Leading the way to a better place to live

Friday, March 26, 2004

The list of the campaign chairmen and presidents of the Area Wide United Way is a "who's who" of a community that knows social services go hand in hand with community development. Board presidents and campaign chairmen have served for various reasons, one of them for a very personal reason.

Kevin Govero, owner of BP Financial Services, describes himself as "marginally interested" in the United Way effort before his brother-in-law died of leukemia in 1993.

"I was seeing what was being done with cancer treatment and felt like I wanted to get a little more involved," Govero said.

He felt honored when Calvin Chapman, board president in 1975 and campaign chairman in 1976, asked him to serve on the board.

A year and a half ago, Govero himself developed cancer. This, he said, brought him back to the reason why he joined United Way in the first place.

Working for the United Way is not just a job, said executive director Nancy Jernigan. "This is the kind of job you put your heart and soul in."

For the past half century, what began as the United Fund in 1954, changed to the United Way in 1970, and ultimately became the Area Wide United Way in 1990 has become a tradition in at least two families.

Norval Randol Jr., vice president of the Bank of Missouri, served as president in 2000 and 2001 and as campaign chairman in 1996. His father, the late Norval Randol Sr., was campaign chairman in 1966 and 1967.

Randol said he is proud to continue the tradition his father started.

"Our community is only going to be as nice as the people living there want it to be," he said. "We're fortunate to live in such an area where people are generous, wanting to help those less fortunate."

Randol has served the maximum number of years on the board and is stepping down.

"It's been rewarding to see how the United Way has developed over the last few years and to achieve its milestone last year of raising $1 million," he said.

The tradition started by the Randols is being continued in another family with the inclusion of Brandon Hahs on the board this year. His grandfather, Luther Hahs, was campaign chairman in 1963.

Other traditions

Many campaign chairmen serve more than one term, and some go on to become board presidents, serving two terms in that role. It was that way from the beginning.

For the first five years when it was the United Fund, the campaign chairman apparently also served as the president of the board. Throughout the agency's history, 16 different individuals continued the tradition by serving in both capacities.

In 1954, the first Eisenhower administration was just a year underway and the United Fund hoped to raise $49,500. Clyde Harris was named the first campaign chairman. He served another term in 1956.

In 1959, the United Way board chose its first president, Lehman Finch, who led the previous year's campaign.

The United Way board has grown from 11 members in the 1960s, the earliest record the office has, to its current 27. Finding the board members was never a problem.

Dorothy Klein, executive director from 1980 to 1995, said it was a bare-bones operation working with borrowed furniture and equipment. But, she said, "We had a lot of wonderful workers and people who supported the United Way."

It has been said that to get something done, ask a busy person. Area Wide United Way board members tend to be people who are visible in the community because of their talents and who can get away to attend board meetings and act as liaisons with United Way agencies.

Board presidents and campaign chairmen are chosen from among the board members.

"We form a nominating committee every year," Jernigan said. "It's a matter of looking at who's on the board and trying to determine who would be a good candidate, then asking them. It's pretty simple."

John Mehner, president of the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce, was board president in 1994. For him, working with the Area Wide United Way was an easy task to take.

"Personally, just because of the whole giving-back-to-the-community thing," he said. "It's important to do more than just whatever your job is. You need to pick things in the community to be involved in to make it a better place to live."

Mehner said community participation is just as important as his church and his three children and working with their youth activities.

It's important to him professionally, he said, because "along with economic development, a strong organization also needs strong social service organizations."

Through the years, the United Way has evolved from strictly fund raising through donations to sponsoring a benefit golf tournament. Craig Felzien, now with SBC in St. Charles, Mo., was a board president who was creative in his leadership.

Other presidents and campaign chairmen made their own marks.

In 1985, the United Way board chose its first woman president, Pat Donaldson, who became the first woman campaign chairman in 1987. Other women have served as campaign chairmen, but only Donna Hanschen has followed Donaldson to the presidency, serving in 1997.

lredeffer@semissourian.com

335-6611, ext. 160

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