Ruritan is a civic organization whose
objectives include creating a greater understanding between rural and urban people on the
problems of each as well as on their mutual problems and working with those agencies which
serve the community and contribute directly to its progress. It is similar to the
service organizations of the cities but designed to meet the needs of rural people and
Ruritan was founded in 1928 in Holland,
Virginia, where it has grown from the Tidewater area of Virginia to the foot hills of the
Rockies: from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, and in doing so, has become the
largest rural civic organization in America.
The objectives of Ruritan as stated in the
Ruritan National Constitution are as follows:
- To promote fellowship and goodwill
among its members and citizens of the community, and to inspire each other to higher
- To unify the efforts of individuals,
organizations and institutions in the community toward making it an ideal place in which
- To work with those agencies that serve
the community and contribute directly to its progress.
- To encourage and foster the ideal of
Service as the basis of all worthy enterprise.
- To create greater understanding between
rural and urban people on the problems of each, as well as on their mutual problems.
The membership of a Ruritan Club is composed of
farmers, business and professional men and women and other concerned citizens in the
community. The idea is for the membership to represent a cross section of the
community in which it functions. A member may come into Ruritan upon invitation and
approval of a membership committee, the Board of Directors and ninety percent of the
membership of the club. Sixteen members are required as the minimum for the
formation of a club. The club is open to all persons regardless of sex, race, age or
District is the point of contact between Ruritan National Headquarters in Dublin,
Virginia, and the 50 local Ruritan Clubs which make up the District. From East to
West, the Potomac District reaches from the Chesapeake Bay to Western Maryland.
North to South, the Potomac District covers Southeastern Pennsylvania to the Eastern
Panhandle of West Virginia.
If you would like to see what we
are all about and visit a club, please check out the club maps and listings for a club near
you. If you are not sure if there is a club near you, or would like to have
assistance in forming a club in your community please contact us.
75 Years of Ruritan and Potomac District History
Ruritan started as an idea in the
Virginia School system, an idea that two men had to fill a need for an organization in
which community leaders could meet and and discuss ways of making their community a better
place in which to live. These two men: Jack Gwaltney and Tom Downing (later known as
Uncle Tom), are known as the co-founders of Ruritan. In the small rural town of
Holland, Va., on May 21, 1928, the first Ruritan club was chartered with 35 charter
members. The first President was E. Taylor Batten. Jack Gwaltney was the first
Secretary. At the time Tom Downing was not eligible to be a member of the club as he
did not live in the Holland community when it was organized. The original
organization was patterned after Rotary, inasmuch as Rotary was very instrumental in
helping Ruritan organize. The Ruritan name was suggested by Miss Daisy Numey.
It was derived from a combination of Latin words for open country (ruri) and small town
(tan), meaning "rural and small town life.
men were not content to keep Ruritan to themselves and as a result the second club was
formed in Boykins, Va., and the third club was formed in Courtland, Va. As the
number of clubs grew, Ruritan National was formed by Virginia charter on July 7,
1930. The first National Convention was held at Suffolk, Va. on January 15,
1932. January was selected because it was convenient time of the year for
farmers. On June 13, 1931, the official emblem was approved. The Ruritan
Magazine was first published in 1930-31. Dr. James S. Bland was elected the first
President of Ruritan National. In 1932 Ruritan expanded into Kentucky.
Districts were formed in 1934 as Ruritan grew. Ruritan expanded into North Carolina
in 1935 and spread into South Carolina in 1936. National dues were set at 75 cents
per member per year and the first Community Service plaque award was issued. Over
500 Ruritans served in the armed forces during WWII. In 1939 the first club
was formed in Stockton, MD, but it dropped its charter. In 1946 Tom Downing became
Executive Secretary and the first club formed in West Virginia. 1947 saw Alabama,
Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, and Tennessee added as Ruritan became prominent in the south:
188 clubs in in 12 states. Mississippi was added in 1949 and the Ruritan lapel pin
Maryland again entered Ruritan in 1951, this time
to stay. The Keedysville club was chartered which eventually became the beginning of
the district; Lothian club and Rohersville followed in 1952. 1953 saw Maugansville
and Burkettsville come into the fold. In 1954, Downsville, District 12, Pinesburg
(now disbanded) and Pleasant Valley were chartered. As a result of the expansion,
the Maryland District was formed. The first Maryland District (9 clubs-over 300
members) convention was held on Nov. 17, 1954 at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, in
Burkittsville, MD. According to Rome Schwagel, the District Governor, the convention
had a great attendance and the church was overflowing. Zone Governors were: Amos C.
