Bethlehem Ruritan celebrates 60 years

Published 11:09 pm Tuesday, May 12, 2009

On May 17, 1949, 31 men – most of them farmers and mechanics – met at the Firemans Clubhouse on Lake Cahoon and organized the Bethlehem Ruritan Club. The Whaleyville Ruritan Club sponsored the organization of the new club, and the Bethlehem Ruritans were granted charter No. 263. Officers were elected, with circuit preacher R.E. Brittle as the first president, and all 31 men signed the club’s charter.

Sixty years later, the club still is going strong. About 75 people gathered in the group’s clubhouse Tuesday to celebrate the club’s diamond anniversary.

“On behalf of Ruritan National and many of your Ruritan friends, a very sincere thank you and congratulations for 60 years of exemplary Ruritan service,” wrote George Winslow, 2003 Ruritan National President, who was present at the celebration. Winslow’s letter was printed on the cover of the history booklet that was presented to each attendee at the celebration.

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The first Ruritan club was formed just down the street, in Holland, in April 1928. The club was formed to promote rural and small-town life and occupations, and to provide community service and volunteer opportunities.

After dinner on Tuesday evening, the members held a memorial service for club members who passed away in the past year, and remarks were made by National President Donald Worrell, National Director Holland District Roy Maloy, Past National President George Winslow, and others. Members of the Lakeland High School Ruri-teen Club served the food.

Through the years, the Bethlehem Ruritan Club has had a history of serving the community. In October 1949, only five months after the club was chartered, the members collected a free-will offering for the transportation needs of a local family, according to the club history recorded in the history booklet handed on Tuesday evening. In February 1950, the club petitioned the Virginia Department of Transportation for road repairs in the Bethlehem community, and the next month the club sponsored an Easter egg hunt for community children. In March 1950, the club bought eyeglasses for two children at a local elementary school. In 1951, the club began sponsoring a Boy Scout troop, and that same year, the club members gave Christmas baskets to needy families.

The community service continues today, with about 27 active members in the club. Six different members of the club, from 1951 to 1999, have held Ruritan National offices, including National Director Mills C. Luter in 1963-1965.