United Way of the Cape Fear Area will be celebrating its 75th anniversary on June 11, 2016, at Audi Cape Fear. Our 1940s-themed event will highlight the past 75 years, as well as focus on our present and future. All are invited to this milestone event. More information will be forthcoming in the next few months.
United Way will also highlight our history through future Insights articles as a way to lead up to our anniversary and to give you tidbits of information along the way. Walk with us as we continue on our historical journey beginning with our inception in 1941.
1941 – The Birth of the United Way Concept in Wilmington
Immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the leaders of the Community Chest organization began to rebrand and mobilize it as the United Community War Chest. As a revamped organization, the United Community War Chest became known as a centralized campaign organization and is widely recognized as the precursor of the United Way of the Cape Fear Area.
During this time, a campaign goal of $50,000 was announced for the Cape Fear community. But ironically, because of the uncertain times, the campaign actually raised $110,000 for seven local organizations and all of the agencies that had been hastily approved by President Franklin Roosevelt. Beneficiary organizations of the first United Community War Chest campaign were divided into the following two categories: war relief appeals and Community Chest agencies. Those who received money locally included: Boy Scouts; Boys Brigade Club; Girl Scouts; The Salvation Army; Travelers Aid Society; and Public Nurses Association.
As the 1940s progressed, the local campaign raised $189,500, and many contributors were employees of the North Carolina Shipbuilding Company. North Carolina Shipbuilding Company employee and corporate campaigns would actually donate more than 60 percent of all campaign revenue during the WWII campaigns of 1942, 1943 and 1944.
From 1944 to 1953, the world was changing and many things were also changing within the United Community Chest organization. The payroll deduction process of giving was being developed and workplace giving campaigns began to proliferate. The local manager of Sears, Roebuck and Company, Ranald Steward, became campaign chair and E.L. White, president of the Greater Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, served as president of the first post-war Community Chest. The end of the war brought a drastic scaling back of the North Carolina Shipbuilding Company’s presence in the area, and the 1945 campaign suffered greatly.
In 1947, H.A. Marks, a longtime member of the Wilmington Rotary Club, became Community Chest president. Marks would go on to become quite prominent in local Democratic politics, serving in the early 1970s as chair of the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners.
By the early 1950s, the office of the Community Chest of New Hanover County was located at 305 Market Street in Wilmington, the current site of the First Citizens Bank at 4th and Market streets, and even greater change was beginning to happen. Community Chest leaders voted to realign the New Hanover County unified campaign with a newly formed national campaign effort called the United Fund. Community Chest officially transitioned to United Fund of New Hanover County in 1953.
The mid 1950s proved to be a challenge with the landfall of Hurricane Hazel near Wilmington, which crippled the 1954 campaign and created a 20 percent shortfall from the campaign goal. Sadly, founding father Harriss Newman also died that year, and the following year campaign saw an even greater decline. Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, the community’s largest employer at the time, announced it would be closing its headquarters in Wilmington and moving to Jacksonville, Florida. This impact would result in the loss of 1,000 jobs and a $7 million annual payroll, as well as the exodus of 2,800 individuals – 5 percent of the entire Wilmington population. The impact on United Fund campaigns would be chilling.
Join us on our historical journey in the next few Insights articles as we will continue to walk through the United Way timeline. And again, mark your calendars for our 75th-anniversary event on June 11, 2016, at Audi Cape Fear. Visit uwcfa.org for more information.
Christopher L. Nelson is president of the United Way of the Cape Fear Area, a local nonprofit organization. Since 1941, the United Way of the Cape Fear Area has worked alongside local agencies in Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover and Pender counties to assist them in providing substantial and sustainable change within the Cape Fear area. To learn more about the United Way of the Cape Fear Region, go to https://uwcfa.org/ or call (910) 798-3900.
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