Local club observes Civitan International’s 100th anniversary

Published 12:43 am Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Friday, May 26, noon meeting of the Andalusia Civitan Club was a special occasion. Although the date was a few weeks later than the actual 100th anniversary of the chartering of Civitan International, it was the occasion for the Andalusia Club to hold an anniversary celebration. Former members of the club and prospective new members were special guests. It is hoped that several of these will become active Civitans in the near future.

The speaker for the special meeting was Louis Stephens, Vice President of Membership-Leadership of Civitan International. His presentation included a power-point of the organization of Civitan in 1917 in Birmingham, Ala., where the headquarters remain today. The 2017 international convention of clubs from 49 countries will be head there in July.

Stephens also shared numerous historical highlights achieved by Civitan International: The first Civitan Club was founded on April 15, 1917, 100 years ago, with Dr. Courtney Shropshire, a physician, as the organizing president. Charter Member Jelks Cabaniss coined the name Civitan from “Civitas,” latin word for citizenship. Charter Member Arthur C. Crowder is known for giving Civitan its special motto “Builders of Good Citizenship.”

By 1920, the Birmingham Club had charter 10 additional clubs in other states. In August 1921, brothers Champ and Oliver Andrews of Chattanooga composed the stately Civitan Creed. In 1922, 200 community leaders chartered the New York City Civitan Club, which included Franklin D. Roosevelt and D. W. Griffin. The December 1928 Civitan magazine featured Civitan Thomas Edison on its cover. In 1929, the T.C. Thompson Children’s Hospital, named after a Civitan advocate for disabled children, was founded in Chattanooga. Today, it is a part of the Erlanger Health System.

In 1937, President Roosevelt, a Civitan in New York, appointed Civitan Hugo Black to the Supreme Court. Judge Black, one of the longest serving justices for the Supreme Court, was honored in 1987 with The United Stated Federal Courthouse being constructed and named after him. At least five presidents have been Civitans: Coolidge, Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, and Clinton, a junior Civitan.

The coveted Civitan Honor Key was first awarded in 1946, and it continues to be one of Civitan’s highest recognitions for outstanding service. In 1952, Civitan presented a plaque for display at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. Also, that year Civitans began the Christmas tradition of selling Claxton Fruitcakes as a fundraiser. In 1954, Civitan initiated Clergy Appreciation Week, which is held annually by all local clubs during the first week of February to honor the four Chaplains who sacrificed their life jackets for others when the USS Dorchester was sinking. In 1965, Civitan presented a 22-ton monument to the Freedom Foundation in Valley Forge, Penn.

Civitan International became the first formerly all-male service club to accept women into membership in 1974. Since its inception in 1976, the Civitan Candy Box project, one of Civitan’s oldest and most successful fund-raising programs, has raised more than $50,000,000. All of these funds have gone toward the research center in Birmingham or to local programs assisting those who are mentally or physically challenged. In 2001, the Autism Spectrum Disorders Clinic at UAB Civitan Sparks Clinics, began operation. In 2016, The Civitan International Neuroimaging Laboratory was opened at UAB Highlands Hospital.

Founded during World War I, Civitan International’s early focus was in support of children orphaned during the war. Since that time there has been a strong emphasis on meeting local community needs.

In reference to local Civitan history, the East Brewton Civitan Club made plans in 1955 to organize a club in Andalusia. Dr. Roy Couch, a chiropractor, and Ed Horton, tax collector, of Brewton persuaded Curtis Bailey, a State Farm Insurance adjuster and newcomer to Andalusia, to begin the process. Bailey learned that J. Fletcher Jones, a local attorney, had worked with the Civitan Club in Tuscaloosa. Together they enthusiastically began the task of recruiting members and making application for the charter.

An impressive charter banquet was held on October 20, 1955, at the popular Scherf Memorial Building with Mrs. Lou Brown catering the dinner. (This is where all the major civic clubs held their regular meetings with Mrs. Brown in charge of the meals for many years.) All the city officials and other special guests were invited to share in the historical occasion.

