News Feature

Surry
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, May 24, 2018
John Curtis honored by Arbutus Grange with Community Citizen Award

Arbutus Grange Community Citizen Award

John Curtis speaks about local history, after being awarded on May 15 with the Arbutus Grange Community Citizen Award. Curtis was honored on May 15 by the Arbutus Grange with its Community Citizen Award for his service to the “community and mankind.”

Photo by Anne Berleant Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Anne Berleant

In a ceremony on May 15, the Arbutus Grange awarded John Curtis its Community Citizen Award for “outstanding service to this community and mankind.”

In presenting Curtis with the award, Grange Lecturer Ira Reed cited in particular his efforts at preserving and presenting Surry history through the Surry Historical Society and rehabilitation of the Old Surry Village School, and his 18 years of work with the USPS annual letter carriers food drive. Curtis also received the USPS Hero of the Year Education Award in 2015 for bringing the organization’s labor history “out of the library and onto the streets,” according to a USPS press release at the time.

Curtis said not only was he surprised by the award but also heard some stories of local history from grange members.

“[The grange] is a good place to hear about things that happened before you were born,” he said from the garage of his Newbury Neck home, in the midst of binding the 2019 Old Surry Village School wall calendar. He presented the grange with the first bound copy at the ceremony.

Curtis said his interest in local history began about four years ago when he became involved in efforts to restore the old schoolhouse, in high disrepair and slated for use as a training burn for the Surry Fire Department. The 146-year-old building housed the fire department after being retired as a school in 1952, and Curtis said both his parents attended school there and he spent many hours there when his father served as a volunteer firefighter.

“It got me interested in the whole of Surry history,” he said. So Curtis joined the historical society, now serving as its president. In 2017, he published “The Survivors of Schoolhouse Bridge,“ detailing the stories of two cars being washed off the bridge in 1960 and 1961.

His next project is to compile oral histories from older residents for publication as Tales Once Told in Town.

“I want to capture stories of people still living in Surry, of what happened in their youth before [the stories] are lost forever,” he said. “I’m not so concerned with what happened 200 years ago but what is still in a person’s memory.”

The grange began in Surry 113 years ago but does not present the award every year. An open house at the Old Surry Village School occurs Saturday, June 9, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.