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Ruleville is Ruling Its Future

"Duff

Take me to Ruleville

Come on man, let’s go

Take me to Ruleville

Back to the folks I know

Let’s get moving, we better be up and gone

Take me to Ruleville

Where I can feel at home. — Duff Dorrough

Economically growing by leaps and bounds — that would be the most accurate description of the city of Ruleville today, especially the downtown area. Optimism, jobs and a community that’s coming together for the greater good of all of its citizens, Ruleville is definitely “ruling” its present and its future in the 21st century.

Billy Marlow is the executive director of the North Sunflower Medical Center and Alderman at Large for the city of Ruleville. He said the idea for the revitalization efforts for the city actually began after the hospital’s progressive achievements.

North Sunflower Medical Center in Ruleville
North Sunflower Medical Center in Ruleville

“We began about four or five years ago, due to the great success that we had with the hospital. We began to ask ourselves: Why can’t we do this for the entire town?” Marlow said. “And I had a couple of investors that would come in and buy a building, as long as it was a pre-1936 building, and renovate it, keep it for one year and then donate it to our foundation. And then they could deduct the appraisal costs and get an additional 10 percent tax credit because it was a pre-1936 building.”

Marlow said that it wasn’t exactly a big moneymaker for the investors, but it didn’t cost them anything and it was a huge benefit for the downtown area and the entire city.

The North Sunflower Medical Center has its Eye Station downtown in a renovated building and a diagnostic center that was once a sports bar, where mammograms and bone density tests take place.

“Our operations center is also downtown,” he said. “And we have the Lion’s Den, which is filled with exotic animals from Africa. The Screen Team staff is downtown in a building that has been renovated. The old Edwards Drugstore is now Simply Sunflower, where we sell gifts, flowers and scrubs. The most recent thing is the Spencer’s Drugstore building where Stafford Shurden is about to open up a new upscale restaurant.”

Marlow said the city was already seeing a substantial increase in its sales tax due to all of the rejuvenations and renovations that have taken place. He also said there was an interest in two more new businesses for the city: a sporting goods store and a clothing establishment.

“Also in a few months, Highway 8 is being renovated into a four-lane and should be completed by the fall,” Marlow said. “That’s going to increase traffic and bring Cleveland closer to Ruleville. I hope to be putting in a spec building, a mini strip mall, in the next few months, trying to see if we can attract more business here and increase sales tax for the city even more. So there’s quite a bit going on.”

Marlow said the last traffic count he had for Highway 8 was 7500 cars a day.

“It’s one of the busiest highways in the state,” he said. “We anticipate that breaking 10,000 by the time the four-lane is complete.”

Stafford Shurden is a Justice Court Judge for Sunflower County, but he’s also one of the new business owners in downtown Ruleville. His new restaurant – 1933 Restaurant Bar & Grill is scheduled to open in mid-July.

1933 Bar & Grill
1933 Bar & Grill

“It’s a high-end steak and seafood restaurant that will revolve around signature cocktails,” Shurden said. “We’re calling it 1933 Restaurant Bar & Grill because that was the last year of prohibition. The décor is very beautiful and it’s right on the Square in downtown Ruleville.”

Moonshine is obviously illegal to sell, but Shurden said that all the good cocktails come from that era when people were making moonshine.

“So we’re really going to concentrate on making phenomenal cocktails, with their roots coming from the 20s and 30s,” he said. “One of our drinks is actually called The Lawless Mule.”

Shurden already owns one restaurant in Drew, Stafford’s on Main Street, which is centered around the lunch crowd.

“It was pretty obvious to us that Ruleville was ready for this type of restaurant,” he said. “The economic growth and expansions in the city have been phenomenal. The city board has been more than helpful with anything I’ve asked for and the Mayor has been very supportive. We’re just proud to call Ruleville our new home.”

Robyn Marlow is the Director of Community Relations at North Sunflower Medical Center. She said that when the Ruleville Development Council (RDC) was formed around five years ago, they came up with a strategic five-year plan for the city.

“We wanted to improve five different aspects within Ruleville,” Marlow said. “They were healthcare, leadership, economic growth, education and housing. And the group that has come together to commit and work on those things have done an excellent job.”

Marlow said that in one area in particular, education, she was really pleased with the way the schools had improved and were doing so well.

map_of_ruleville_ms“The baseball field at the high school has been completely renovated for the players,” she said. “And we’re really excited about that. It gives the players pride in their games and in the sport of baseball. And the elementary school has a new playground that the Ruleville/Drew Rotary Club raised money and actually put in for them.”

The city of Ruleville, along with Sunflower Medical Center, KaBOOM and Good Neighbor Pharmacy joined forces and put in a new playground on Front Street.

“We had over 300 volunteers come together on Saturday, April 12 and do that,” she said. “And it was really a great thing for the community to come together and make happen.”

The North Sunflower Medical Center is such a vital part of the Ruleville community and the threads of their existence extremely entwined for both the citizens and the hospital. That’s why the North Sunflower Medical Foundation is so important to everyone.

Stacy Davis is the Associate Executive Director of North Sunflower Medical Foundation and is very excited about the Foundation’s Memorial Garden, the goal of which is to enhance the property and provide an opportunity for people in the community to become involved in the exciting things happening at North Sunflower Medical Foundation and North Sunflower Medical Center.

