Cotton King dies before festival

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By Tia Lynn Ivey

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This year’s Cotton Gin Festival in Bostwick, slated for this Saturday, Nov. 5, broke tradition and selected a “Cotton King” as the honorary guest for their annual parade instead of a Cotton Queen. Gene Ruark was set to lead the parade for all of his years as a cotton farmer in Bostwick. Unfortunately, Gene Ruark, 84, passed away a couple weeks ago after undergoing surgery.

To honor his memory, the annual parade will feature a float with a banner for Gene and his surviving family riding on it. His family includes his wife, Azalee Ruark, his three children, Mark Ruark, Rhonda Batchelor and Renee Malcom, and six grandchildren. 

Gene Ruark was a beloved member of the Bostwick community, who was part of a 100-year cotton farming tradition in his family. Gene took on the family business in 1956, after finishing his service in the United Stated Navy. 

Gene’s father, George Lee Ruark first began cotton farming in Bostwick nearly 100 years ago. His sons, Gene and Marvin joined him in cotton farming. And now, Gene’s son Mark and Marvin’s son, John Ruark. Gene’s brother Marvin, 77, is still cotton farming. This year, the family reaped 800 acres of cotton. The Ruark family also own the Cotton Gin in Bostwick. 

“It’s a long tradition in our family, said Mark Ruark, Gene’s son. “He would have been so proud to be a part of this festival.”

Gene’s daughter Rhonda tried to tell him that he was selected as the firt-ever Cotton King while Gene was in the hospital after his surgery. 

“I tried to tell him because it would have meant so much to him,” said Rhonda. “But I am not sure he understood what I was saying…He loved Bostwick and he loved the Cotton Gin Festival. Since it started, he has been there ever year and he never missed it. He really loved it and he loved the community here. It’s a very close-knit community that meant a lot to him. He would have been honored to be The Cotton King this year.”

The Ruark family hopes the community will remember Gene for the hard-working and dedicated family man that he was throughout his entire life. 

“He was my best friend,” said Mark. “He was a great father and great friend to everybody.” Marie noted that Gene used to run the Bostwick Supply store and would often sit out on the porch talking to customers and neighbors. “Everyone loved him,” said Mark. Gene also served as a Deacon at Gibbs Memorial Baptist Church. 

“He was a good Christian man and he loved his family and loved doing things for his family,” said Mark. 

Don’t miss the annual Cotton Gin Festival this Saturday November 5 in Downtown Bostwick. The festivities kick-off with the annual parade at 11 a.m. According to the City of Bostwick, “All proceeds from the Cotton Gin Festival go toward the up keep of the Susie Agnes Hotel and other city improvements as needed. The hotel has now been completely renovated with the first floor serving as city hall and a community center. Rooms upstairs were renovated for office rental. We currently have three offices rented….The Bostwick Cotton Gin Festival began to save the Susie Agnes Hotel in the late 80’s. Thanks to local residents, money was raised to purchase the hotel from a private owner and restoration began. The festival centers around an operating cotton gin, tractor parade, arts and crafts and live music.”

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