer Willey says, ”We had a goal of creating a closer social union.” The local club has a well-documented history in orderly scrapbooks of photos, Banner articles, and documents of what they have done since 1965. Those scrapbooks record Dorchester’s history in moments of specific need, the club’s response, and include the gratitude of thankful people helped by Ruritans through the years. Jimmy Ellis, a long time club member, says “We gave monetarily and physically, the money we raised and what we could do with our two hands.”

A football team needed some equipment. A school booster club got help. A family whose house burned down got cash and furniture. Victims of hurricanes and illness have known the generosity of the group. The Ruritans have given Rudy teddy bears to police officers so they can distribute them to the children they encounter — homeless children, injured children, lost children. The long list includes Horn Point Labs, the Salvation Army and so many more. President Leon “Sonny” Peters explains they don’t raise enough money for big ticket items, like the recent $18,000 cleanup of the disastrous oil spill in a Hoopers Island Church. So they gave $2,000, what they could; however, they sent notices to newspapers of their action so that others would read about it, talk about it and step in. “The tactic works,” agree the gentlemen.

The scrapbooks track how they gave the money away. The books also record how they raised it. The record also shows what they accomplished for $50 in the 60s now costs a good deal more. In the past there were carnivals and horse shows, stands along US Route 50 selling Christmas trees. Now they are part of big events and serve food. Ruritan handcut Idaho French fries, the star of their menus of hot dogs and burgers, are famous at Triathlons and other races, and have paid for children’s trips to swim with dolphins.

Ruritans also raised a flag, flag pole and plaque at Pleasant Day, dedicated to the memory of an extraordinary volunteer. According to Jackie Vickers at Pleasant Day, Staff Sgt. Robert Beck served in the 82nd Airborne, and upon retiring he served for 17 years as a volunteer at Pleasant Day. Commissioner Vickers says he worked it like a full-time job.

The contributions of Ruritan are sprinkled all over the county, in Cardio-Rehab at the hospital, along urban Race Street, in farm homes, in schools, in churches, and in many hearts and memories. On Aug. 4, the group will hold their annual picnic at the Neck District Firehouse. Members, and families will celebrate the past 50 years, but they are also looking to the future.

President Sonny Peters, a founding member, is in his 80s, as are Jimmy Ellis and Elmer Willey. ”We’d all love to have young people involved,” the three men say. They need and want new members to carry on. Mr. Willey says, “The reward is satisfaction. It’s a fun thing to do. You stay young. When you go home, you like yourself more.”

Ruritan has opened up membership and hopes to raise interest in its traditions of giving. Through scholarship programs and mentoring they are reaching out to young people. Women are welcome too. For information about the Annual Picnic or membership, Jimmy Lewis can be reached at 410-221-1155.

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