Cause for celebration

Published 9:23 pm Saturday, May 21, 2011

The club that Tom Downing and Jack Gwaltney started in Holland 83 years ago was, from the start, intended to be an organization that would give community leaders a place to meet and discuss ways that they could work together to improve their community.

Today, Ruritan National is the nation’s leading community service organization, with nearly 33,000 members working to improve more than 1,100 communities across America. And it all started in the little hamlet of Holland in what was then Nansemond County, Va.

Ruritans celebrated their organization’s birthday on Saturday with an event that had the perfectly appropriate feeling of a town picnic on Main Street, USA. There was a parade, with Shriners and high school marching bands, with tractors and fire trucks and cute “Little Miss” Ruritans representing clubs from around the area. There were games and vendors. And there was a barbecue cook-off, combining two things that nearly all Americans love — food and competition.

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It was a great event for the Holland community and a feather in the cap of Ruritans everywhere.

Ruritans have plenty of reason to be proud, even on days when they’re not celebrating their anniversary. Their slogan — “Fellowship, Goodwill and Community Service” — is a clear statement of the values that they hold and the purpose that the organization serves. Together, members seek to, as their website puts it, “create a better understanding among people and through volunteer community service, make America’s communities better places in which to live and work.”

They do this in ways big and small in cities and towns around the nation, sponsoring Scout troops and sports leagues, raising money for community improvements, volunteering to clean parks and roads and other public areas and helping to mentor and educate youth about the opportunities that their communities provide them.

For more than 1,100 American communities, including dozens in and around Suffolk, life would not be nearly as rich without the hard work of Ruritan volunteers. Happy birthday, Ruritan National.