Community is small in size, but big in heart
By Mark H. Stowers, The Bolivar Bullet
With some of the best medical facilities and staff the Delta has to offer, food for the soul as well as top notch educational opportunities, Ruleville remains a town headed up when plenty of Delta towns its size are losing ground.
Ruleville, incorporated in 1899, was home to the late Mississippi Senator Robert Crook, Civil Rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer, blues singer and musician Jimmy Rogers, and famous Hollywood costume designer Luster Bayless. For more than a century the town has stood tall in the Delta and Sunflower County. Known primarily as the home of North Sunflower Medical Center and it’s well known healthcare mantra—“Take Me to Ruleville”—the town continues to be a hub of the Delta with Highway 8 and 49 forming its own Delta crossroads.
A century ago, there were cotton gins and a lumber yard and even later into the century, manufacturers. In 1920, Planters Bank was first established in Ruleville with beginning assets totaling $268,000. Planters would eventually expand across the Delta and now boasts nineteen full service locations that stretch from Memphis to the Central Mississippi Delta with more than $1.7 billion dollars in total assets.
These days the town of Ruleville is still surrounded by row crops and the cotton gins have been replaced by other thriving businesses. One of those is Eubanks Trucking. Maury Eubanks, a Ruleville native, has seen the town adapt and grow in his sixty-two years. His co-owned trucking business has grown since it began in 1994.
“We run about twenty-four to twenty-five company trucks and about fifteen owner-operated trucks. I have to say that business is good, mainly because we have good customers who treat us well and they know we will always try to handle any job they need,” said Eubanks. “In addition to our corporate work we also work for a lot of farmers in and around Ruleville hauling their grain.”
Eubanks summed up the Delta hamlet he calls home.
“It’s the best small town in the Delta in my opinion,” said Eubanks. “Ruleville is a really nice town with a downtown that is kept clean and we have relatively low crime.”
Having spent his entire life in Ruleville, Eubanks has witnessed the continual transformation of his hometown.
“Things have changed a lot since I grew up,” said Eubanks. “More businesses, both big and small, like Precision Delta and of course the hospital have come in. The town has adapted and changed. In business you have to always be adapting and changing to stay in the game.”
Probably the biggest transformation nearly never happened. In the early 90’s North Sunflower Hospital had only eight hours of cash on hand and a roof that was falling in on patients. The then Sunflower County Board of Supervisors reached out to a savvy catfish farmer to help find a miracle for the dying hospital. Life-long Ruleville native, Billy Marlow accepted that challenge, rolled up his sleeves and has kept producing miracles ever since.
“There were fifty year old x-ray machines. It was terrible,” said Marlow. “My father-in- law drilled something into me when he said, ‘son, you better bring in more money than you put out.’ And that’s been my philosophy since.”
Marlow was actually born in the hospital he has been part of saving and he is very happy he’s been able to help his hometown.
“I sat on the board to see if I could help them,” said Marlow, “Then, I was moved to chairman of the board and the same day was moved to interim administrator. This was in 2004 and I have been there ever since. I tried to quit and I tried to retire, but they won’t let me.”
Marlow has seen the highs and lows of the healthcare business, but keeps applying his own philosophy to running the medical facility and all of its secondary and tertiary businesses.
“I’m not a cost cutter as much as I am a revenue generator. I like to grow things and keep people happy,” he said. “Employee satisfaction and patient satisfaction is big with me. Having a clean facility and good food is equally important to me.”
His first revenue generator was updating equipment. With a little investigation, it was discovered the hospital could have two brand new x-ray machines for the same cost as leasing the fifty year old ones.
“It didn’t cost us a thing and gave us a big jump start,” he said.
Marlow also understood that by providing great medical service in a top-notch, clean facility would bring patients in from across the Delta. He admits they haven’t done everything right, but they’ve got more things right than wrong.
“If you build it, they’ll come, so we did things that were clean and neat and productive and gave good patient satisfaction,” said Marlow. “I remember having a social worker coming to me one day about fifteen years ago and I asked why her why she wanted to be a part of our NSMC team. She just looked at me and said, ‘when I look around, I see what’s happening and I want to be a part of it.’ I never forgot that.”
NSMC has grown immensely since Marlow’s first years involved with the facility. In addition to the main medical campus there is the Beacon Wellness Center, a 33,000 square foot facility that houses the Surgical Wing, Administration, The Sleep Center and a State of the Art work-out facility.
There’s also a diversified facility with services including a twenty-five bed Acute Care/Swingbed Critical Access Unit, sixty bed Skilled Nursing Facility, ten Bed Senior Care Unit, an Out-Patient Behavioral Health Clinic, Radiology Services, MRI, sixty-four Slice CT Scanner with Cardiac CTA Scan, Doppler, Emergency Room, Durable Medical Equipment, Lab Services, GI Lab, a wide range of Surgical and Outpatient Procedures, Sunflower Diagnostic Center, Cardiac Clinic, Nuclear Stress Testing and Sunflower Clinic that is open every day from 8:00 a.m. to midnight, Specialty Clinic offering Wound Care Services & Pediatric Sub-Specialist, Simply Sunflower—Gift, Flower, & Scrub Shoppe and Sunflower Med Spa.
NSMC partners with services, such as, Mississippi Sports Medicine & Mississippi Center for Advanced Medicine to bring specialist to the Mississippi Delta. NSMC is also putting together a five-year plan that includes more clinics and an assisted living complex.
