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Aulander Ruritans celebrate 70 years

AULANDER – It was a celebration that almost didn’t happen.

Two years ago the Aulander Ruritan Club was near extinction. Dwindling membership led the group to consider turning in their charter – one that lists the club as the fourth oldest Ruritan organization in North Carolina.

It was – or at least could have been – a sad day in the history of Aulander and of the Ruritan Club.

Enter into the picture K.D. Hicks, then District Governor, who refused to accept the charter and took a personal interest in seeing the Aulander chapter return to the status it once held in the community.

Because Hicks and the then members of the Aulander club dedicated themselves to the chapter not only surviving, but thriving again, Saturday night more than 75 people were gathered in the Aulander Community Building to celebrate 70 years of the club’s existence.

“Through your perseverance, through you staying the course, your club is alive and well,” National Ruritan Club President Wayne Outlaw told the members of the club during Saturday’s celebration. “I wish we had more people like K.D. Hicks who refused to let a chapter disband.

“Thank you for staying the course,” he continued. “Thank you for all you do for your community. Thank you for making Aulander a better place.”

During her look at the club’s history, Ruritan Barbara Jernigan talked about the 70 years the organization has been in existence. Jernigan said it was founded as the fourth club in North Carolina – following the lead of Sunbury, Jackson and Woodland.

The club began working in the community almost immediately, joining with the Women’s Club to make food baskets and collect toys for needy families in the Aulander community.

The club quickly gained national attention thanks to one of its members.

John R. Jenkins, a founding member of the Aulander Ruritan Club, quickly became active in the Ruritan Club nationally. He served three times as the Aulander Ruritan Club President, was the keynote speaker of the national convention in 1948 and served as National Vice President. He did not become president of the organization because he joined the Armed Forces and served in World War II.

One highlight for the local club was in the early days when a man from Manteo was brought in to do the local program. That now famous North Carolinian was Andy Griffith, who did his routine, “What it was, was football” for club members.

The club’s history continued through 70 years with the organization constantly serving its community in a variety of ways. The Aulander Ruritans began admitting women to their club in 1997.

Eventually the club’s membership had dropped and was in danger of being closed before Hicks’ intervention.

“With grateful hearts, we welcomed new members,” Jernigan said. “They came one-by-one and sometimes two-by-two. With new members added to the roster, the fellowship grew and the community service began anew.”

In 2007, with new members on the roster, the Aulander Ruritan Club began their largest project in recent history when they launched an effort to refurbish the old Aulander High School ball field.

The work took months to perform, but in 2008, the field that was dedicated as the “John Asa Drew Field of Dreams” hosted a baseball and softball league.

As part of the celebration, Aulander Ruritan Club President Wayne Smith also announced the club had received four gold awards from the National Ruritan Club. Those awards were in Citizenship and Patriotism, Public Service, Social Development and Environment.

Outlaw was there to give the keynote address for the club, as well, but started by giving Janice and Franklin Lassiter the President’s Gold Key for recruiting club members.

The national president said Ruritan began in Holland, Virginia with 33 members and has grown to an organization with 33,000 members and 1,150 clubs throughout the country.

He then commended the Aulander Ruritan Club on their work and urged them to follow the guidelines of Ruritan and continue to be servants to their community.

After Outlaw’s address, Kathy Drew was named Aulander Ruritan of the Year. She was awarded for her service in all club activities during 2008. She was also named District Ruritan of the Year by District Governor George Edwards.

The club also paid homage to George Earl Freeman, a Ruritan who died earlier in 2008. They remember him as a hard-worker and a dedicated Ruritan.

Following the remembrances, the new leadership of the Aulander Ruritan Club was sworn in. Those who were chosen as officers included Billy Drew (President), Turk Askew (Vice President), Troy Corum (Treasurer) and Kathy Drew (Secretary).

After handing over the reins of the club to Billy Drew, Wayne Smith took the time to say thank you to the club members.

“Thank you for all your support,” he said. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Smith also said he wanted next year to be even better than 2008.

“I truly, truly want Billy’s year as president to be more successful than we already have been,” Smith added.

Drew then offered his thanks to Smith for the work he did during the last year.

“Wayne, we want to thank you,” Drew said. “We’ve come to the time when we close out another year and I want to say that because of Wayne’s leadership, we have been successful.

“We have not always agreed,” Drew mused, “but under Wayne’s leadership we have continued the old traditions and incorporated new ones.”

Drew said Smith’s motto had been ‘do the right thing for the right reason’ and the club had followed that advice.

Drew also said he would strive to be the best leader he could for the Aulander Ruritan Club.

“As your new president, I will strive to provide the leadership and guidance for the future,” he said. “If each one of you stays committed, we will be successful. I will dedicate myself to the Aulander Ruritan Club to make it all it can be.”

The club also presented a framed collage to Vera Drew, the widow of John Asa Drew, with a photo of herself, her late husband, her son, Billy, and the 10 teams that participated in the Aulander Youth League in 2008.