RUSKIN — Doris Buzbee’s mother Ida McRoberts was a charter member of the First Baptist Church of Ruskin and Doris’s earliest memories are of growing up there.
“I raised my six children right here in this church,” Doris said July 19. “My late husband Charlie was a Deacon here.”
Mary Tidwell moved to Ruskin in 1945 from Georgia and started attending the church in 1948 with her three children.
Still an active member with a memory like an elephant Mary described how the Rev. Donald Ketcham — who was pastor from 1964 to 1969 – had married two of those “children.”
As the interview at the church continued, I found Doris and Mary had much more in common than being long-time members of this obviously outgoing and friendly bunch.
“We were married the same night — Christmas Eve 1945 — but we didn’t know it then,” Doris said. That was because at the time Mary was attending the Church of God across town.
Doug Wells also has long-term memories.
Transferred to Ruskin in 1962 with Tampa Electric Company, he built a home and raised his three children in the church.
Much of the church’s earliest history is only in the minds of its members as the records from 1935 to 1960 were in the church safe which was stolen and found empty and blown up.
But the man who married Mary’s children The Rev. Don Ketcham, now 80, and his wife Nell were on hand to fill in what they knew. Since it would take this whole newspaper to tell the things they told me, I’ll have to settle for a choice few.
Rev. Don pastored the church from 1964 to 1969 when he went full time with the youth ministry Word of Life. But in 1999 he and his wife returned to retire in Sun City Center.
While he was pastor, the couple started the pre-K and kindergarten that later became an accredited school and now has grades pre-K through 12 (accepting more than church members) Ruskin Christian School, under the current principal, Tim Vanderveer.
Obviously this was no small task.
While Don was pastor, Nell ran the youth department at the school and taught 4-year-olds in Sunday School.
They also began a large bus ministry which later hosted the National Bus Conference. They presented plans for a new auditorium, and were present at the groundbreaking in 1968.
What now stands on the church property has grown from a simple house to a large 3-acre campus with sporting ministries, a school, large gymnasium, worship sanctuary with a Baptistry, and a separate house for offices.
The church’s story began in 1935 when the Conley family donated a small home and two lots on what is now College Avenue.
“Not much is known about them,” said Jan Liles, who has been working at the church 38 years, has worn many hats but is now known (mostly) as secretary to the senior pastor.
Jan and Jim Farr, other long, long-term members, filled in many details of how the church began and grew.
As it prepares for its 75th anniversary celebration in October, many facts are being brought out that some – even members — did not know.
In the beginning people were meeting in homes and the Conley family (who no one seems to know much about since the history of that was destroyed) donated the house and two lots. The mission became known (then) as the First Baptist Church of Ruskin. Their home was across the street from the present church and on that land an auditorium was built in 1937 and the church officially organized as a Southern Baptist Church.
The Rev. R.P. Coogle was its first pastor. Since then, 14 other pastors have served its people.
The land where the present auditorium stands was purchased in 1957 and the Rev. Bill Martin had what is now called The Martin Building constructed. Following that, Rev. Don (Ketcham) arrived and word-of-mouth history was carried forward even after the blowing up of the safe.
When asked, Rev. Don told several stories but one particularly struck a chord with those present because they saw it as a miracle — although no one knew its significance (not even Don) for almost 30 years.
“One day the Deacons and I were praying and it was very heavy on our hearts to donate money to a particular missionary,” he said. The missionary was in Grand Turk, a poor island at the end of the Bahamas, and the preacher there had been saved in the same church at the same time as Rev. Don. “We had been friends, but were not connected then as missionaries went off to these places and well — they lived on what they could, at that time he had no ‘board’ or anything to go to for support.”
The Ruskin church sent him $500.
Years later, it came out in conversation that at the very moment the money arrived, the missionaries — Jack and Marguerite Harvey — had packed up and were ready to leave because they were completely destitute.
“They took that gift as a sign God wanted them to stay on and they did, for a long time after that and made a great difference,” Rev. Don explained.
Soon afterward, the Harveys got support from a Mission Board and stayed in Grand Turk 30 years.
Only upon their return did the Ketchams hear this story.
Born in New Jersey, Rev. Don left there at 13. His grandfather was a preacher in the jails there. Don got his training at Tennessee Temple in Chattanooga and still remembers his first sermon was back at the church where he was saved; Calvary Baptist in Lakeland and it was on the Psalms. He then pastored in Jupiter and later helped start Hillsdale Baptist Church in Tampa before landing in Ruskin three years later.
There were many large shoes to fill when the current pastor, Rev. Barry Rumsey and his wife Vicki walked through the doors in August of 2001.
Rev. Barry had gotten his religious education at Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Mo., and had then been a pastor in Lenoir City, TN, for 17 years.
The couple married at 20 and have been married 36 years, have four children and eight grandchildren.
He was an associate pastor eight years and a youth minister before becoming a full pastor in 1984.
While Rev. Barry pastors the church, Vicki is not idle. She is the director of the children’s ministry (for the church, which is separate from the school); works with the AWANA program that helps strengthen families and works with youth; and began a sports ministry for area youth called RAYS (Ruskin Area Youth Sports) that has soccer, basketball, cheerleading, and many other events.
“The core value of RAYS is sportsmanship,” she explained. Brochures provided by the church cite positive coaching and character growth as more important than “winning” a game.
The Rumseys followed The Rev. William Taylor who was pastor from 1986 until 2001 and under his leadership the church not only became debt-free but built several new buildings, remodeled the auditorium, and made many improvements to all the facilities.
The long-term members agreed the church has been blessed by wonderful pastors.
“I have known them all,” said Doris Buzbee. “I have been here through every pastor.”
Having been moved and shifted due to husband’s moves and job changes many, many times in early life, I can only imagine the wonderful joy of growing up in the same place as your parents, raising your children there and going to the same church all of your life.
I am grateful for the sharing of Doris’ journey and those of all the others who spent an afternoon telling me their stories last week.
The church is located at 820 College Ave. W., Ruskin. Its telephone number is (813) 645-6439. For more information, visit www.fbcruskin.org.