Walk Your Own Way

Grace Smith

Valerie Ruttan and Marnie Peterson. (Photo by Barry Lovegrove)
[This article ran in the February/March 2011 issue of The SCOOP.]

There are people who walk their narrow path of existence without ever straying. And then there are people who run down this path at full speed or even wander away from it. The first group of people do what they must, are content with what they have, and feel they have nothing more to give than the required. The second group consist of people who go above and beyond, who strive for more, and give all that they have to give.

The latter are the type of people who can change the world, or a community. These are the people who constantly sacrifice to make life easier for everybody else. They give up their precious time and energy simply because they want to. These are the kind of people who are out there at this very moment making a difference.

Marnie Peterson and Valerie Ruttan are two such people who fall into the second category without a doubt. Both women come from humble beginnings and both have gone on to do simple, but extraordinary things with their lives.

Ruttan was born in Star Corners and grew up on a family farm as the oldest of ten children. And as the eldest, she developed a caring and nurturing personality that makes her what she is today: a mother hen. At least, according to Peterson. After marrying at the age of nineteen, Ruttan settled down in the village of Harrowsmith to raise her family and set roots in the community.

Peterson’s family moved to the Kingston area after World War II, when her father was offered a place at Simpson’s in Toronto. She married and then bought a campground in 1973 and set out to build a business literally from the ground up and find her place in the community. She completed both tasks flawlessly.

Though they grew up in different places and took on different responsibilities, Peterson and Ruttan both became fond of helping others.  “Volunteering is your career,” Peterson warmly informed Ruttan in an interview. And she and Peterson certainly have made a career out of their volunteering. Both have given up countless hours of their free time and an immeasurable amount of energy to help others.

Over the years, Ruttan and Peterson have been involved with various organizations and fundraisers. And while their lists of accomplishments differ, they share a similar story.
Both of the grandmothers first caught the volunteer “bug” when their eldest daughters turned seven and joined Brownies. And wanting to be involved, both took over their daughters’ Brownie pack. And once they started, they could not stop.

Ruttan and Peterson are still involved in the Girl Scout movement and have been given lifetime memberships. They were group leaders for many years and with many levels of the movement: Brownies, Guides, and Pathfinders. They ran camps for the girls and enjoyed the new experiences; “Being involved in guiding and camping really helped to develop a love of the outdoors,” Ruttan said.

Ruttan is still a leader within the Girl Scouts. She is involved on an international level and shares her international experience, as well as many others, with many of the girls. Peterson was also a leader in boy scouting for several years when her son joined the Boy Scout movement. But they have been involved in more than just scouting.

Ruttan has helped with her church, was the membership chairman for the Legion for many years, canvassed for Heart and Stroke for 21 years and is even trying to establish a local museum because she feels that history should be important to the community. While the project is still in progress, the group sets up heritage displays.

Peterson is the Sunday school teacher at St. Paul’s, runs the recreation program at Desert Lake Campground and is a huge part of the organization Grandmothers by the Lake or Grandmothers Helping Grandmothers. It is a fundraising group that raises money for grandmothers in Africa. “It helps the African grandmothers to help themselves,” Peterson said.

But Ruttan and Peterson do not do all their charitable deeds for attention or recognition. They simply enjoy helping others and do what they can. “For me, the best benefit is getting out into the community and meeting people.” Peterson said when asked about the most rewarding aspect of volunteering. “You just learn from other people,” Ruttan added.

Ruttan and Peterson are pivotal members of their community. They cherish their lives and the people around them and in turn, people respond. “What I’ve given, I’ve received back,” Ruttan said. Peterson agreed and then added, “Tenfold.”

Ruttan and Peterson have no plans of stopping their volunteer work anytime soon. Though they may have slowed down, they cannot stop entirely. No obstacles can stop them. “You have to believe that we can do this. Being positive is a huge life skill,” Peterson said when asked what she had learned from volunteering over the years.

Both women are exceptional people and leaders. They have done wonderful things for their communities and do not expect anything in return. And for that, we must thank them.

Clearly Marnie Peterson and Valerie Ruttan make quite a difference with their simple, but true actions. They live their lives to help others and in return, their lives become more than the normal, beaten down path. They walk their own way.

But they alone do not hold the magical ability to have an impact on the people around them. All human beings can help others. All it takes is a little time and effort. Even those who walk the strict path can build up the strength to abandon what they have always known and start making a difference.

Get involved–wander away from the path–because it will always be worth it. If everybody steps up or off, then the world will certainly be a better and brighter place.