Ruritan honored

Published 10:44 pm Monday, November 16, 2009

Considering the fact that Ruritan National has its roots in Suffolk, it’s not surprising to find people in the area who have a passion for the organization and for the work its various clubs do in the community.

There are few Ruritan members, however, whose passion has inspired the sort of commitment to the organization or to the community that defines Tom Sparling.

Sparling is a member of not just one local Ruritan club, but three, and one of those organizations took the opportunity at a recent meeting to honor him for his service and recommend that other Ruritans across the nation do likewise.

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“As you know, Tom lives and breathes Ruritan,” Possum Hollow Ruritan Club Secretary Kelly B. Schaubach wrote to Holland District Governor Clay Byrum in a recent letter nominating Sparling for Holland District Ruritan of the Year.

“When our club has a question about the definitions of any Ruritan jargon, we ask Tom,” she wrote. “When we need an explanation as to how National works prior to voting, we ask Tom.”

His help, she added, has been vital to the startup and success of the club’s annual pork butt sale.

“Simply put, our club would flounder without him,” she stated.

But Sparling’s greatest and most meaningful service is for a different Ruritan Club, the Thomas Woods club, which is located at the Zuni Presbyterian Home & Family Center.

Members of that club are all mentally disabled adults, and Sparling helps them plan and conduct their meetings, hold fundraisers and operate as a true Ruritan Club.

The group picks up trash around the campus, plays games during meetings, sponsors a Special Olympics team from the Center, takes the occasional trip to Busch Gardens or some other fun Virginia destination and receives visitors who sometimes bring a little bit more excitement than the members had bargained for.

Favorite visitors, Sparling said, include race car drivers, who sometimes bring their cars along for the club members to examine.

“Usually, when they start up the engines, (the Thomas Woods club members) scatter,” he laughed.

For Sparling, his eight years of involvement with the Zuni club have been a highlight of his nearly 30 years as a Ruritan.

“I enjoy going up to Zuni and playing games with them,” he said. “It’s fun, and they enjoy it.”

But his commitment goes far beyond playing games once a week.

“The adults in the Thomas Woods club, thanks to Tom, have had the honor of enjoying Christmas dances, bowling league memberships and trips to the amateur adult Olympics (where they competed in weightlifting,” Schaubach wrote.

“It is because of Tom’s efforts that they have been able to step into the world, not as handicapped persons, but as Ruritans.”