On the education front, Ruleville is served by both the Sunflower Consolidated School District, North Sunflower Academy and Mississippi Delta Community College is a stone’s throw away in Moorhead as is Delta State University in Cleveland. Janet Ray, headmaster of NSA is grateful for the support of the Ruleville community.
“We’re a small, independent school and we try to maintain a small student to teacher ratio,” said Ray. “We focus on academics as well as athletics. Ruleville is such a benefit to our school because the patrons in Ruleville support our school in various ways. In turn, we try to work various festivals such as the Ruleville Roast. We try to be supportive of our local community.”
Ray enjoys having a restaurant such as The Pharm that brings a higher, fine dining option to the area. She also is grateful that North Sunflower Medical Center is close by as many of the parents of NSA students work there and NSMC provides needed basic and high-level medical services.
One Cleveland native who migrated to Ruleville is retired Delta State University professor, Elise Jenkins. Jenkins married her late husband Butch and moved to Ruleville to help him run Mississippi Police Supply. She has also been eager to contribute to the town by using her marketing background. Jenkins is instrumental in helping put together the Great Ruleville Roast, the town’s annual festival that was created fifty-four years ago. The event, sponsored by the Ruleville Chamber of Commerce, draws attendees from around the state as well as Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and Louisiana with the famed BBQ competition.
“One of the driving forces for the festival the past few years was when a group, including myself, John Paul Gates and Rob Marshall created a concept called the Delta BBQ Battle—our NASCAR version of BBQ. If you cook and participate in a Delta area contest, there is additional prize money to be won,” said Jenkins.
The Delta BBQ Battle now includes The Great Ruleville Roast, Octoberfest’s Mississippi Delta BBQ State Championship, Delta State and has recently added the Que on the Yazoo—a Greenwood event.
“This year we’ve added the Peavine Festival in Boyle,” said Jenkins. “Every year we are adding more teams. These are people that travel to your town and spend the night and buy food, gas, pay hotel bills. We pull from Biloxi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama and Arkansas. When these teams come to our Delta communities to compete, they create a big economic impact.”
Mike Myers, a Ruleville native, recently purchased the Mississippi Police Supply business and has run the Delta Thunder Motorsports since 2017. DTM sells racing fuel as well as other amenities including bait and fishing supplies for local fishermen. Myers partnered with Ronny Henley in September of 2022 to purchase Mississippi Police Supply.
“We are a full service police supply company. We sell to police departments and sheriff departments and offer anything to outfit a police officer or a deputy sheriff, from firearms to guns to boots,” said Myers. “We sell to the public as well, but not the Blue Label guns which are specifically for police departments. We are located in what used to be the Ruleville Lumber Company.”
Myers said Natalie Smith runs the office, Elise Jenkins provides payroll and bookkeeping services part-time and Kaid King is an inside salesman. Emily McIntyre handles the embroidery side of the business works with the new banner service as well. Myers also farms, Three County Farms, in the area and works for Gresham Petroleum in Indianola as well. He enjoys living and working in his hometown.
“It’s a quiet little town which I love,” he said. “We don’t have much crime and everything is pretty good right now. I like living here and I like that I know most of the people so that makes for a good “small town feel.”
Myers has seen the town morph from manufacturing to its current more medical oriented self.
“We used to have several factories and had three plants. Now the medical center has taken two of those over and Precision Delta an ammunition store has taken over the third one,” he said.
Gregg Bills is a second generation resident and owner of Bills Body Shop. He’s grooming his sons to take over and form a third generation ownership. Growing up in Ruleville, Bills enjoys it all.
“It’s a small town. It’s changed a lot over the years, but in my opinion, Ruleville is one of the stronghold small towns left in the Delta,” he said. “We’ve lost population, but not as bad as in other places in the Delta.”
Being in town so long with a successful business, Bills enjoys the “family” feeling of it all.
“Our customers are generational as well. We worked on their fathers’ and grandfathers’ and grandmothers’ vehicles. It’s like being part of a family almost,” he said.
When not working on vehicles at the body shop, Bills enjoys taking in all his hometown has to offer—especially the food.
“We hang out at The Pharm Wednesday through Sunday nights to eat. And we’ve got the Mexico Grill right downtown and Subway. There are plenty of places to sit down and eat and drink after work,” he said.
Precision Delta has been in Ruleville since 1982 producing world-class firearm ammunition. The business began in a farmer’s garage and has morphed into one of the most sought after ammunition and reloading businesses in the mid-south.
The Ruleville/Drew Airport has been a staple in the community and has recently undergone more upgrades. Overseen by three board members, Zac Tollison, Buddy Weeks and Fletcher Clark, the airport was originally built in 1970 and has grown from one used by ag pilots and private plane owners to one that’s a bit more crowded as the regions businesses grow.
“For a twelve-month period, we usually have anywhere from ten to twelve thousand different general aviation aircraft that use our airport,” said Tollison. “From DSU students to North Sunflower Medical Center to Ag pilots.”
So much use, the airport has applied for and received several grants to keep the needed amenity for the city and county up to par. Tollison noted that he was elected in 2020 but his predecessor, Freck Luna, was busy with the other two board members in pursuing the grants and getting the work done. Before building some much needed hangars, the airport didn’t generate much income.
“The airport received the grant and we built some T-hangars and then about four years after that, another grant helped build four more,” he said.
Those hangars have been improved and enlarged and are all currently leased out. Another grant also helped repave the entrance road and upgrade the airport’s Papi (Precision Approach Path Indicator) System as well as runway lights to LED and the runway itself.