Photos by Mandy Martin
By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
All the tribute a grateful community can show was evident at every turn Saturday, September 11, 2021 as Alex “Curly” Rutherford was celebrated in Colborne with a ball diamond dedication and a celebration of life following his passing at age 62 in December.
Even what was to be a private kick-off activity turned out to be a major-scale celebration of the fastball aficionado, Mayor Mandy Martin said Tuesday.
“The family had planned to have an 11 a.m. just-the-family game out there in Memorial Park,” Martin said.
“It leaked out that they were doing this, and you would not believe – the community showed up in spades to watch. So they were all around. They were in the bleachers, they were in lawn chairs.”
Martin offered kudos to Cramahe’s interim Parks and Recreation Manager Greg Metcalfe for an extraordinary job grooming that field – “like Field of Dreams,” she said.
“I am not a baseball player, but I was moved to tears. It looked beautiful, like a kind of Japanese garden.
“He had gone in Saturday morning and put down in chalk, ‘Curly 27,’ which was his number.”
The unexpected crowds made what was planned as a pick-up game into a really good event, reminding Martin of those good old days when a ball game at the park actually drew in the local residents to enjoy the contest and root for their favourite team.
“Also, people came from all over the place, because the Rutherflo team had three provincial titles and one national title under their belts – think about that, coming from this tiny place! People who had played on the teams came back and it was really, really fabulous. Lots of tears and happiness and reunions,” she recalled.
At 12:30, the stone was unveiled which holds the brass plaque renaming the field the Alex “Curly” Rutherford Baseball Diamond. Martin characterized the speech made by Mary Ainsworth – a sort of foster sister to the family from her youngest days – as a wonderful recognition of Curly’s optimism, positivity and contributions.
“Many people don’t realize just how he helped so many people,” the mayor said, citing his time on the Northumberland Hills Hospital board of directors – as well as his work with Ed and Diane Lorenz that resulted in their $1.5-million donation to the new Northumberland Hospice Care Centre that is now known as Ed’s House.
“He was active in so many ways, and very quietly. He just touched so many people.”
You could see it in the team jerseys so many people wore that day, she said, mentioning the virtual wardrobe of jackets and shirts Rutherford had given her over the years.
Martin was gratified to watch the reaction of Rutherford’s widow Cheryl and their two daughters, whose reticence faded away under the events of the day, allowing them to enjoy the occasion and the people who were part of it.
The celebration of life, slated at the Keeler Centre, had a major hiccup. The Elections Canada advance poll was set up there and, because of COVID, more than one event at the site was not possible.
“I went to Encore Tents and begged them to rent us a tent,” Martin recounted.
Even though you can’t rent a tent between here and Kingston until well after Thanksgiving, she said, “Harry and Penny came through” – offering her thanks to the Jeningas, who arranged for the rental of the largest tent they had.
It was set up Friday, and parks-and-recreation staff added a lot of special touches, like the pathway of mums leading up to the site.
And so an indoor event for which people had to register, at which their time visiting the family would have been limited, became an outdoor event where everyone could stroll the grounds and visit.
“It was such a great day,” Martin stated, and credit goes to a lot of people behind the scenes.
Ainsworth, of course, is high on the list. It was she who approached Cramahe Township council in June to request the renaming of the ball diamond.
Donna Rusaw of Black Dress Catering went above and beyond food. Now it can be told that she is the one who leaked the news of the Saturday-morning pick-up game.
“She so wanted Curly honoured properly,” Martin said.
She describes the way everything came together so beautifully as “one of those happy, happy confluences.
“I am very, very proud of the whole community. It just shows what a small community can do.”