Ruritan Beginning Cover
Ruritan Beginning
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. JJ met with members of his Vo-Ag Advisory Council at the school (farmers and businessmen) about the need to improve understandings and cooperative relationships among people in the outlying areas affected by school consolidation and the Town of Holland. They also discussed the turmoil between rural farmers and town citizens that remained unresolved. JJ spoke with farmers attending his evening classes (resumed December 1927) for their understandings and suggestions to better compromise the volatile situation. Everyone agreed that regularly, scheduled meetings to better understand mutual problems was the best way to resolve differences. Such meetings would also address Gwaltney's desire for farmers in the Holland area to meet regularly with him throughout the year, not just during the winter months. In March 1928 while JJ Gwaltney met with Agriculture Supervisor Tom Downing, they talked about the Holland Community and the unresolved issues. Could community situations such as this be on-going in other areas and counties of the Agricultural District? Gwaltney asked Downing for suggestions. Downing recommended that people in Holland and surrounding areas do need to meet regularly for better understandings, and possibly those meetings such as a Rotary Club where people come together in fellowship and goodwill for more cooperative relationships, might be the answer. They thought that the proposed meetings could also be used as a means to bring local farmers together to consider agriculture and community issues, not limited to just those several meetings during the winter months (Ed: Tom Downing had been looking for a method to do just this in his Eastern Virginia Vo-Ag communities, so he was very much interested in Gwaltney's ideas. If Gwaltney'S Vo-Ag Advisory Council were successful in organizing some type of local Group, Downing could possibly build upon the idea throughout his Agricultural District, thereby enhancing the District and his own career goals). JJ Gwaltney discussed the possibility of such monthly meetings with the members of his Vo-Ag Advisory Council and the local farmers, getting a very positive response. However Rotary showed no interest in entering rural communities such as Holland, so it was basically up to Gwaltney and his Advisory Council to resolve the situation by organizing a community club bringing rural and town's people together to develop better understandings.

It was already well known and proven that in farming communities the Farmers Clubs would come and go, depending mainly on yearly season and farmers' interests. Fanners Clubs and Young Farnlers Clubs would organize, last for several years, then slowly decline and disappear. Organizing such a Club and watch it slowly die could be very disheartening. Those seeing these Clubs come and go would not bother with such organizational effort, What the rural Holland Community needed was more than a Fanners Club, it needed a rural community fanners and town's people club. Bringing these two different groups together for fellowship and better understanding was a completely new approach to resolving diverse community differences. JJ Gwaltney shared this idea with his Vo-Ag Ajivisory Council and several other community men attending the meeting, including Tom Downing. Everyone was very receptive and in agreement to having such a club offellowship and goodwill working for the. betterment of the community. They began detailed planning, even recommending local farmers, businessmen and professional men to join this new club, and invited them to a luncheon meeting scheduled April 16, 1928 (Ed: In those days, "luncheon" referred to size of meal, not time of day). JJ Gwaltney called this Organizational Meeting the "Business, Professional Men and Farmers Group", very much following the naming terminology already established by a national men's group of that time, the "Business and Professional Mens Group".

