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Local sports legend Parnell Ruark celebrates 90th in style

Local sports legend Parnell Ruark celebrates 90th in style Former athletic director, Hall of Famer honored at campus complex in his name Brent Martin The Union-Recorder The Union-Recorder Wed Aug 10, 2011, 02:09 PM EDT MILLEDGEVILLE — Sometimes in life things just come full circle. Just ask local Georgia Military College JC athletic legend Parnell Ruark, who after more than 60 years, still returns to the campus that put his name on the map several decades ago. The delightful former GMC JC football All-American (1947) and former head coach was wide-eyed, happy and on the receiving end of lots of adoration Saturday afternoon as GMC and members of the Ruark family celebrated the great’s 90th birthday. The event featured a very large buffet table with colorful gourmet treats and adornments prepared by local caterer Laura Cummings. Local caterer Betty Martin also whipped up a large Bulldog sheet cake to feed the throng of well-wishers who came out to honor Ruark, one of Milledgeville’s first ever sports stars. Ruark, a former GMC JC athletic director and minor league baseball hall-of-famer, was a multi-sport standout back in the 1940s, and went down in the archives as one of the best to ever to play football at the school. In 1947, he made headlines as the first junior college All-American east of the Mississippi when he was named to the prestigious national team. His name is the first All-American you’ll see etched on the large plaque in the main lobby of the Ruark Athletic Complex located near GMC’s athletic dorms. Originally from Morgan County, Ruark came to Milledgeville in 1942. He then served a three-year stint in the U.S. Navy. After an All-American career at GMC in the late 1940s, Ruark embarked on a legendary run in the minor league ranks, including a two-year stint in Dublin in which he hit more than 70 home runs. Almost 50 years after his playing days ended, Ruark was awarded with an enshrinment in the Minor League Hall of Fame. Ruark spread lots of joy and entertained many at his special party Saturday, and wasn’t short on sharing detailed snippets of his life’s amazing history. Maneuvering to position himself in his wheelchair, Ruark flashed an infectious smile as he spoke of GMC’s football program being resurrected in the early ‘90s, after decades of being on the shelf. “It was the best. I’ll never forget it. One of the best days of my life,” said Ruark. “We had tried many years before to restart the program but had no luck then, but it did eventually happen — it did.” Ruark later resigned from GMC JC as the head athletic director but continued his career as a coach and administrator for many years, influencing the lives of thousands of people in the process. “I couldn’t imagine myself doing it any different — if I had to do it all over again,” he said. Despite his age, Ruark is full of energy, has a keen wit and recollection, and is still available to dish out a few laughs from time to time. His legend still inspires many in the community, as his name often comes up in discussions on county football history. His influence on GMC JC was also a profound one, and can be seen on the sprawling campus and summertime practice fields as players and coaches can constanly be seen working together for one common cause — winning the GMC Bulldog way. “It’s a great school. It changed my life forever,” said Ruark. “I’m so happy to be back here with everybody today.” Sports Editor Brent Martin can be reached at (478) 453-1465.