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Thursday, May 24, 2018, 8:51 a.m.

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Vilonia resident named Faulkner County Master Gardener of the Year

By Carol Rolf/Contributing Writer

This article was published May 7, 2018 at 1:03 p.m.

Sunnie Ruple of Vilonia is the 2017 Faulkner County Master Gardener of the Year. She has a variety of plants at her home in Vilonia, including this native crossvine. Ruple joined the local Master Gardeners in 2007 and since then has volunteered hundreds of hours, both work hours and educational hours, and has served in six of the eight executive-board positions, including president.

Sunnie Ruple’s roots are deeply planted in Faulkner County.

She lives in Vilonia but was born in Conway, a daughter of Sue Briley of Vilonia and the late Bill Briley.

“I’ve lived in Vilonia pretty much all my life,” she said. “My parents, Sue Briley and the late Bill Briley, and my grandparents, the late Jesse and Etta Lewellen Briley, lived here all their lives, too.

“Gramps Briley was a dairy farmer. My mom still lives on that property. My dad worked for Dean Milk Co. My mom worked for a long time in food service and managed the food service at the Vilonia schools.”

Ruple, 65, raises lots of flowers, plants and trees on the land she shares with her husband, Charles, who is a native of Vilonia.

When she’s not working in her own yard, tending to the pawpaw tree or the Virginia sweetspire shrub, or in the two businesses she and her husband own and operate, Sign Gypsies and First Class Trophies, she’s working on projects sponsored by the Faulkner County Master Gardeners. In fact, she volunteered 438 total hours to the local organization last year and was recently named the 2017 Faulkner County Master Gardener of the Year.

“I stay busy as a Master Gardener. I was involved in developing the Legacy Garden, especially the butterfly garden, and still work on that project,” she said.

“I work in the flower beds at the Vilonia Library. I’ve been chairman of the education committee. I take photos and write articles and submit them to various places. I do presentations. I’ve coordinated dirt projects and served as a dig coordinator. I’ve worked on a lot of projects,” Ruple said.

“I think being named Master Gardener of the Year was very nice. It’s a real honor, and very unexpected. There are several other people who also qualified for the honor,” she said.

“There are so many awesome people in this group. I have made so many good friends since I joined. They mean a lot to me,” Ruple said.

“There is such good leadership in the group — from Janet Carson at the state level to Kami Marsh, and now Richard Klerk at the county level. We have a lot of good support,” she said.

“It’s good to be recognized for your work,” Ruple said of her recent honor.

“I like to do a lot of different things, so maybe that’s why I was chosen,” she said.

“Sunnie Ruple’s impact has been felt throughout the Faulkner County Master Gardeners program and our community,” said Debbie Howell, past president of the Faulkner County Master Gardeners.

“Her leadership priorities support Master Gardeners’ abilities to advance their horticultural education, find their passion and experience success as an integral part of the Master Gardener program,” Howell said. “Sunnie is an avid supporter of the membership through her participation in their activities and events and is the first to recognize members’ efforts and successes at meetings, in conversation and through her submission of photos and articles in the Faulkner County Master Gardener newsletter, daily email announcements and local newspapers.

“Sunnie is selfless, often leading from behind the scenes. She is the first to pitch in when a task needs to be accomplished and often without anyone really knowing she’s taken care of it. These are often those jobs no one wants to do. As a team member, a coordinator, a committee chair and executive-board member, she always goes above and beyond. She is knowledgeable, skilled, dependable and creative. She gets the job done.”

Ruple joined the Master Gardeners in 2007 and has served in six of the eight executive-board positions, ending her service as past president in 2017.

“I had been interested in joining for a long time, but I still worked full time and did not have an opportunity to take the classes,” Ruple said. “They only offered the classes during the day; now they offer night classes and even classes online. So I had to wait until I retired to join.”

Ruple is now a Level 2 Advanced Master Gardener. She is also a member of the Foothills Arkansas Master Naturalists program, vice president of the Conway Garden Club and a docent at South Fork Nature Center near Clinton.

Ruple graduated from Vilonia High School in 1970. Her husband is also a graduate of Vilonia High School.

“We met in high school,” she said. “We will have been married 48 years in June. We got married right out of high school.”

Sunnie Ruple attended the University of Central Arkansas in Conway and received a Bachelor of Science in Education degree with an emphasis in elementary education. She taught fourth and fifth grades in Ozark and Vilonia for

10 years. Following that, she went to work in 1988 for IMPAC — Instructional Microcomputer Project for Arkansas Classrooms — Learning Systems, which was funded by the state to implement computers in schools.

“I worked for them for 20 years, traveling the state,” Ruple said.

Charles Ruple also went to UCA. He was a girls basketball coach in Vilonia and retired last year as the assistant girls basketball coach at Cabot High School.

The Ruples have three adult children.

Their daughter, Amy Jordan, 44, and her husband, Keith, live in Conway and have two adult sons, Spencer, 24, who lives in Oregon, and Seth, 20, who is a sophomore at Hendrix College. Amy Jordan is principal at Bob and Betty Courtway Middle School in Conway.

The Ruples’ older son, Brent Ruple, 39, lives in the Pope County community of Scottsville with his wife, April, and their two children, Jack, 10, and Grace, 7. Brent Ruple is a director at Camp Caudle, which is a Christian camp offering summer camp and retreats.

Charles and Sunnie’s younger son, Nick Ruple, 37, and his wife, Alisha, live in Frederick, Maryland, with their four children, Livy, 8, Max, 6, and 2-month-old twins, Sam and Todd. Nick Ruple is a minister.

Sunnie has two sisters, Annetta Schultheis and Holly Briley, both of Conway.

Sunnie and Charles built their dream home 22 years ago in Vilonia. Their home has been in the path of two tornadoes, once in 2011 and again in 2014.

“I go to a storm shelter if I can,” Sunnie said. “My dad made a believer out of me. We always went to the storm shelter. I have always been cautious.

“In that first tornado, we lost a lot of trees on our property. In the second one, there was a lot of debris from the school, but we did not receive any damage.”

The Ruples live near Vilonia Intermediate School, which was under construction in April 2014 and was totally destroyed by the tornado.

“[I have] a few plants that I am especially proud of in my yard. I have a pawpaw tree. My kids always called my dad Pawpaw,” Sunnie Ruple said.

“And I have some native crossvine that is growing on my Granny Briley’s old dinner bell. Granny would ring that bell for the farmhands to come in to lunch,” Ruple said.

“I am really trying to plant more native plants,” she said. “I used to have a big vegetable garden when the kids were growing up, but now I support Rattle’s Garden in Vilonia and get my vegetables from her.”

Ruple said she has submitted all her paperwork to become a Level 3 Advanced Master Gardener.

“I am just waiting to hear about that,” she said.

She is also waiting to hear results about the Arkansas Master Gardener of the Year Award. That will be announced, along with winners in other categories, at the 2018 Arkansas Master Gardener Conference from May 31 to June 2 in Fort Smith.

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