Early in 1935, with the United States still in the throes of a dark depression and signs of need plainly in view all around them, the members of a women’s bridge club in Lexington decided unanimously to shift their club’s emphasis from card playing to community service. Their immediate concern was the plight of underprivileged children both black and white.
On March 13th at the home of Mrs. Don Walser the club met. They elected officers, chose a constitution committee, began making plans for a Well-Baby Clinic to be held at Dunbar School under the direction of pediatrician Dr. Jean Craven, voted to cut the value of their high score prize to twenty-five cents, and to bring a silver offering to each meeting of “at least” a dime. They named themselves The Charity League of Lexington.
Eight days later in a called meeting after by-laws were read and approved; the first Baby Clinic was set for April 2nd. Between the afternoon hours of 1:30 and 3:00 black babies up to the age of three would be examined and evaluated as to well-being and diet. A silver offering was taken and plans were made for their first moneymaking project… a rummage sale. The Charity League was off and running!
Within 2 months the fourteen charter members decided to abandon the bridge portion of the club meetings and elect some new members. Thirteen Lexington women joined the group in June of 1935. They met year-round that first year. The members volunteered their services at the weekly Baby Clinics and at the Kiwanis Kiddy Kamp. They raised money in a variety of small projects such as selling magazine subscriptions, saving Octagon Soap coupons, holding turkey raffles, and sponsoring plays and movies. With their profits they bought milk and cod liver oil for the babies, and clothing for the Kamp children. They held 48 clinics in 12 months, seeing 1,000 children and contributing 3,178 volunteer hours.
Those early League pioneers set a standard of excellence for the members who have followed them, but they also provided sterling signposts for their successors. Concern for children and young people became projects to benefit them and this focus has continued to dominate the work of the League. Funding tonsillectomies for hundreds of children; providing milk and free lunches for school children; purchasing incubators for the hospital and clothing for Boarding Home children; instituting and funding visual aids programs, remedial reading programs, hearing testing programs, and vision screening programs are but a few of the many projects aimed at helping local young people. For almost fifty years the Charity League has contributed to the pleasure and enjoyment of Lexington’s school children by presenting for their viewing a series of beloved fairy tale dramas produced and acted by The Children’s Theater.
The very first League Constitution provided for an Outside Case committee. That committee has survived for nearly seventy years, still doing the same work for which it and the Charity League were originally created: “The purpose of the League shall be to improve the living conditions and health and to foster the happiness of those less fortunate than we.”
During the 40’s, with the membership having grown to more than 50, the League broadened its outreach to include “fostering interest among its members in the social, economic, educational, cultural, and civic conditions of the community.”
In 1940 the annual Charity League Fund-Raising Drive was initiated, a project which would continue for 14 years. Members solicited citizens, business, and industry, rising from $783.60 in 1940 to more than $2,600 in later years. In 1953 the project was abolished as members voted to become self-supporting.
World War II brought different kinds of service projects. There was a Defense Committee and a Camp and Hospital Committee. Members rolled bandages, sponsored and participated in Red Cross classes, entertained soldiers, and bought War Bonds.
As the first Lexington Memorial Hospital was being constructed on Weaver Drive in 1944, the League made its first substantial gift to a community endeavor, pledging $1,000. Since that date many thousands of dollars have been raised and donated to local worthy causes including the YMCA, Civic Center, new Lexington Memorial Hospital, Davidson County Library, Davidson Medical Ministries, the Domestic Violence Project which merged with Youth and Family Services to become Family Services. It is estimated that the League has raised and given back to the community in excess of $750,000.
The decision to become self-supporting in 1953 necessitated finding sources of revenue. The League’s first permanent moneymaking project was the Bargain House, opened in 1956. It was the outgrowth of a clothing room that served the needs of the Outside Case Committee. Rented quarters were utilized until 1963 when members opted to purchase property of their own. Less than two years later they burned the mortgage on the house, used it for almost 30 years, and sold it in 1994 for a handsome profit. The popular Holiday House and Bazaar began in 1960; and League members compiled and published their first cookbook, “Taste of the Town” in 1969, added 4 chapters in 1977 and published “Taste of the Town, Second Serving” in 1986.
