Isle of Wight Ruritans celebrate 75 years

Published 6:05 pm Thursday, October 12, 2023

On the second Wednesday of each month, Abigail Simmons goes by “Tom Boy.”

“I am a tomboy,” said Simmons, who chose the moniker at age 17 when she joined the Isle of Wight Ruritan Club in 2002.

Her grandfather, the late Arthur Frank “Droopy” Drewery, was one of 38 charter members who founded the club on Oct. 20, 1948. This month marks the civic organization’s 75th anniversary.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Ruritan National, according to its website, boasts nearly 25,000 members across more than 900 communities nationwide.

The name “Ruritan” originates with Virginian Pilot reporter Daisy Nurney, who in 1928 suggested merging the Latin words for open country, or “ruri,” and small-town life, or “tan,” while covering the organization’s inaugural meeting on May 21 of that year in the then-town of Holland, part of present-day Suffolk.

Nicknames are part of the Ruritan tradition.

“Everybody’s got one,” said Stan Turner, chairman of the Isle of Wight club’s fundraising committee.

Turner’s is “Too Short.” It’s a nod to his late father, charter member S. Ray Turner, who went by “Shorty.”

A number of members, including Turner and Simmons, are second- and third-generation.

Among the club’s longest-serving members is Gus “Fuzz” Nurney, who joined 54 years ago and serves as the club’s sergeant-at-arms.

“I hadn’t shaved,” Nurney said, recalling someone at his first-ever meeting had said something about “fuzz” on his face, and the name stuck.

Nurney’s father, Claud “Slick” Nurney Sr., was also a member. 

Others prefer to keep the origins of their nicknames more of a mystery.

Trina Ruple, who makes the 20-mile drive each month from Newport News to the Ruritan clubhouse on the opposite side of the road from the Isle of Wight County courthouse, goes by “tequila.” She attributes the nickname to friends.

Ruple is one of six new members to have joined the club this year.

The club hosts educational programs, funds scholarships, supports the county’s 4-H program and has partnered with the Smithfield-based Isle of Wight Christian Outreach Program to build wheelchair ramps for county residents in need.

“Typically they purchase the supplies, we supply the manpower,” Turner said. “We have funded a couple of them on our own when we had the money and there was a need.”

For its first 30-plus years in existence, the club raised funds by selling ham dinners. Then, club members got their hands on their first 75-gallon cast-iron pot, lit a fire beneath it using oak longs, and switched to sales of Brunswick stew. Now, the club has six pots and cooks with gas.

Hanging on a wall inside the clubhouse is a wooden paddle once used to stir the stew pots. Mounted on the paddle is a plaque dated March 1, 2003, dedicated to Nurney’s father.

Turner has handwritten meeting minutes from the club’s inaugural Oct. 20, 1948, meeting.

The club initially met in the old Isle of Wight School, where Isle of Wight Academy now stands. The old school closed in 1964, reopened as the academy’s first home in 1967 and burned to the ground in 1968.

Several years after the club’s founding, its members began work on building the current clubhouse. Many of its members were farmers and trucked in lumber using their farm trailers, Turner said.

Turner, a 28-year Ruritan member, was a child at the time of the clubhouse’s construction.

Del. Emily Brewer, R-Isle of Wight, came to celebrate the club’s 75th anniversary at its Oct. 11 meeting.

The club meets the second Wednesday of each month at 7 p.m. When not meeting, the Ruritans use the clubhouse for a variety of other community events. The day after the anniversary celebration, the club hosted a blood drive in the building.

The club’s next Brunswick stew sale is set for Nov. 3.