"It’s a great honor," said Hunigan, a full-time volunteer who is retired from Sprint and works with a long list of community groups and projects.
Christy Pugh, Publications Manager and Convention Planner at Ruritan National Headquarters, said the award is based on a score including a variety of criteria; among them are hours of service, positions held within the organization, club involvement, recruitment of new members and founding of new clubs.
"It’s very organized; it’s not political," Pugh said of the selection process. "Either you’ve done the work or you haven’t done the work.’
Each year, she said, the nearly 1,100 Ruritan clubs around the nation each choose a local Ruritan of the Year; from among these, each of Ruritan’s 38 districts chooses a Ruritan of the Year, who is then in the running for the national award.
"We are always trying to grow our organization so that we can help more people, and she’s a shining star as far as growing the organization and bringing more people into the clubs," Pugh said of Hunigan. "Every time we get another person in a club, or we start a new club, there are more people that we can feed and house and clothe and take to medical appointments, which are all things that we do."
Hunigan received the honor in Covington, Ky., in January.
"She’s a super hard worker," said Jim Smallwood, the leadership development coordinator and secretary for Ruritan’s Tennesseean District. The district stretches from Mountain City to Rogersville and comprises 19 clubs and close to 500 members.
Smallwood said Hunigan grew the Piney Flats club from about 20 members to more than 50 and then formed a club in nearby Bluff City, recruiting nearly 40 members. She also encouraged growth in other area clubs while serving as district governor.
"We were No. 1 in the nation last year in growth, her district was, because of her hard work," Smallwood said. "Membership in [many civic] organizations has really been down, but ours has been up due to her leadership."
Hunigan, who remains a member of both clubs, got involved when she moved to Piney Flats about six years ago.
She has also been instrumental in the community’s effort to gain official recognition for its historic village and organize the annual Piney Flats Days festival, and has been involved in a variety of other volunteer efforts in the area, including work with food banks and the elderly.
She said recruiting new members to the club has just a matter of sharing and making connections with other people in the community who have a desire to help.
"I just went out in the community and associated with the people in the community and got acquainted with them and then started inviting them in and asking how they liked the projects we were working on," Hunigan said. "Once I invite them and get them involved with us, they eventually join."