Some projects, which the League has instituted, fall into several categories. The Sub-Debutante Ball was a major revenue project from 1955 through 1970. At the same time it was an outstanding social event in the area with its related activities honoring high school senior girls. In 1965-66 the League voted to assist the Lexington Library as it moved to interim quarters. League members physically packed up the books, moved the Library, and donated about $6,000 for new equipment.
The decade of the 80’s brought adaptation to changing times, revisions to policies and the Constitution, new projects, increased revenues, and big contributions to community endeavors. Members celebrated their 50th Anniversary in May of 1985. They decided to abolish the original form of the Holiday House Bazaar and replaced it with successful auctions and trash and treasure sales. They became actively involved with the Child Abuse Program, creating the Child Abuse Puppets, and volunteered in three areas of service within the Domestic Violence Program. Their major donations went to Lexington Memorial Hospital, the Lexington Library Foundation, Domestic Violence, Hospice of Davidson County, Alcoholic Centers for both men and women, the Life Center, Meals on Wheels, the Homeless Shelter, and the Lexington Educational Association.
The 1990’s saw more changes. The Active Professional category was dropped and the League welcomed workingwomen into its ranks as full-fledged members. Board meetings were moved to evenings to accommodate those members. There were two constitutional reviews during the period and placement projects were re-examined to be sure they were equitable. The Bargain House was sold; a deal was crafted to lease the present site; and members voted to open the House in the summer. They also ventured into the age of technology with the purchase of a computer. New ideas came forth to encourage associate members to stay involved in League affairs as well as the possibility of shortening the years-of-service requirement.
The Lexington community saw change as well. New needs arose. New agencies were founded to answer those needs. The Charity League responded to the call for help. Members became heavily involved with the start-up of Davidson Medical Ministries through strong financial support and a corps of volunteers. A scholarship was endowed at Davidson County Community College. Significant contributions were made to Habitat, Ecumenical Ministries, and Contact. Support continued for the YMCA, Family Services, Lexington Memorial Hospital, and Lexington City Schools. The 20th Century came to a close and a new day dawned. The League began the new century with a noteworthy amendment to the By-Laws changing the terms of office for the president, vice-president, and immediate past president of the League to one-year terms. All other terms of office for League officers remain at two years.
In 2006, the Charity League felt it was necessary to review League’s profile and purpose. This review was called the Strategic Planning Initiative. In the fall of 2006, planning sessions were formed and divided into four major categories- Membership, Technology, Service Projects and Fundraising Projects. All active League members were required to participate in a planning session. Many Associates and Associates Sustaining members also participated in the planning sessions. The outcomes and recommendations of the planning sessions were delivered to the membership in the spring of 2007 and the membership voted on the Strategic Planning Initiative in April 2007. Some of the results of the Strategic Planning Initiative were the adoption of an official Logo, the change of the League’s fiscal year, the board composition, a graduated fine schedule, increased financial responsibilities, membership requirements, technology initiative and the addition of new service and fundraising projects. The results of the Strategic Planning Initiative were applied to the Charity League’s By-Laws and in April 2008 the membership voted to adopt the amended By-Laws.
In 2008 The Charity League celebrated the 50th anniversary of Holiday House by hosting a three-day event at the Bob Timberlake studio and opening the Shoppes of Holiday House in the gymnasium at The American Children’s Home. This event was a huge success and allowed us to offer a one-time grant of $25,000 to a deserving agency in the community. A committee reviewed the grant requests and narrowed down to three agencies, Project Potential, YMCA SOS After School Program and the Literacy Program for Lexington City Schools. After three secret ballot votes the count was split equally three ways. The committee requested an additional $5000 and each agency was given $10,000. In 2011, two new service projects, Special Olympics and Girls on the Run, were adopted. Also per our Constitution it was time for a Constitution Review again. Having done such an extensive review five years earlier under the Strategic Plan Initiative, a small committee was formed to review the Constitution and suggestions were garnered from the Membership. After careful consideration By-Law amendments and policy changes were presented, discussed and voted upon and passed in May 2012.