The charter meeting began with Roy Couch, president of the East Brewton Civitan Club, calling it to order. Woodrow Plant, newly appointed chaplain of the Andalusia Civitan Club, voiced the invocation. Jimmy Grant, lt. governor of the Warrington, Fla. Civitan Club, served as master of ceremonies. Ross Dickson, past lt. governor from the Warrington Club, introduced the guests. Oliver Williams, secretary of the Andalusia Club, read the letters of congratulations. J.W. Graham, international sergeant at arms, initiated the new members after which D.D. “Stumpy” Black, past lt. governor, recited The Civitan Creed. John D. Miller, governor-elect of the Alabama-West Florida District, installed the new Andalusia Club officers. New Club President J. Fletcher Jones accepted the club charter from W.J. Bailey, governor of the district. Robert F. Parker, past district governor, was the principal speaker. He was introduced by J.W. McCraney, vice president of Zone I, Civitan International. Chaplain Woodrow Plant closed the meeting with a benediction.

The following 31 charter members were initiated: Curtis C. Bailey, Joe M. Brooks, Rex L. Bryant, Elton E. Carter, W. Ralph Carter, Hanson Colvin, Max Eiland, Robert C. Floyd, Jr., Herman J. Hair, Waylon V. Ham, William A. Henderson, C.E. Henley, Jack Jay, J. Fletcher Jones, John Harley Messer, Cliff Moulton, Milton O’Neal Newberry, William J. Owens, Wilson H. Parker, Woodrow Plant, Eugene Powell, James Radford, J.T. Raley, Earnest F. Rentz, Robert C. Reynolds, John G. Scherf Jr., J.H. Snowden, Roy S. Spencer, Lee Sullivan, Oliver Williams, and Harvey L. Wilson.

  1. Fletcher Jones served as charter President, and the other officers included Waylon V. Ham, 1st vice-president; J.T. Raley, 2nd vice-president; Oliver Williams, secretary; William A. Henderson, treasurer; Woodrow Plant, chaplain; and Elton Carter, sergeant-at-arms. Members of the Board of Directors included Curtis Bailey, Joe Brooks, Robert C. Floyd Jr., C.C. Henley, John Harley Messer, James Radford and John G. Scherf Jr.

For over 50 years, the Andalusia Civitan Club has been a leader in rendering services to the community, especially in assisting those with mental or physical handicaps. In addition to raising funds for donations, the members have participated in many hands-on projects while being “Builders of Good Citizenship.” As “club-builders” they organized a new club in Elba in 1970 and the college club at LBW.

Another special area of focus is promoting the development of area youth. Some of the major activities have been sponsoring youth to citizenship and leadership seminars at Harding University, Freedom Forum, youth scholarships, 4-H Clubs, minor league baseball, special education classes and the LBW Campus Civitan Club, which was chartered in May 1970.

The club has historically been known for raising funds through the once popular spaghetti supper at Andalusia High School; selling Claxton Fruitcake, Halloween candy and contracts for flying the American flag for area businesses and individuals; and the annual Civitan Rodeo. Currently, the club continues to sell flag contracts, Claxton Fruitcake and Vidalia onions. In 2015, the club organized and conducted the first Half Marathon Race along with a 5K Run, which were very successful. Plans are to continue this activity each year during the first week of December. All profits from these exercises are used to support the club’s many service projects.

The Andalusia club is currently the third largest numerically in the Alabama-West Florida District with a membership of approximately 40 and a full program of services. Many members have served in the local club and district well and have been recognized with numerous awards. Special recognition and honor has been given to eight members by naming them “Fellows” to the Civitan International Foundation at the Civitan International Office in Birmingham, Alabama. These include four deceased members, Robert T. Holley, M. Lamar Moore, Carl S. Shaw Jr. and Clarence Trousdale; two inactive members, Joseph W. Cook Jr., and Roy Weaver Jr.; and two currently active members, Dr. Morgan Moore and Curtis Thomasson. Several have been named “Civitan of the Year,” and others have been awarded the club and/or district honor key.

It is truly no wonder that Andalusia is a better community and place to live became of the presence of Civitan.

Anyone who might desire more information on Civitan is requested to contact Curtis Thomasson, a member for 47 years, at 20357 Blake Pruitt Road, Andalusia, AL 36420; 334-804-1442; or Email: cthomasson@centurytel.net.