By Mark Gunderman and Tom Hummer, a Ruritan board member since 1954.
The first Ruritan Club was chartered in Nansemond County in Southeast Virginia on May 21, 1928. Since that initial Holland Club, Ruritan has grown throughout the United States of America and in doing so, has become America’s leading community service organization.
In March 1928, Tom Downing and Jack Gwaltney, both active in vocational agriculture were attending evening classes for farmers at Holland High School. These two men began discussion regarding an approach to bring the farmer class together when classes were not in session. Both recognized the need for a rural organization where community leaders could meet and brainstorm techniques all year round to improve their local communities. The proposed club would be patterned after city-service organizations such as Rotary and Lions. The objective would be to include business, civic-minded people and farmers as board members.
The name “Ruritan” was suggested by Daisy Nurney, a reporter for the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot newspaper, and was unanimously adopted by the club’s charter members. Ruritan is a combination of the Latin words for open country “ruri” and small town “tan,” interpreted as pertaining to rural and small town life.
Sterling Ruritan established in 1951
Founded on November 10, 1951 with 27 members, the Sterling Ruritans mission was to stay acquainted with the needs of the eastern Loudoun community and provide volunteer services to make it a better place to live, work and prosper.
Sterling Ruritan is a member of Ruritan National consisting of nearly 25,000 members throughout 25 U.S. States, which currently work to improve more than 1,000 local communities. These local Ruritan Clubs provide services in urban areas, small towns and rural villages. Nearly all clubs work locally with Future Farmers of America (FFA), 4-H, Boy or Girl Scout units, sports clubs and other organizations serving youth.
Ruritan Members met in the Old Sterling Elementary School until 1956, when they bought their own building in Old Sterling for only $8,000. The building was previously Bowman’s Tavern, a local beer hall first built in 1946. The first Ruritan meeting was held there in February 1959.
Before Loudoun County built a community center, the Sterling Ruritans facility functioned as a local gathering place. The handsome meeting hall served three religious denominations, the Red Cross for a Bloodmobile Center and the county for use as a polling location for state and national elections. In 1963, the Ruritans needed to enlarge the space, adding an auditorium, dining hall and modern kitchen. Today the building is used to support monthly meetings, club activities, fund-raisers and rentals to other organizations.
During the 50’s, the Club obtained custody of six homeless children left parentless due to a house fire. The children were cared for in homes of club members pending disposition of the court system.
Members supported families living in need with food baskets and clothing. They started an education program that procured books for the Sterling Elementary school library, the only school in Sterling at that time. In 1954, a $25 Savings Bond was allocated to one outstanding elementary school student.
The club organized teen dances, installed lighting in the school parking lot, worked with the Power Company to install the first street lights in Sterling (from Shaw Road to the Sterling Cemetery) and paid for the electricity, worked to organize Sterling Fire Department, donated two-way radios for sheriff deputies’ vehicles and effected the area’s first trash removal service. Fundraisers comprised selling raffle tickets (baby beef) and holding adult dances and weekly turkey shoots in the fall.
The 60’s saw the Ruritans giving donations to support the Sterling and Ashburn Fire Departments, public school programs, sponsoring of a Little League Baseball team (1961), Broad Run High School Boosters (1968) and planting of trees along the newly built Sterling Boulevard (1969).
The Ruritans sponsored numerous town meetings to discuss the possibility of water and sewer services for Sterling. Recommendations were made to the Highway Department to add traffic lights to the growing number of dangerous intersections such as Route 606 and 28.
The Ruritans and American Legion Post 150 shared the clubhouse through 1969 in return for American Legion repainting the inside. Membership dues were increased from $4 to $6 in 1969.
Ruritanette Sue Smith became the first women to receive a Ruritan Recognition Award for her many outstanding administrative services to the Club.
Members continued to supervise community recreational activity and sponsor Little League Baseball and Football, girls’ softball and Boy Scout Troop 966. They provided student scholarships to a growing number of schools to include the new Park View High School. They assisted the sick and needy, providing Christmas Baskets, clothing and medical supplies (including a device that transports infants suffering from respiratory diseases from hospital to home).
The Ruritans collaborated with the American Legion to construct the Veterans Memorial in Sterling Park. This memorial is dedicated in honor of the valiant men and women of the Sterling Community who rendered unyielding service to the cause of liberty in declared and undeclared wars to keep America a free and great nation. The communities Veterans Day Ceremony takes place at the Veterans Memorial each year.