This writing has viewed the Charity League’s Past and Present. Its Future is yet to be revealed, but with its strong, dedicated membership of women of all ages, its Future would appear to be in good hands. The League has expanded, but its vision has remained the same.
Dr. Jean Craven
Mrs. John B. Craven (Peggy)
Miss Elizabeth Davis
Mrs. C.H. Hargrave (Eva Hackney)
Mrs. Cecil Hayes (Rachel)
Mrs. R. Nat Hunt (Helen)
Mrs. John A. McCrary (Katherine)
Mrs. Richard Phillips (Mary)
Mrs. Reynolds Shoaf (Mildred)
Mrs. Charles V. Sink (Polly)
Mrs. Casper Timberlake (Ella)
Mrs. Charles M. Wall (Gene)
Mrs. Don Walser (Margaret)
Miss Frances Walser
Presidents of the Charity League
1935-1938 Miss Elizabeth Davis*
1938-1939 Mrs. John McCrary (Katherine)*
1939-1940 Miss Elizabeth Davis*
1940-1942 Mrs. Paul Hinkle (Mary)*
1942-1944 Mrs. Cloyd Philpott, Sr. (Frances)*
1944-1946 Mrs. Charles Wall (Gene)*
1946-1948 Mrs. Joe Sink, Sr. (Dot)*
1948-1950 Mrs. J. O. Burke (Fleta)*
1950-1952 Mrs. Stokes Adderton (Cats)*
1952-1954 Mrs. C.H. Hargrave (Marlin)*
1954-1956 Mrs. Henry Hilton (Louise)*
1956-1958 Mrs. B.C Young (Isobel)
1958-1960 Mrs. L. M. Grimes (Shorty)*
1960-1962 Mrs. W. F. Welborn, Jr. (Jerry)*
1962-1964 Mrs. Robert Leonard, Jr. (Julia)
1964-1966 Mrs. W.F. Brinkley, Jr. (Helen)*
1966-1968 Mrs. Fletcher Wall, Jr. (Jeanne)
1968-1970 Mrs. Harry Anderson (Kitty)
1970-1972 Mrs. Joe H. Leonard (Marguerite)
1972-1974 Mrs. Walter Coles (Jackie)
1974-1976 Mrs. Charles Jordon (Georgeanne)
1976-1978 Mrs. A. L. Davis, Sr. (Jeanne)*
1978-1980 Mrs. C.H. Timberlake, Jr. (Teen)
1980-1982 Mrs. James Byerly (Jeanne)*
1982-1984 Mrs. R. B. Smith, Jr. (Martha Ellen)
1984-1986 Mrs. Guy Smith (Melinda)
1986-1988 Mrs. John Welborn (Janice)*
1988-1990 Mrs. Don Strickland (Margaret)
1990-1992 Mrs. William R. Whitehurst (Jane)
1992-1994 Mrs. William E. DeLapp (Sara)
1994-1996 Mrs. William J. Distler (Lee-Anne)
1996-1998 Mrs. Towers Dodd (Sally)
1998-2000 Mrs. Jim Honeycutt (June)
2000-2001 Mrs. Marilyn Taylor
2001-2002 Mrs. Paula Turlington
2002-2003 Mrs. Michele Grier
2003-2004 Ms. Julia Meyer
2004-2005 Mrs. Gwen Greathouse
2005-2006 Mrs. Navahlia Quesenberry
2006-2007 Mrs. Suzanne Rohrbaugh
2007-2008 Mrs. Ellen Welborn
2008-2009 Dr. Cathy Riggan
2009-2010 Mrs. Cheryl Wicker
2010-2011 Mrs. Lynnae Benton
2011-2012 Ms. Raeann Biesecker
2012-2013 Mrs. Brenda Houser
2013-2014 Mrs. Laurie Briggs
2014-2015 Mrs. Leigha Smith
2015-2016 Mrs. Jane Hedrick
2016-2017 Mrs. Wendy Walker
2017-2018 Mrs. Trean Ellis