Bill Ruland, it was pointed out, is accustomed from his previous offices to public speaking, whether it be at school board or town board meetings. On Friday, though, Mr. Ruland was primarily on the listening end. What he heard brought to tears to his eyes.
The Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association honored Mr. Ruland Friday by naming him its 2020 Citizen of the Year in a virtual ceremony.
“Bill inspires and reminds us to be stewards of our future,” the MLCA president, Dr. Anne Smith, said during the 1-hour, 7-minute Zoom presentation. “His history lessons, commitment to the agriculture roots of our community and leadership as past president of the Mattituck-Cutchogue School District Board of Education, his work as councilman and deputy supervisor on the Southold Town Board demonstrate his love for our community.”
Mr. Ruland, 72, a lifelong Mattituck resident, became the seventh person to win the award since the MLCA was created in 2014. The previous winners were Bill Toedter (2015), Teresa McCaskie (2016), Catherine and Robert Harper (2017), Karen McLaughlin (2018) and Wendy Zuhoski (2019).
“Bill has never done anything for the accolades. He’s helped because it’s intrinsic and inherent within him.”Scott Russell
Mr. Ruland’s résumé is thick. The third-generation farmer was a member of the Mattituck-Cutchogue school board for 24 years, 13 as president and chief financial officer. He served as a town councilman and deputy supervisor for 12 years, is a former director and vice president of the Long Island Farm Bureau and treasurer of the Long Island Cauliflower Association.
“I know Bill well and I know Bill is probably very honored today, but he’s also probably wondering what all the fuss is about,” said Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell, who read a town proclamation in Mr. Ruland’s honor that he said could have used 30 pages to cover all Mr. Ruland has done and what he has meant to the town. “Bill has never done anything for the accolades. He’s helped because it’s intrinsic and inherent within him.”
Mr. Russell noted that it was Mr. Ruland, as school board president, who handed him his high school diploma when he graduated in 1982. “And here we are, 40 years later, and if not for Bill’s recent health setbacks, I have no doubt he’d still be contributing to this community.”
Lee Ellwood, a former Mattituck-Cutchogue school superintendent, has long known Mr. Ruland. “Our relationship goes back over 50 years,” Mr. Ellwood said during the presentation. “I remember you as a ninth-grade student in my English class. I remember you as one of my best baseball players even though I did bean you in batting practice one day, but I guess you survived that.”
He continued: “Even as a ninth-grader you demonstrated many of the qualities that these people have set down already today, so you have been true throughout your life. You are the ideal man for this award. You are a true Mattituckian. Your whole life has been with the community, for the people of the community and your family. So I thank you for all the outstanding deeds you have done for others … It is my honor to be a friend all these years.”
Mary Eisenstein, the MLCA founder and past president, said she witnessed Mr. Ruland’s leadership qualities at town board work sessions. She saw how he pulled out seats for two female colleagues before sitting down himself. “It’s a small thing, Bill, but it said so much,” she said.
Doug Cooper, a former Mattituck-Cutchogue school board member who was in the same grade as Mr. Ruland in school, recalled good times the two shared as youngsters building and riding beach buggies.
“I’ve known Bill for more years than I care to admit to,” Mr. Cooper said. “We both grew up in farm families and early on learned the value of work and integrity, and it is with much pride, great pride, that I can call him a very, very dear friend.”
After all nine speakers spoke, Dr. Smith asked Mr. Ruland, sitting in an easy chair and touched by the words he heard, if he wanted to say anything.
“I’ve never been one to be emotional, so I don’t know how this is going to go,” he said. “To be honored by one’s community, there’s just a feeling that’s almost indescribable. Having been born and raised here, it means even more. To the civic association and its officers and members and friends, thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
At that point, Mr. Ruland’s voice started to crack and he wiped away tears with a tissue. Then he said, “Can’t hold it together.”