The Club’s facility was made available to the 4H Club, and was used for youth dance classes and church sponsored Sunrise Easter Breakfast Services for residents of Sterling. Dances were held every Saturday night, a big deal in the area back then. Ruritans sponsored CPR training sessions and hunter safety courses. They began opening the facility to the Sterling Fire Department (from 1979 until 1990) for weekly bingo.
In 1982 membership dues was increased to $60 per member per year.
In 1983 a girl’s annual basketball tournament was kicked off at Broad Run High School. Education Night sponsored outstanding student scholarships to a growing number of schools, five elementary, one middle and two high schools (Broad Run and Park View).
The Club began operating Salvation Army Kettles—increasing collections from $542 in 1983 to $6,590 in 1989. They donated towards the construction of Briar Patch Park on Sterling Boulevard. Jaycees organization began use of the clubhouse for monthly meetings.
As the population increased, the Club continues to support local charities by hosting benefit dinners and providing individual donations to support needy families with groceries, clothes and overdue medical and home utility bills.
In the 90’s, the Ruritans helped those in hard times recover by supervising juvenile offenders sentenced to working off community service hours and giving complimentary use of the meeting hall to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
They donated Rudy Teddy Bears, the Ruritans’ national mascot, to Fire and Rescue, the Sheriff’s Office, VA State Police and the local hospital to be given to children who experienced trauma. The police and hospitals used them when kids were upset and scared after a fire, a car wreck or a domestic issue.
New bingo tables were purchased when the Club took over Weekly Bingo Night from the Fire Department. In 1990, The Salvation Army Kettle Drive continued, collecting more each year. Food Trailer fundraising continued to thrive as events included Reston Easter Seals, August Court Days in Leesburg, Oatlands Car Show, Sporting events and a Great Fall Horse Show.
The Club’s student award program increased tremendously from just Sterling Elementary, to a community of 18 schools in Sterling and Ashburn. The program grew from $25-$50 savings bonds to $100 for elementary students, $500 for middle school and $2,000 for high school students. In 1991 the Club began supporting Project Graduation, a non-alcoholic all night party for seniors at Broad Run and Park View High Schools, adding Potomac Falls High School to the mix in 1999. The Ashburn Ruritans, founded in 1993 begin supporting the Ashburn schools in 1995.
The Club increased its charitable activities with donations to the girl’s annual high school basketball tournament, LAWS and the Good Shepherd Alliance homeless shelters, LINK Food Pantry, 4H, United Way, Big Brothers, local hospice, Foster Adoptive Parents Agency, LARC and many other local organizations.
With the turn of a century, the Club began to play a more active role in protecting and improving the environment. They teamed up with youth organizations that focus on more environmentally friendly practices, recycling of different materials as well as preserving resources such as water and electricity. The Club Members donated to Claude Moore Park, Keep Loudoun Beautiful, Sterling Foundation (Clean Up and Recycling Center) and sprucing up the Sterling area W&OD Bike Trail. Engaging youth in environmental protection not only creates direct impact on changing youth behaviors and attitudes, but can influence their parents, relatives and families.
The club celebrated its 50th anniversary on November 10, 2001 during the Anniversary Gala Dinner Dance, attended by 160 people, including Loudoun dignitaries.
The Ruritans have contributed over $20,000 each year since 2008 for student honorees in recognition of their academic achievements and community service. The awards ceremony places the spotlight on some of Loudoun’s finest students and their teachers, families and friends. The annual awards program is funded from the proceeds of the Club’s weekly Thursday night bingo games, food sales and meeting hall rentals for special events and occasions.
Education Night now sponsors a growing number of schools, twelve elementary, three middle and three high schools (Park View, Potomac Falls and Dominion).
The Club continues a history of assisting needy families, victims of fire and severe illness; supporting boys and girls scout troops, youth sports organizations, homeless shelters and food pantries; providing scholarships; and presenting awards to our younger generation for over 66 years. They believe a strong community is built with goodwill, generated between and among all citizens, regardless of their race, gender, personal beliefs, political affiliations or economic status.
Today, the Sterling Ruritan Club currently has 35 members, ranging in age from 18 to 91. Membership in the Sterling Ruritan Club is open to anyone living in the area and new members are always welcome. The Sterling Ruritan Club meets on the second Wednesday of each month at 7 p.m. at 183 Ruritan Road, near West Church Road and Atlantic Boulevard. For more information, call 703-444-6039.