Ruritan History Committee Cover
Ruritan History Committee
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. Over the years as Downing continued to share his story of "Ruritan Beginning", more Ruritans believed that he must be a "Co-Founder". Downing fervently embraced this Ruritan "Co-Founder" recognition. Thus began the Ruritan "Co-Founder" myth.

In 1961 the Ruritan National President appointed a special Ruritan History Committee, Chaired by Past National President Frank Kellam, and tasked to determine who foul1ded Ruritan, either One Founder Gwaltney or Co-Founders Gwaltney and Downing. Committee Chair Frank Kellam wrote letters to early Ruritans who might have any knowledge of the Ruritan Beginning. Through these letters and personal visits, Kellam and the Committee organized a Founder Evidence File which grew in size and much renown. The Committee was reappointed in 1962, 1963, and 1964. By early 1963, the National President requested that the History Committee give a report to the National Board of Directors. Chair Frank Kellam agreed to a preliminary report, but preferred more time before giving a final report.

Kellam knew that the Committee's file contained sufficient evidence to report who founded Ruritan, and hoped that a preliminary report would provide just enough "pressure" to get that one critical evidence letter still missing. Committee Chair Frank Kellam gave a preliminary report to the National Board of Directors in August 1963 at which time JJ Gwaltney was offered Honorary Life Membership on the Board. National Secretary Tom Downing heard this report. The decision was made that sufficient evidence existed for the Committee to make a final report to the Board of Directors and the 1964 National Convention. There was even talk that this Convention might be "The Jack Gwaltney Convention". So where was Tom Downing in all of this? That was the "pressure" Frank Kellam needed. Days before the Convention, and to not be left behind during the Jack Gwaltney Recognition, Tom Downing wrote a letter on January 13 to History Committee Chair Frank Kellam affirming that Jack Gwaltney founded the Holland Ruritan Club, and that Ruritan National should give him an award for the work he did. This was the missing evidence letter Kellam wanted, an affirmation from Tom Downing that Jack Gwaltney founded the Holland Club, hence founded Ruritan. The Founder Evidence File was now complete and ready for the Committee's official report to the National Board and the National Convention. Gwaltney would be recognized and honored. However just be fort! the Convention, Gwaltney became seriously ill; he could not attend/and be personally honored. It is not known what agreements were made among Ruritan National Leaders, Tom Downing, Frank Kellam, History Committee, but all "Jack Gwaltney" announcements and honors were held in abeyance: no History Committee report to the National Board of Directors and the National Convention, no recognition without Jack Gwaltney being present. After the Convention, Jack Gwaltney died.

The 1964 Ruritan National Convention brought a new President to Ruritan National and a most important and demanding agenda of locating, designing, funding and building a new Ruritan National Office. This new National President also had his own "personal agenda" in Ruritan, for which he needed "unequivocal support" from Tom Downing and Ruritan National Leadership. Jack Gwaltney was dead. There was no pressing-need for this National President to request an official report on who founded Ruritan, so the History Committee became dormant. Tom Downing remained as Ruritan "Co-Founder". By the end of the year, the History Committee was no more. With no formal report, the Committee's Evidence File including Tom Downing's letter, remained in Frank Kellam's possession. Only Tom Downing and Frank Kellam knew of Downing's letter affirming Jack Gwaltney as the only Founder of Holland Ruritan Club, hence only Founder of Ruritan. Frank Kellam-knew the power contained .in the Founder Evidence File. ft proved without question that Jack Gwaltney was Ruritan's only Founder, no "Co-Founders". Even though Ruritan National's 1950 publication "History of Ruritan National" clearly acknowledged that Ruritan had one Founder, JJ Gwaltney, and one Great Ruritan Missionary, Tom Downing, many Ruritans were not aware of this limited publication. And now, the Ruritan History Committee and its Founder Evidence File were also "history". Over the years and in the far background, Frank Kellam did use the power of the Ruritan Founder Evidence File to help bring more sensible solutions to challenges facing Ruritan (that's another story).

Read "Ruritan National Beginning"

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