Baer, Maugansville; William Hovermale, Rohersville; and Keister N. Adams, Annapolis.
Taken from the first convention booklet, Ruritan
came to Maryland in Oct. 1951 when Red Gray, our National Executive Secretary, visited
Keedysville. Through his untiring efforts, our first club, Keedysville was chartered
on November 14, 1951. The club was made part of the Rappahannock District in
Virginia. The Lothian club (second chartered) was formed on June 23, 1952 as a
result of Red Gray stopping on his way back to Virginia to visit a friend, Keister Adams.
(Keister is co-founder and currently a member of the Davidsonville Club).
In 1955, the District continued to expand in
Maryland with Leitersburg, Davidsonville and Jefferson. In 1955 the first club in
Pennsylvania, State Line was chartered followed by Hunterstown and Shady Grove. 1957
saw the first West Virginia club chartered in the District - Marlowe, followed by
Bedington in 1958. As friends and neighbors continued to reach out and spread the
ideals of Ruritan to neighboring communities, Ruritan continued to expand at a great rate
throughout the three states in the 1950's. At the Ruritan National Convention in New
Orleans, LA, the Potomac District was formed. According to the minutes of the
Executive Committee meeting, held on Jan. 25, 1964, at the Jung Hotel, the request from
the Maryland District to change the name to Potomac was approved upon a motion by Tom
Downing and seconded by Floyd Lower. The first Potomac District convention was held
at the Turf Valley Country Club in Ellicott City, MD. Earl Minnich was the first
Governor; Harry Tresslor, the first Secretary; and Earl Garvin, Jr., the first Treasurer.
(Ruritan did not have a Lt. Governor at this time as the Zone Governors acted as Lt.
Governors.) The District was comprised of 5 Zones. Expansion continued in
Pennsylvania as Zone 6 was added in 1971 and ten years later Zone 7 became a reality.
It didn't take long for the Potomac District
Ruritans to make their presence known at Ruritan National for in 1958, Rome F. Schwagel
from the Keedysville club was elected Ruritan National President and later served as
National Director for 1959, 1960 and 1961.
Thomas Benfield from the Point of Rocks club
brought distinction to the District as he served as National President for 1979. Van
Lee from the South River and Silver Triangle clubs also brought distinction to the
District serving as National President for 1996. Elizabeth (Betty) Chaney from the
Silver Triangle club, made history for Ruritan National, and the District, as she became the first
woman elected to serve as National President for 2001.
Those Ruritans who have served beyond the
District as National Directors are: William Wells, 1959-1961; Paul Roth, 1962-1964;
Henry Landis, 1965-1966; John Porter, 1967; Samuel Bayer, 1968-1970; Earl Minnich,
1971-1973; J. Thomas Benfield, 1974-1976; Elton Shelley, 1977-1979: Glen Hicks, 1982-1984;
Charles C. Smith, 1986-1988; Van Lee, 1989-1991 and was elected National Secretary in
1993-1995; Elizabeth Chaney, 1996 - 1998; Earl Garvin Jr., 1997-1999; J.J. Bernard Lerch,
III, 1998-2000; Virginia "Ginger" Chaney 2006-2009, Dennis Barthlow 2012-2014, and Larry Blount
Elton Shelly served as National Foundation Trustee 1983-1986 and National Foundation President in 1995.
Joseph Lind served as National Foundation Trustee, 1996-1999 and National Foundation
President in 2000. J.J. Bernard Lerch, III served as National Foundation Trustee, 2005-2009
and National Foundation President in 2009.