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Faithful citizen

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Victor Harbor parishioner Kevin Rucioch has a long list of community service that earned him an Order of Australia Medal this year but it is his Catholic faith that matters most.

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When Kevin arrived in the South Coast town ten years ago, the first thing he did was find out if there was weekday Mass available. Within weeks he was setting up the altar for the priest, reading and doing jobs around the church. He joined the Knights of the Southern Cross and the Vinnies conference, taking on official positions without hesitation.

Educated by the ‘Joeys’ in Peterborough, Kevin said there were two other periods of his life that influenced his faith.

The first was the three years he spent boarding at Sacred Heart College where he arrived as a shy country boy who “wouldn’t say boo” to a confident young man with a strong commitment to caring for others.

The Marist ethos rubbed off on him to the point that he helped form a Young Christian Workers group in his hometown when he returned to work in the family fruit and veg/liquor store business.

It was with some reluctance that he left the Somerton Park College as he had aspirations of playing First XVIII football in his final year but instead ended up playing in a premiership for the local team.

“We won one and half games and beat the undefeated side in the grand final,” he recalled, adding there were only four teams in the competition.

Kevin went on to become a local councillor for 17 years – the last seven as mayor, and was involved in numerous community organisations and projects. He was a volunteer with the Peterborough Metropolitan Fire Service for 25 years, a life member of the football club, president of Apex and Rotary, and a board member of the hospital and home for the aged, Nalya Lodge.

Kevin and his wife Sue raised two sons and a daughter in Peterborough and ran the local store until the demise of the railways resulted in him walking away from the business in 1991. He applied for several jobs, including with the Red Cross (which he thought would be perfect for him), but was unsuccessful.

This is when the second defining moment in his faith journey came about. Kevin’s eldest son was a truckie in Alice Springs and suggested he and Sue move there.

“It was one of the best decisions I made in my life,” he said.

Kevin found work as a storeman in the Mbantua Store and before long became the ‘bush hawker’, delivering groceries to 14 Aboriginal communities in and around Utopia. It was an 1100km trip completed in a day and a half, providing the truck withstood the wet and rough roads.

“It was the best job I ever had…I couldn’t believe how happy these people were and yet they had nothing,” he said.

“When I arrived it was the highlight of their week and it made me realise how lucky I was, even though I had to walk away from my business.”

There was also plenty of time for Kevin to think and pray. “There were a lot of Hail Marys sometimes with 13 or 14 decades, especially on those slippery, gravel roads.”

It was during this time that Kevin decided to start going to daily Mass and became actively involved in the local parish.

“All of a sudden I had this wonderful job with this wonderful boss and family,” he explained. “I was so thankful for this life I had and my beautiful wife Sue; she backed me all the way with any decision I ever made.”

Kevin’s job as bush hawker lasted for five years and then he became manager of the store but still made occasional visits to Utopia.

In 2007, he and Sue retired in Victor Harbor and began attending Mass at St Joan of Arc’s Church.

“On the drive there I was thinking about what golf course to join but the most important thing was whether there would be morning Mass,” said Kevin.

Shortly after arriving in the town, he was walking out of Mass when someone asked him to join the local Vinnies conference.

“A dear old lady said she had been secretary for so long that it would be good if I could take it on. I did it for one meeting and then at the next meeting they said ‘you’re sacked’ and they made me chair,” he laughed.

He also joined the Knights of the Southern Cross and became chair of the Victor Harbor branch in 2010 and a member for the State council in 2009. He received the Bill Keene Award for exemplary service to the Order of the Knights of the Southern Cross and community in 2015.

With no full-time priest in Victor Harbor/Goolwa, Kevin was asked to take on the voluntary role of ‘manager’, which involved a myriad of jobs from looking after the memorial garden to organising police checks and child protection training for volunteers. He even conducts Liturgy of the Word and Communion services when there is no priest.

While the parish community is ‘ageing’, Kevin said he was heartened by the fact that since introducing morning tea after Sunday Mass, there were now 40-50 people attending each week.

The organiser of the Encounter Bay Strollers Walking Group, the fit 75 year old recently received an award for clocking up 1000 5km walks for the Heart Foundation and in his ‘spare time’ he is a volunteer at the Victor Harbor Information Centre.

While Kevin had to give up golf due to lack of time, he is an active participant of the Encounter Bay Bowling Club.

The grandfather of nine said he was shocked when he received the letter informing him of his Queen’s Birthday honour and he has been “blown away” by people’s response.

“It’s been amazing,” he said. “The first card I got was from a footballer from Crystal Brook who played against me in the 60s…I knocked him out one day…he read about in the paper and said he wasn’t surprised.”

State secretary of the Knights of the Southern Cross (SA) Philip Burns said Kevin had displayed “tenacious capacity to serve the community”, particularly through his role as parish manager.

“He gives unstintingly of his time and performs his duties with integrity and compassion,” he said.

“The time and effort expended by Kevin in the interests of the community far exceeds what might be expected of a ‘good citizen’.”

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