The Greene County Ruritan Club celebrated its 50th anniversary last Thursday by honoring first responders in the county, with representatives from the fire departments, rescue squad, sheriff’s office and CERT volunteers.
“One of the first things we decided early on in planning this event was to honor first responders because they are the backbone of the community,” said Norm Slezak, chapter president.
Bob Burkholder is a charter member of what was originally called the Ruckersville Ruritan Club.
“What a working bunch of people,” he said. “We started off with no money so we had to make some. We had dairy farmers that grew five-10 acres of sweet corn that we harvested and sold to raise money.”
Club members also worked at the University of Virginia football games, basketball games and graduation.
“It was good money but it was work,” he said. “Times have changed. The Ruritan club is still a giving organization, but we’ve all gone to a pace in our lives that is so fast that we no longer want to spend that extra time and that’s a shame.”
Burkholder warned that as a society people need to put “that little machine in their hands down … we’re losing contact with one another. Put that (phone) in your pocket so that we bring back communication. These organizations are going to die.”
“When Bob and I grew up, it was expected that you would volunteer and provide back to your community,” he said.
Larry Cassell, Ruritan National Commander, said he came from a long line of volunteers. “
My dad was chief of the volunteer fire company for 27 years,” Cassell said. “And all my brothers, I was the youngest of four boys, we were all in the fire company and all our friends were in the fire company. It developed me into a sense of knowing what rewards you get from being a volunteer.”
Cassell has been a Ruritan member for 41 years himself and the organization he joined— the Jefferson Ruritan Club in Maryland—was started in 1977 for the sole purpose of building a fire company.
“There’s no doubt in today’s society our volunteer organizations are beginning to suffer,” Cassell said. “They were once the backbone of our local communities, but we’ve witnessed a decline. We need to change the course to continue to serve. And that’s how I’ve approached my term this year as the president.”
Neda Cassell, the national First Lady, spoke briefly on her platform to encourage adoption.
“We are blessed with four grandsons. The two in Florida are adopted. And it’s just very special to my heart,” she said. “So, my job this year is to go around and just remind people that that’s my program and be supportive of adoption. There’s the logo, and it’s the national logo. It’s a black triangle, and the red heart. And those two symbols are intertwined. The heart stands for love. The triangle, of course has three sides, one side represents the birth family. One side represents the adoptive family. And the third side represents the adoptee.”
James Howard, director of Greene County Social Services, spoke to the audience about what it’s like to be in his office.
“We agree that we all have certain cravings for intrinsic things that we want to get out of life—we all want to feel loved, feel safe, have a sense of permanence—some children would find those commodities to be extremely difficult to come by.”
Howard said there are three options for children in chaotic family situations: reuniting families; entering foster care; or adoption.
“The second option, in my opinion, is not a viable alternative at all,” Howard said. “[Adoption] is a beautiful portrait of love and acceptance and sacrifice in action.”
The club donated plaques to the three fire departments, the rescue squad and the sheriff’s office thanking them for their service to the community.