Pelion, SC (Paul Kirby) – Recently, heavy rains washed out the small dirt road that runs through the town of Pelion’s cemetery. Few may even know that the town has owned and operated the small graveyard near the elementary school for many years, but they have.
Like most small towns in southern Lexington County, Pelion has struggled with expenses, and its leaders works diligently to stretch their budget to make ends meet. Repairing the road would have been just another cost to deal with except for one special asset; in Pelion, the town has adopted a good Samaritan that lives out of town, but serves the community as if he’s been a citizen of Pelion his whole life.
In truth, Tony Rucker has been a resident of the Pelion area his entire life. He grew up outside of the town, owns a business just south of the town’s limits, and farms hundreds of acres all around the area. Besides his many business ventures, he and his entire family are known for their dedication to serving others without thought of what, if anything, they’d ever get in return.
When the last severe rain storm hit Pelion Monday evening, it dumped 4” of rain on the town in a very short time. The cemetery road was almost completely washed out again. This, to most, might not seem like that big of a problem, but the washout limited access to the cemetery, and a graveside service was planned for that afternoon. Without hesitation, Tony Rucker and his teenaged son Ryan came to the rescue. Tony brought a tractor and began working to repair the road. In short order, the Rucker team had the road back in shape so that the funeral could be held without interruption.
On the outside, Tony seems like a rough, tough, gruff old grizzly bear. He talks in a no-nonsense tone, and has a face weathered by exposure to the sun, as most farmers do. His hands are hard and callused, he most often wears dusty boots, work clothes, and a hat of some type; feed and seed, or some heavy equipment company’s logo on it maybe. In truth, Tony just has the appearance of a man you don’t want to get sideways with because it might be bad for your health.
Inside, however, Tony has a heart that is ten sizes larger than most. He will do, and has done, so much to help the community and its residents that he’s almost legendary. He has a servant’s heart and walks the walk of a true Samaritan every day. He gives till it hurts, and in a recent conversation with Pelion’s mayor she described him as a “big teddy bear with and even bigger heart!”
Years ago, Tony’s sister was kidnapped and murdered in the Pelion area. For years, no arrest was made and the case went cold. Eventually, many years later, the perpetrators were caught and brought to justice. It was a tough time for Tony and his family.
This hurt Tony, as it would anyone, in a deep, burning way. Most would be angry, bitter, or vengeful. Instead of allowing hate to come into his life, Tony turned his anger into something good.
With the help of his wife Lynn, other family members, and friends, Tony established the Lisa Rucker Memorial Scholarship Fund. Each year, several events are held to raise money for that fund. All the money they raise is awarded to seniors at Pelion High School who have a desire to go to college. To date, the Ruckers have raised and donated tens-of-thousands of dollars for the students. In June of 2016, the Ruckers were recognized by the state House of Representatives for the contributions they make through the Lisa Rucker fund. At that time, they had donated more than $40,000 to the students at Pelion high.
All the events they hold are family friendly, wholesome, all American entertainment. There’s an antique tractor pull, a bar-b-que, and an oyster roast with a band. Children are welcome, in fact they’re encouraged to attend, and these events draw huge crowds. The production of the events is all expensive and hard work, but that’s never stopped Tony from pushing ahead to do something good.
Mayor Barbara Hartley Carey recently said in an interview regarding Tony, “He’s the best of the best! Although he doesn’t live inside the town, he has always treated Pelion as if he was a resident. Whenever we’re in need, he always comes to the rescue, does what we need, and does it without thinking about what’s in it for him. I wish we had a hundred more like him!”
Pelion’s Police Chief Chris Garner said he and Tony have always been close friends. The pair have known each other since their high school days. Garner says that he’s one of the community’s most giving citizens. “Tony doesn’t even need a call,” Garner said. “If he sees a need, he just takes care of it. He never sends the bill, and I can’t imagine how much he’s done for this community and its people without ever charging a dime.”
Garner said that he’s been involved in the antique tractor pulling with Tony for the past 10 years. His teenaged son William has also worked for him over the last 5 years during his summer break. “William truly sees Tony as his other dad,” Garner said. “He’s a great role model for my son and my wife and I have seen Tony’s positive influence in William as he’s grown into a man. Over the years, Tony has, on uncounted occasions, come to people’s aid donating time and equipment gratis. His heart is 10 times bigger than his “bite,” Garner concluded.
Whether it’s fixing a dirt road, providing his tot-train for a fundraising event, sponsoring a tractor pull, or some other good deed, you’ll see Tony around the area constantly doing something to serve the people of the community. Often, you’ll see him in a local restaurant or store, and he’ll say hello in that gruff, non-nonsense tone that makes you wonder if he’s even friendly. Be assured, he is.
Now, Tony is passing the mantle of kindness to his children. He often has his son Ryan by his side; a father showing his son that giving and service are important and come from the heart, not the wallet.
Wherever he is, whatever he’s doing, you can bet that Tony Rucker is certainly thinking about the needs of the people he’s serving, and not himself. He’s truly a one of a kind; Pelion’s very own prize winning, good natured, great hearted bear.
Tony & Ryan Rucker repairing the road Tuesday