By Joanne Hill
Ruritan National’s highest award recently was presented to D. Philip “Phil” Plaster during a Patrick Springs Ruritan meeting.
Plaster, a Patrick Springs resident who has earned worthy and honorable recognition through his many contributions to his church, community, and his family, was presented with the Tom Downing Fellows award. Presenters included Charlie Bowman, Zone 1 Governor; Ed Hicks, National Director for the Dan River District, and Melody Davis, Dan River District Governor; Plaster’s wife, Faye, did the official pinning.
Plaster now is among the ranks of fewer than 4 percent of all Ruritans honored as Tom Downing Fellows.
“It was the hand of God that has allowed me, with the help of many others, to attain this award.” Plaster said.
The Ruritan National Organization was started in 1928, and Tom Downing was a co-founder. The Patrick Springs Ruritan Club started in 1954 and Plaster joined in 1969. He has a 40-year perfect attendance pin and has seldom ever missed a meeting in his 50 years of service. He also attended 31 consecutive National Ruritan Conventions, and recalls the day Downing visited Patrick Springs Pentecostal Holiness Church. Downing then proceeded to join the Plasters in their home for lunch.
The National Tom Downing Fellows Fund contains over $1 million dollars, from which student scholarships are awarded each year.
Plaster’s father James was a charter member of the Patrick Springs club.
Early on, when Plaster and Ronnie Mabe attended a national convention in Philadelphia (1976), they chatted with other Ruritans about the need for fundraising ideas locally to help implement some of their community projects. A seasoned Ruritan from another area gave Plaster the recipe for Black Pot Chicken. The club started using the recipe for local fundraisers and eventually started selling the chicken at the annual Blue Ridge Folklife Festival at Ferrum College. (Incidentally, the recipe is locked in his safe deposit box, and will remain secure for the club to use for many years.)
Because of the fundraiser, the Patrick Springs Ruritans have “made a lot of money” which they have used to fulfill the club’s goal of providing community services, promoting fellowship and spreading goodwill, Plaster said, and recalled many projects the local club championed to meet those objectives.
The Ruritan Club was instrumental in starting the Patrick Springs Volunteer Fire Department, promoted the building of the first branch bank in the county — which was built in Patrick Springs, and also contributed to many other community accomplishments.
The Ruritans “built the Patrick Springs Park from scratch and paid for all of it. We sold a lot of hot dogs, drinks, and Sno-cones,” Plaster said. This bit of information reminds him of the beginnings of the recreation program in Patrick County.
Plaster recalled that Virginia Tech did a study to determine the needs of the county, and concluded the number one need was recreational facilities and an organized program. Plaster said he was appointed by the Board of Supervisors as the chairman of the County Recreation Commission. He avows that “the Lord worked it out,” because at the time, the I.C. DeHart property had been left in a will to be used for the value of the people. Bob Mann was a trustee of the will, and Plaster said he remembers calling Mann from a phone booth one night to see if the property might be used for recreational purposes.
Consideration of the large gift was offered to the Boy Scouts at the time and Jim Brackett was the Scout Master, Plaster said. Discussions continued and agreements were made with help from the State Bureau of Outdoor Recreation. Those working on the project learned the gift could be used as an “in kind” donation, so DeHart Park and the other parks in Patrick County were built for all to use without any county funds.
Inspired by this surge in recreational development, the Patrick Springs Ruritans received a state grant for $130,000 and added lights, a road, a picnic shelter and walkways to the Patrick Springs Park, which continues to be enjoyed by many today.
The Ruritan Club still meets in the concession activity building, which is located in the park. With a small monetary match from the Patrick County School Board, the Ruritans added a good ball field with bleachers and a back stop, bulldozing included, and completed the work within six weeks, Plaster said.
Also after being appointed as recreation commission chairman, Plaster sought the help of the director of the recreation program in Danville and the commission saw the need to hire a director of recreation in Patrick County. When going to another National Ruritan Convention, this time in Atlanta, Plaster arranged a job interview with a prospective director. As a result, Darrel Lemke was hired as the first recreation director for Patrick County. The recreation commission also recognized that a summer sports program was needed, so they eventually worked out a plan with Patrick County Public Schools to use their recreational facilities during the summer, Plaster said. John Shore, a former teacher, principal and coach, was hired the first year as the summer program coordinator.
