By Susan Shinn Turner
People from all over Rowan County — and all over the country, too — helped the Ritchie family celebrate Cheerwine’s 100th birthday on May 20 in Downtown Salisbury.
“We felt very privileged that everybody came out to honor the anniversary of Cheerwine,” says Mark Ritchie, a fourth generation of the Cheerwine family, and the company’s former CEO. “We were thrilled with that.”
Most of the planning for the event fell to his niece, Joy Ritchie, the company’s director of marketing. She’s the daughter of Cliff and Amy Ritchie, and Cliff serves as current CEO.
Mark says he got to enjoy the day along with everyone else. “It was hot, but heat is better than rain. We had cold Cheerwine for a hot day, and I had more than one.”
Just as the Ritchie family’s connection with Cheerwine stretches back generations, so does its connection with St. John’s.
L.D. Peeler, grandfather of the late Shirley Ritchie — mother to Mark, Cliff, and Celia Jarrett —invented Cheerwine in 1917. His brother was A.G. Peeler, who founded Bamby Bakery. “They were both members of St. John’s,” Mark notes.
The family has deep ties to all three worship spaces. In 1931, members of the Peeler family gave the Deagan tower chimes in the Sanctuary in member of Lewis Peeler. In 2011, members of that family, including representatives from the Peeler, Ritchie, McQueen and Tatum families, restored those chimes.
In 1967, Greg Peeler, the son of A.G. Peeler, gave the lead gift for the chapel in memory of his father. Greg Peeler was the father of the late Christine Whitton. In 2015, her husband, Jim Whitton, gave the lead gift for Peeler Hall in her memory, as well as in memory of her parents. In turn, the Whittons’ three children honored their parents with the lead gift for Whitton Terrace.
The late Raymond Ritchie, Shirley’s husband, married into St. John’s, and they also contributed to the worship space. They were heavily involved in the congregation throughout their lives. They supported the St. John’s Child Development Center, which Shirley founded and was deeply connected to until her death.
Raymond and Shirley gave their three children a solid foundation at St. John’s, Mark says. Shirley and Celia participated in the Barnabas Connection, a weekly arts program which helped at-risk youth. Amy continues her involvement with the CDC as a member of the Rainbow Makers, a dedicated small group. She also served as youth adviser when her and Cliff’s three children were growing up at St. John’s and helped with Wednesday meals, something Celia now coordinates. Despite Cliff’s busy schedule with Cheerwine, he continues to serve as an usher team chief.
Since Mark’s retirement in 2007, he has become a certified Spiritual Director, life coach, small group leader, and consultant to nonprofits, and increased his involvement at church as well.
It’s also worth noting another member of the Peeler family. Michael Peeler was the brother of A.G. and L.D. Peeler. His gift of the Michael Peeler Fund provides a lasting legacy for the N.C. Synod.
Mark says he’s proud to be part of a legacy of all of these forerunners.
“It certainly also carries some responsibility,” he notes. “We have been blessed as a result of the work of our family, plus our hard work. We’re blessed to be a blessing, and we’re happy to pass along the blessings that we’ve received.”
Mark says that Cheerwine is the reason that he and his two siblings have remained in Salisbury. He also notes that it’s rare for a family business to run into the fifth generation — but that’s exactly what Cheerwine has done.
With so many family members in town for the Cheerwine celebration, Mark and his family hosted lunch for 28 at Still Point — seeing folks he hadn’t seen in a long time.