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Deep Gap Ruritan Club Looks to the Future, Installs Youngest Member Ever: Bella Brooks

By Sherrie Norris

When 7-year-old Bella Brooks’ parents joined Deep Gap Ruritan Club last year, it was only natural for her to accompany them to the meetings at the fire department/community center next door.

Her presence became expected at the monthly gatherings, as her youthful interest and energy brightened the spirits of the older members. She became especially close to club president Billie Rogers and decided she wanted to be more involved in the club.

Bella Brooks, age 7, is pictured with her mother, Bencita Brooks, and Shelby Earp, Ruritan’s Western NC Youth Coordinator, who recently installed Bella as the newest and youngest member in the Deep Gap Ruritan Club.

Fast forward to the group’s January 11 meeting when Bella, at 7, made history as she was installed as the club’s youngest member ever and led the group in its pledge of allegiance at meeting’s end.

“I’m really happy that Bella has joined Ruritan and hopefully she will invite her friends and their parents, too,” said Rogers. “I love having her around and I think it’s good for her to be exposed to and learn about the mission of Ruritan.”

Shelby Earp, Ruritan’s Western North Carolina District Youth Coordinator from Hiddenite, made a special trip to the Deep Gap meeting to perform Bella’s installation into the club, much to the delight of Bella’s parents and fellow club members.

Already a community–minded youngster, Bella is a first-grade student at Parkway Elementary School and is involved in the day-to-day activities and chores at her family’s de la Cruz Farm in Deep Gap, which includes playing with and feeding the animals. She also enjoys cooking and drawing.

Bella will join her fellow club members in their annual community service projects, including fundraising, assisting with various needs of her neighbors, landscaping projects and more.
Her parents said they joined the Ruritan club as a way to “give back to the community and help our neighbors.” Bella said she joined the club “because Mommy and Daddy did and I can help, too.”

Also, at the same meeting, several faithful club members were recognized for perfect attendance. Husband and wife team Johnny and Joan Hampton topped the count with 19 years each of perfect attendance. They were joined by the following: Steve Idol with 18 years; Joyce Rhymer, Loretta Gentry, Leslie Gentry, Sammy Critcher and Gloria Critcher, all with 17 years; Stewart Rhymer, 16 years; Harold Eller, Wayne Davis and Elaine Davis, eight years each; Mary Wallace, seven, Jimmy Hodges, four, and Kathy Watson with two years prefect attendance.

When asked about the club and her vision for same in the coming year, Rogers responded, “I really like that our club is small enough to do good for our Deep Gap community, but large enough to step outside our immediate boundaries, too.”

In an effort to increase public awareness and club membership, Rogers plans to invite local public servants into the monthly meetings, including pastors and law enforcement officers and others.

“We do so much good for the community, but unless you are friends with a member, I don’t think that most folks outside Deep Gap even know that we exist,” she added.

Rogers said that while the club is strong and viable with 32 members currently on the roster, the need for younger members is ever present “to help with the labor and to carry the torch.”

Longtime club member Leslie Gentry who now serves as Western North Carolina District Governor, with 29 clubs and approximately 600 members in his district, had this to say: “Ruritan members are some of the best people I encounter on a daily basis. We are community-minded with our main focus on serving our neighbors, and especially those in need.”

Gentry said that, as a whole, Ruritan fosters a deep concern for several areas, including public service opportunities, citizenship, patriotism, the environment and social development. From volunteerism, helping fund unmet medical and heating needs for the elderly and buying Christmas gifts for children, to landscaping around the local fire department and picking up roadside trash, Gentry said that Deep Gap Ruritan is to be commended for its efforts, many of which garner national and regional awards on a regular basis.

In addition to Rogers, now serving in her second term as president, the Deep Gap Ruritan officer slate includes the following: Jimmy Hodges, vice president, Elaine Davis, treasurer, Kathy Idol, secretary, Stewart Rhymer, Joyce Rhymer and Bob Idol.

For more information, feel free to contact one of the club members or visit one of the club’s meetings, held at 7 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month at the Deep Gap Volunteer Fire Department/Gary Ray Community Center located at 6583 Old Hwy. 421 South in Deep Gap.

These individuals were among members of Deep Gap Ruritan Club recently recognized for many years of perfect attendance at the club’s monthly meetings. Left-right: Kathy Watson, Steve Idol, Jimmy Hodges, Gloria Critcher, Sammy Critcher, Steward Rhymer, Joyce Rhymer, Loretta Gentry, Leslie Gentry, Joan Hampton and Johnny Hampton.