An octogenarian, Plaster has had many other fulfilling experiences in life since graduating from Hardin Reynolds Memorial School. He attended Emmanuel Jr. College in Franklin Springs, Ga., then took a year off from education to work at Easthampton Rubber Thread Plant in Stuart. He also worked at Dan River Mills and attended East Carolina University before being drafted into the Army, where he attended the 82nd Paratroopers School at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Plaster made 24 jumps during his Army career and later became an Airborne supply paratrooper, serving as a heavy drop rigger for trucks, jeeps, etc. His military service did not slow him down; the day after he returned to Patrick Springs, he began his job at Modern Furniture in Martinsville and was put in charge of floor covering, which had a life-long impact on him and later, his family.
Life was rolling fast for Plaster. He married Faye Pendleton in 1963 and started work at DuPont (E.I. DuPont DE Nemours Co., Inc) in Martinsville on January 2, 1964. During his 29-year career there, he, his wife, and his brother-in-law, Bobby Pendleton, decided to start a small business in Patrick Springs. His floor covering experience had paid off; they began Today’s Floor Covering, and the business thrived for over 45 years.
While employed at DuPont, Plaster saw a need to continue his education. He took a leave of absence, loaded up his wife and their first child and headed to East Carolina. Plaster later earned a degree in general science and economics.
Upon returning to Patrick County and DuPont, he was promoted to a management position. During these formative years, Plaster had already begun his involved participation in community activities and was active in the Ruritans, Patrick Springs Pentecostal Holiness Church, Boy Scouts leadership and the recreation commission among other things.
As DuPont wound down and offered payouts, Plaster faced a major decision. Should he take the payout, and if so, what then? He sought the advice of his spiritual mentor, Jack Foley. The two men hibernated in a cabin deep in the mountain that Plaster had built for Boy Scout outings. There, they discussed and reverently prayed for God to give Plaster guidance in the decision.
The conclusion was if Plaster retired, he would become dedicated to helping Patrick Springs Pentecostal Holiness Church build a new facility. He was appointed chairman of the building committee and as Plaster said, “through God working, it was done.”
There were about 10 committees appointed with many volunteers involved in the process of building the new temple of worship and the mission activities facility. Dewey Martin assisted greatly by being the liaison between the church body and the builder. Angie Foley (Jack Foley’s wife) was the communications coordinator, which was a vital link in the process. With the help of all and Pastor Trent Wall, the beautiful worship building sits with its lofty steeple pointing heavenward, serving as the beacon inviting many in the community people to worship and share their faith through several ministries.
Plaster has served in numerous capacities in his church; he has taught a Sunday School class, (previously taught by his father) since 1985. He was director of the adult choir for 40 years and also helped, along with his wife and sister, Linda Lawson, conduct a children’s choir which traveled to lead worship in a lot of different churches. He was Superintendent of Sunday School and relied on Maynard Trent to assist him. During his lifetime service at the church, Plaster has served in a large arena of positions, but considers his mission trips to numerous places including Panama, Venezuela, and Costa Rica, to also be important in his service for God’s Kingdom.
Another volunteer activity that Plaster is glad to have done was being a Scout Master for 31 years. He said he always saw his purpose as “making a difference in a generation of boys for the betterment of the community.” He described visiting 29 states, canoeing all the rivers within a 400-mile radius and hiking many miles on the Appalachian Trail with his Boy Scouts. More than 20 of the boys from his troop became Eagle Scouts. He said they could have never accomplished so much without the help of his able assistants, Ronnie Mabe and Larry Fulcher.
Not only was his service with Ruritans and his community hard work and time consuming, Plaster said he also had a lot of fun. He helped build clay tennis courts on Spring Road, was a member of a Ruritan softball team and coached the women’s team. As choir director, he led the PSPHC choir in presenting six programs for July 4th with American Patriotic Music, and helped organize and coordinate a bike rally for young people.
It is important to note that during all this time, the Plasters raised three children and now have 11 grandchildren. Among the grandchildren, to add to the happy times, are two sets of twins – 9-year-old boys and 4-year-old girls (Faye has a twin sister). Their family gathers every other Sunday after church at the Plaster home, which is located on Phil Plaster’s grandfather’s farm.
Mentioning all the National Ruritan positions Phil has held would only be further conviction of why he deserves the renowned Tom Downing Award, but as history shows, Patrick County is a better place because of him.
What does he plan to do next?
“It’s all in God’s hands,” said Plaster, who was packing his bags so he and Faye could spend a few days at the National Quartet Convention in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
Several helped celebrate Philip Plaster’s receipt of the Tom Downing Fellows award.
Faye Plaster affixes a pin on the shirt lapel of her husband, Phil Plaster, as part of the presentation in which he earned the Tom Downing Fellows Award.