History Cover

The first Ruritan Club was chartered May 21, 1928, in Holland, Virginia. Since that first club, Ruritan has grown throughout the United States of America, and in doing so, has become "America’s Leading Community Service Organization."

Tom Downing of Suffolk, Virginia, and Jack Gwaltney of Holland, Virginia, are known as the co-founders of Ruritan. Gwaltney and Downing recognized the need for an organization where community leaders could meet and discuss ways to make their community a better place in which to live.

The name "Ruritan" was suggested by Daisy Nurney, a reporter for the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot newspaper, and the club’s charter members unanimously adopted "Ruritan" as the organization’s name. The word is a combination of the Latin words for open country “ruri” and small town “tan,” interpreted as pertaining to rural and small town life.

Ruritan Published Beginning

(Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, April 17, 1928)

"Men of Holland, Nansemond County and the vicinity, numbering some of the outstanding men of the community, met last night thirty-three strong, around a banquet table at the Holland Hotel, to discuss the organization of a civic club composed of farmers and men interested in rural occupations, which they hope will be the first of a great chain of similar clubs in small country communities.

The name of the club was not decided upon last night, but several names have been suggested as those suitable for such an organization, which is fashioned along the lines of the great civic clubs of the country, and which hopes to be peculiarly useful in farming sections." This club permanently organized at a dinner meeting on May 21. At this meeting, 35 community leaders became Charter Members, and elected E. Taylor Batten, President. The name Ruritan was recommended for this new organization and unanimously adopted.

One Founder Evidence

*01/16/34 Petersburg Va "Progressive-Index" Newspaper article on Ruritan founding. Through separate interviews with JJ Gwaltney and Tom Downing, the Southside Editor writes: "Mr. Downing ... declared that to Mr. Gwaltney should go the full credit ... Mr. Gwaltney told your correspondent. . .it was Mr. Downing who suggested the idea" The Editor continues "Whichever of the two men actually made the suggestion first, little matters. It is now a matter of record that the suggestion bore fruit and to Mr. Gwaltney undoubtedly goes the larger share ofthe credit for the establishment of that first club."

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Ruritan Action & Ruritan Idea

What kind of Ruritan member are you? Talented ideas are not enough to achieve goals, you must have energetic action. The business world has more bright, idea/talent people than effective, energy/action people. People who are both are most desirable; but if having to choose between bright idea people or effective. action people, then action is the choice.

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Ruritan Beginning

By late Fall 1927, school consolidation at Holland and the holding of farmer's livestock wandering into the Town of Holland (resulting in fine payments), brought relationships among people in Holland and surrounding farming communities to a breaking point. Remembering the benefits of school consolidation in his own life, and being in direct contact with local farmers, businessmen and community people, JJ Gwaltney realized a mutually agreeable understanding had to be reached.

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Ruritan Beginning: Epilogue

Facts conceming the "Ruritan Beginning" have been clearly presented. Many people in the Holland Community were involved with "founding" the Holland Ruritan Club, hence possible "Co-Founders". If sharing an idea defines "Co-Founder", the Vo-Ag Advisory Council members would be "Co-Founders" because the Members and Chair ET Holland clearly discussed and acted on the idea of a community club.

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Ruritan Beginning: Prologue

Around 1915, school consolidation in the Windsor District of Isle of Wight County, Virginia, began with a new school in Windsor, a brick building that would accommodate the much larger group of children being taught in several small schools near the town of Windsor.

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Ruritan History Committee

The 1950 "History of Ruritan National" by Kent, Myers, Byrum clearly relates that Gwaltney founded the Mother Club and Downing spread the Ruritan Idea to other communities. Ruritan National acknowledged and published this factual history, but it waS not widely distributed.

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Ruritan National Beginning

Because JJ Gwaltney had organized the first Ruritan Club and was generally involved in organizing the other 3 Ruritan Clubs, Ruritan was JJ Gwaltney's. So Gwaltney called a meeting of the 4 Ruritan Clubs for February 26, 1930, "to ascertain the opinion of the 4 Clubs now organized as to the advisability of obtaining a State Charter, adopting a constitution, and forming clubs in the State of Virginia and in other States."

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Ruritan National News - 1930

Year begins with Chuckatuck Ruritan Club organizing in January, joining the 3 existing Clubs: Holland-1928, Boykins-1929, Wakefield-1929. Inquiries from nearby communities together with the success of organizing Ruritan Clubs, create a need for some kind of plan uniting all Ruritan Clubs.

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Ruritan Success - Successor

Success just doesn't happen. Every success has a Successor, the one that causes or brings the success. That Successor may be man, nature, Divine Providence. After JJ Gwaltney is removed from Ruritan in the move to Emporia Va, the next person in the "Ruritan Beginning" to become Ruritan's Successor is Tom Downing.

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Ruritan Torch is Passed

Yes, what to do. Whether it was man's contrivance or God's intervention, the whisper went out that Vo-Ag teaching positions in Nansemond County were being eliminated to better control school budgets during the Depression. (Ed: A rural agricultural county controlling school budgets by eliminating the greatest educational asset: not Home Economics, not Music, but Agriculture?) Holland School Principal HV White passed the word to JJ Gwaltney.

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The Founder - The Builder

If Distinguished Ruritan Member (DRM) recognition had been given from Ruritan's beginning, then JJ Gwaltney would receive the DRM for founding the Holland Ruritan Club and also the DRM for founding Ruritan National. Beyond that, the recognition for going-forth to spread the Ruritan Idea and to successfully build Ruritan National belongs to the great "Ruritan Builder", Tom Downing.

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The Organizer

Between Jack Gwaltney the Founder and Tom Downing the Builder, there is one person very important to recognizing both men.for their Ruritan successes. Without this one person being successful in his own Ruritan position, then Ruritan's Founding would have been for naught and there would not have been a Ruritan National to build. That one person is President of the 151 Ruritan Club, E. Taylor Batten.

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Two Men or Three

Is it two men or three who should receive Ruritan National recognition for the "Ruritan Beginning": Founder JJ Gwaltney; Organizer- ET Batten; and Builder TV Downing?

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Why Ruritan Success

Ruritan is the Club in the rural community and for the rural community. No other clubs existed to bring farmers and town's people together in fellowship and goodwill for the benefit of the rural community. Such was the strength and success of Ruritan.

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