At this Meeting, ET Batten, Superintendent of the Tidewater Agricultural Experiment Station and a melJlber of Nansemond County School Board, was elected Temporary Chairman; and JT Rawls, Mayor of Holland, elected Temporary Secretary. Both were members of Gwaltney's VoAg Advisory Council so were very much aware of the need for this new Club to succeed. As is the case with most successes this Meeting just didn't happen, it was well planned in advance. Chairman Batten appointed necessary committees to officially organize life into the new Club. Committee Chairs and members were apointed to get the maximum and best results to be reported at the next Meeting. The men attending this Organizational Meeting and subsequently almost all Ruritan Members for the first 12-15 years were educated farm owners, not tenant-farmers or share-croppers; business owners, officers, managers, supervisors, not clerks or hourly employees; Doctors, Dentists, Lawyers. This unspoken membership criteria followed very much along the lines of Rotary membership. The members of the Organizational Committees were educated, learned men who had in their hands the birth ofthe new Club. The next Meeting, known as Ruritan' s official beginning, was May 21, 1928. The Club organized among the farmers, business and professional men of Holy Neck District and the Town of Holland. The first Club Officers elected included President ET Batten and Secretary JJ Gwaltney. The 35 new Club Members adopted the name "Ruritan", derived from Latin: "ruri"- open country, and "tan"- small town life. Immediately following this Meeting ofthe "Ruritan Club of Holland", the Board of Directors held its first Meeting. The Club to bring farmers and town's people together was now a reality. However let there be no misunderstanding, it was JJ Gwaltney who knew the community, its people and challenges, who greatly planned then called that first Meeting and who would be the Distinguished Ruritan Member (DRM) for organizing the new Club in Holland. Tom Downing (Gwaltney's Agriculture Supervisor) readily acknowledged that his involvement with organizing the new Club was the suggestion for a ,(ommunity club to better resolve community differences. At no time did Downing claim to be a "Co-Founder" of the Holland Ruritan Club. Since Tom Downing did not live in the Holland area (lived in Suffolk) and was not involved with any local farming or business interests, he could not join the new Club. Downing could visit Holland Ruritan Meetings only when invited by a Club Member. Quickly recognizing the outstanding success of this new Club, its ready acceptance by the local community and the other civic Clubs in neighboring Suffolk, and the possibilities of enhancing his Vo-Ag career through sharing the Ruritan Idea with other communities in his Agricultural District, Tom Downing moved to the Town of Holland and was accepted into membership of Holland Ruritan Club in January 1929.

Following the April 1928 "Organizational Meeting" and the May "Chalter Meeting", June was the first regular Monthly Ruritan Meeting, which began months and years of visitors from other communities in Eastern Virginia and neighboring North Carolina. All visitors were interested in the new Club and some even left with organizational documents to begin their own community Ruritall Club. Such communities included Boykins, Courtland, Wakefield, Chuckatllck, Windsor, and surely others whose names are recorded as visitors to Holland Club, but visiting intent now unknown.

What would have been the second Ruritan Club to organize was Courtland in January 1929. The "Tidewater News" reports that this "Courtland Ruritan Club" recently organized at the county seat, entertained at dinner on Friday evening, January 25, in the dining hall of the Southampton Hotel, a number of visitors from the Ruritan Club of Holland, Virginia .... speaker of the evening was JJ Gwaltney, secretary of the Ruritan Club of Holland." Following this Courtland Ruritan Club, the Boykins Ruritan Club organized. Then sometime before the Wakefield Ruritan Club organized in December 1929, the Courtland Ruritan Club went slip-sliding-away ... maybe the Stock Market Crash, who knows (Courtland began anew in 1935 and continues today). Even though the 1929 Courtland Club had Officers (President Thomas H. Birdsong, Jr, and others) and briefly held Monthly Meetings, Ruritan History doesn't recognize the early Courtland Club; hence Boykins is officially the second Ruritan Club, followed by Wakefield in December 1929 and Chuckatuck in January 1930. During November 1929, Tom Downing began corresponding with Colonel James Speed, Louisville Ky Editor of "Southern Agriculturalist Magazine", about publishing an article on Ruritan. This resulted in Colonel Speed visiting Holland on January 9, 1930, to address a combined meeting of Holland Ruritan Club and Suffolk Rotary Club. Being greatly impressed with Ruritan, Colonel Speed returned to Kentucky carryihg a copy of Holland Club's Constitution and Bylaws fi'om Club President JJ Gwaltney. Colonel Speed intended to "launch a few clubs here in Kentucky during the year." JJ now realized the urgency of a new challenge facing Ruritan. There were 4 existing Ruritan Clubs in Virginia and now the possibility of several Clubs in Kentucky. The Clubs had no unifYing, connecting organization. Each Ruritan Club was an independent entity; no connections and no policies.

Read "Ruritan Beginning: Epilogue"

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