“The Memorial Garden stands as a beautiful reminder of just how far we have come and just how much we have grown as a facility, a community and a region,” said Davis. “The Memorial Garden gives you the opportunity to recognize or memorialize a friend or loved one. It also serves as a place of peace and healing for those suffering through the grieving process.”

Those five areas of improvement that Robyn Marlow talked about are certainly being covered and promoted in Ruleville. The healthcare agenda is no exception.

The Screen Team is a program that goes into schools and offers medical, dental and vision to students. Sandy Tidmore is the Community Educator for the program and said it now consists of three teams across the state of Mississippi.

“We have a team in Ruleville, Charleston and Newton,” Tidmore said. “Not only do we offer our medical program and dental and vision, but we also do flu shots for students, faculty and staff. We do athletic physicals for the coaches and also do the TDAP’s – the immunizations for sixth graders going into seventh grade.”

Tidmore said they have nurse practitioners who lead each team as well as LPN’s and lab techs that go into the schools, along with eye doctors and their dental team.

“This program started screening in September 2012,” she said. “When we started we had our local schools in Ruleville and today we have grown and are in over 27 school districts and Head Starts across the state. Our program accepts all insurances if the children have private insurance or it’s free to those who aren’t covered.”

Two local banks have also been very supportive of all the efforts done and being done in Ruleville.

Neeley Vance is Assistant Vice President, Branch Manager/Loan Officer over the Ruleville branch of Southern Bancorp. Vance is very excited about what’s happening in their town both economically and professionally.

“We are a community bank,” Vance said. “But what sets us apart is that we’re really a community development bank. And what that means basically is there’s two parts to Southern Bancorp. One of them is the banking side and the other is Southern Bancorp Capital Partners and that’s the non-profit side. And that means we’re typically involved in many different things, such as children’s education, starting small businesses and furthering adult education.”

Vance said their main focus with Southern Bancorp is rural America and that’s why you’ll find most branches located in rural communities, such as Ruleville. The bank has locations in Arkansas and Mississippi.

“The way it works is once the bank’s bills are paid, 100 percent of our profits go back into the communities where our banks are located,” Vance said. “And we’re very proud to be a part of the Ruleville community.”

Rodney Clark is the Branch President of Planters Bank & Trust of Ruleville.

“We are firmly behind the efforts going on Ruleville,” Clark said. “This is where our roots started; Planter’s started here in Ruleville in 1920. And we definitely want to see it prosper.”

Clark said he is especially excited about Hwy. 8 going four-lane.

“We’re hoping this will make us a bedroom community of Cleveland,” he said. “Maybe open things up, because with the four lane highway it shouldn’t take any time to get back and forth.”

One of their many contributions has been to the downtown sidewalk project.

“The brick pavement, we’ve made some donations to that,” Clark said, “and the Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial Garden. Also about a month ago, we started a renovation here at the bank. We’re adding 1700 square feet to the bank. We’ll have new teller platforms once we’re finished. We’ve outgrown our existing building and just needed more room. And this expansion is due to the growth of Ruleville. It’s very exciting.”

 Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial Garden
Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial Garden

Supervisor Barry Bryant from District Five agrees that Ruleville’s growth is very exciting.

“The hospital has grown by leaps and bounds, along with the downtown area,” Bryant said. “All of us on the Board of Supervisors are extremely pleased.”

Edgar Donahoe, Supervisor District Four, concurred with Bryant, “The growth is great. Buildings being renovated, houses being built and jobs, well-paying jobs, it’s just wonderful. And we are very thankful for North Sunflower Medical Center for a lot of those jobs.”

Ruleville is proud of Ruleville and that’s a good thing, for its citizens and its economy, according to Mayor Shirley Edwards.

“I’m excited about the growth of Ruleville and I’m proud and excited about the positivity that abounds throughout our town,” Edwards said. “Ruleville is positive and proud and that’s due to the cohesiveness and pride our citizens have in our community. It’s a great time to live in Ruleville.”

Hank Burdine is a Ruleville native who was very close friends with another native, Duff Dorrough, a renowned musical genius that loved his hometown unconditionally and, according to Burdine, helped to put it on the map.

“Duff Dorrough was an emissary for Ruleville and the Mississippi Delta just about his entire life,” Burdine said. “He was an acclaimed musician and artist, who studied art at Delta State and became a wonderful pastel artist whose murals are on buildings all over the Delta and his paintings are sought after by collector’s everywhere.”

Burdine said Dorrough was a man with a big heart who could never say enough kind things about people and was often seen riding around the town in his pick-up truck.

“You could see him riding around in his old truck with the cab full of people, old and young, dogs and kids in the back,” Burdine said. “One thing he always said is if you’re riding around thinking about somebody, pick up the telephone and call them and tell you love them, you may not get another chance.”

Dorrough lived a simple life in Ruleville right on a bend in the Sunflower River.

“He lived simply,” Burdine said, “but he lived a great life. He was a wonderful man who loved people and a fantastic musician that helped put Ruleville on the map. He meant a lot to Ruleville and Ruleville meant a lot to him.”

This story first appeared in the Delta Business Journal, a publication owned by Hotty Toddy.com contributor, Scott Coopwood…

Angela Rogalski is a HottyToddy.com staff reporter and can be reached at angela.rogalski@hottytoddy.com.

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