County Durham Commissioners pay tribute to Rougemont man who has just completed his term as Ruritan National’s first black chairman

Earlier this month the County Durham Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution to recognize and honor a Rougemont man who recently completed his term as the first black president of one of the largest civic organizations in the country, National ruritanafter two terms beginning in 2019.

Council Vice Chair Wendy Jacobs introduced the resolution at the start of the January 10 council meeting.

“It was important to our Board of Directors … and our entire community to know, celebrate and recognize Mr. Linward Hedgspeth’s lifelong service,” Jacobs told the INDIA. “It’s something we should all know, recognize and celebrate.”

Hedgspeth’s term as president of the 93-year-old civic service organization ended Jan. 8 with the installation of its new president.

Addressing the commissioners during the virtual meeting, Hedgspeth said he was honored to serve, adding that he had “a fine tenure”. Although it was a lot of work to be national president, “it was a labor of love,” he told the INDY.

Hedgspeth, who retired from IBM in 2014, says when he first joined the Rougemont Ruritan Club in 2005, he never intended to even become the local president, yet. minus the national leader of the organization.

Tiny Rougemont sits on rolling farmland in North County Durham. Hedgspeth says the homes in Rougemont are passed down from generation to generation and, with the exception of newcomers from the North who bought old farms, the unincorporated community of around 1,000 people hasn’t changed much since then. his childhood.

“We had a Dollar General a few years ago,” he told the INDY.

During the meeting, Commissioner Nimesheena Burns noted that she grew up in a small town and recalled how Ruritans sponsored 4-H activities for youth in her community. She thanked Hedgspeth for his service and for leading Ruritan through the pandemic, as well as “breaking down doors” while “putting a crack in that glass ceiling and breaking through it.”

Hedgspeth says he doesn’t care much about being the nation’s first black president of civic organization, and he says that in a nation that only pays lip service about change , well-meaning Americans should take a page from Ruritan’s notebook.

“Being the first person of color to serve as national president of Ruritan was never a concern,” he says. “The fact [that] Ruritan has chosen me to serve in this leadership role says Ruritans [have] changed, and I am proof of that. And the nation should do the same.

Hedgspeth says he is proudest to navigate the organization at the height of the global pandemic, while trying to maintain normality during one of the most aberrant times in world history.

“A lot of these clubs are old,” he says. “A lot of old people were afraid to go out and [the clubs] just dissolved. Some of the older members lost their lives to COVID.

Ruritan National was founded in 1928, with the start of its first club in Holland, Virginia, and became the leading service organization in the United States, according to Ruritan’s website.

During his tenure, Hedgspeth provided “inspirational and transformative leadership to the nearly 25,000 Ruritan Club members in 900 local communities across the United States during the unprecedented and difficult time of a pandemic. world,” the county commissioners said in the resolution.

Part of Hedgspeth’s brand of transformative leadership has its roots in creating a local chapter that includes, arguably, the most diverse membership of any club in the country.

“When I first joined the club, a lot of clubs were places for mostly older white men. A lot of clubs are still like that,” says Hedgspeth. “Our club is multiracial, with a lot of people from color; white, Hispanic, black, male and female, younger members and older members. We have a variety of people. We’re trying to change that narrative.

Hedgspeth notes that before diversity became a defining characteristic of the Ruritans of Rougemont, things “felt a bit like tribal”.

“We want to serve everyone,” he explains. “We will not discriminate.”

The civic leader says Ruritan was designed for members of rural communities and a way for farmers and small entrepreneurs to come together and improve the quality of life in these areas.

“That’s why it’s called Ruritan,” he says, listing a list of annual local-sponsored activities: scholarships for several high schools, Brunswick community stew dinners sold by the pint , pancake and sausage lunches, a spring festival and a parade. which includes an Easter egg hunt and games, precinct volunteering, a food bank, annual roadside trash pickups, and unlimited homemade ice cream each summer to honor the city’s first responders.

When the temperatures drop, there is the flagship activity of the Ruritans of Rougemont: setting up five-foot-tall illuminated gold and silver Christmas angels that line the utility poles on both sides of the main road and junctions leading into town. during the winter holiday season. .

“When we don’t put them in place, people are very disappointed,” says Hedgspeth.

Hedgspeth and his family have deep roots in the community where he was born. The fifth of six children, he still lives on the street where he was raised, with his brothers and sisters. His mother was a housewife and his father worked at Duke University and was a member of a gospel quartet, the True Lights of Bahama, during the art form’s heyday which featured Sam Cooke , Lou Rawls and Johnnie Taylor before they crossed over into soul music.

Members of True Lights, Hedgspeth explained, would only play in places that allowed them to return home the same day to avoid being denied rooms in separate hotels.

Hedgspeth met his wife, Anne, during their junior year at the all-black Little River High School. The couple married shortly after graduating from high school and have two adult sons. They searched for a home in Durham before moving into a house the family invested in on the street where Hedgspeth grew up. They will celebrate their 52nd anniversary in July.

“It was a great ride,” Hedgspeth said of their union, which included many vacations, like a week-long trip to Hawaii they booked this month.

Hedgspeth worked 35 years in quality engineering at IBM and enrolled at Durham Tech. His new job required him to take courses at Duke and NC State University, as well as additional training at the IBM Quality Institute that allowed him to work with the company’s foreign and domestic divisions.

The county commissioners’ resolution notes that the pioneering and civic-minded rural leader is a devoted member of the New Harris Grove AME Church where he has worn many hats in service to the congregation, including presiding over various councils. Hedgspeth also found time to inaugurate, teach Sunday school and sing with the choir, of which he is vice-president of the church founded by his maternal great-grandfather.

“It’s our family church,” he says. “I’ve been there all my life.”

In the message of its president in last summer’s edition of ruralthe organization’s quarterly magazine, Hedgspeth adopted an optimistic, albeit lucid tone in its message to club members across the country.

“Hopefully very soon we’ll be back to something more normal, like in-person meetings and personal fellowship,” Hedgspeth wrote. “But there are surely…changes that will remain permanent. Sometimes things come to an end and a door closes to prepare us for something new. Don’t be discouraged when things suddenly change. There are bigger and better things to come. New doors, new opportunities and new relationships to be born.

After the country was shut down by the pandemic, Hedgspeth and members of Ruritan’s national committee met virtually weekly to continue publishing the magazine, collect dues and maintain its membership lists, while planning national conventions. 2020 and 2021 in-person in Covington, Kentucky which featured the singing prowess of Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr., who was on season six of NBC America’s Got Talent.

“The 900+ clubs needed us and so for the first time we used Zoom and conference calls,” Hedgspeth said. “There really was no plan on how to maintain the viability of the organization.”

Hedgspeth says he and Anne literally enjoyed traveling through small and medium-sized American towns, where “you park your car and [local Ruritan members] just take care of yourself.

Earlier this month, the CEO couple were at the Ruritan National Convention in Myrtle Beach, where ‘First Lady Anne’ hosted a dinner and performance at the Medieval Times tournament.

They look forward to the annual Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival in Winchester, Va. this year, where 20,000 festival-goers from across the country dress up in pink and green to gloat at the three-day event. The event has been canceled for the past two years due to the pandemic.

“There must have been a lot of celebrities there,” Hedgspeth said. “It was just luck of the draw that they canceled when I was president.”

Hedgspeth says organizers didn’t want him to miss the event. So he and Anne were invited for this year’s event which takes place in early spring.

“They told us they wanted us to come for 2022,” Hedgpeth said. “It’s such a privilege to attend as president.”

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