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United Way volunteers celebrate 60 years of service
Jack Keener, chair elect, speaks at the United Way 60th Anniversary Volunteer Recognition & Campaign Celebration at the Gainesville Civic Center on Wednesday. - photo by Robin Michener Nathan

More than 340 people arrived at the Gainesville Civic Center for a luncheon Wednesday to celebrate the 60th anniversary of United Way of Hall County and to honor the thousands of Hall County volunteers who have contributed their time and money to the agency since its inception in 1948.

Nearly 20 former chairmen and chairwomen of United Way were honored for their service to the Hall County charity, including John Jacobs, who was chairman of United Way of Hall County in 1954.

During the luncheon, a plaque was revealed that held the names of the roughly 60 past chairmen, chairwomen and presidents who led United Way through 60 years of service in Hall County. The plaque will be displayed in the United Way of Hall County office on Oak Street.

The luncheon also honored Publix Super Markets, which has placed first in corporate contributions to the agency for the fifth consecutive year. United Community Bank was also honored with the 2008 Chairman’s Award for its more than $150,000 contribution to the United Way of Hall County campaign.

A slideshow presented at the luncheon detailed the beginnings of United Way of Hall County. In 1948, Hall County Community Chest, an organization dedicated to improving the health, safety and strength of county residents, was founded. Community Chest Chairman Lester Hosch managed to raise $17,000 in 1948 to benefit local organizations. In 1972, the agency’s name was changed to United Way of Hall County.

"And now, just think how far we have come in reaching campaign goals for 60 years," Jacobs said. "Success for the Community Chest in the past evolved into success for United Way today."

Shortly after the agency was founded, City Ice of Gainesville offered employees the opportunity to donate a portion of their payroll to the county agency. United Way of Hall County has grown tremendously in scope and numbers over the years, and now boasts 157 local companies that contribute payroll deductions that account for roughly 50 percent of annual funds raised, according to Roz Hudson, 2007 campaign chairwoman for United Way of Hall County.

Hudson said that last summer, the agency set its fundraising goal for the year at $2,070,000. But Hudson announced at the luncheon today that not only did the organization exceed its goal by $4,170, the funds raised for the 60th year mark the largest annual amount raised in the Hall County nonprofit’s history.

"We did rise to the occasion, and I can’t thank you enough for the investment you’ve made in the community," Hudson said to the room full of volunteers and company representatives who contributed to the 2007 campaign. "It’s a testament to the very generous community we have here, and the commitment our community has to the health of our community."

Hudson said the more than $2 million raised will directly benefit United Way of Hall County’s 18 partner agencies, which include civic and health organizations Gateway Domestic Violence Center, Teen Pregnancy Prevention, Good News Clinics and the Alliance for Literacy.

Jack Keener is the 2008 chairman-elect for United Way of Hall County, and he said the program’s 61st year may hold new challenges for the agency. He said he plans to hold a strategic planning session when he assumes the position of chairman in May to prioritize the needs of the community and to enact procedures so those needs can be met.

"Obviously with the changing economy, we may have more needs than we’re aware of at this point," Keener said. "We just want to make sure we’re flexible in making sure all those needs are met for Hall County citizens."