A local agency that has a long history of helping the community is celebrating a special anniversary this year.
The United Way of Randolph County began when folks like Ralph Shepler, Harold Younky and Clay Whetsell set out in 1961 to form a new organization. They had a vision of a one-time fundraising county campaign, rather than 10 to 12 agencies each going around trying to raise funds.
It took the group about a year to get everything together and file to be incorporated. This was the birth of the United Way of Randolph County.
United Way board members celebrate reaching their goal on the lawn of the Randolph County Courthouse Dec. 29 1989. Pictured are, front from left, Scottie Wiest, Bonnie K. Phares, Sue Pifer, Sharron Reckart, Karen Bialek and Robert Cockrell. Second row from left, Robert Darden, Lucille McGee, Josie Cuda, Robert Morris, Ralph C. Hess Jr., Rev. Baisl Hensly and Roger McMahon. Back row from left, Dr. Wally Edgell and James Patton.
The first United Way program began in 1887 with the vision of a Denver woman, a priest, two ministers and a rabbi. The group recognized the need for cooperative action to address their city's welfare problems, according to information from the United Way.
Frances Wisebart Jacobs, the Rev. Myron W. Reed, Msgr. William J.O'Ryan, Dean H. Martyn Hart and Rabbi William S. Friedman put their heads together and planned the first united campaign for 10 health and welfare agencies. They created an organization to serve as an agent to collect funds for local charities, as well as to coordinate relief services, counsel and refer clients to cooperating agencies and make emergency assistance grants.
That year, Denver raised $21,700 and created a movement that would spread throughout the country to become the United Way.
Bonnie Phares, longtime executive director for United Way of Randolph County, said the reason for success of the local organization is the board of directors.
"Our United Way has always had the good fortune to have a strong, dedicated group of people who work hard for success," Phares said. "This is the key to its success for the past 50 years, and what will make it fruitful for the next 50 years and beyond."
Phares said being the United Way executive director for 23 years was very rewarding.
"I began as a part-time employee, and it grew to the point that the work could not be completed in half a day, so I moved to full-time," she said. "The fact that the board of directors has faith in me caused me to always do my very best."
Phares said the organization always helps those in need.
"One year I remember Catholic Community Services (now Catholic Charities West Virginia) came to us during the annual request for funding," she said. "They told us of a family living in a tent because both parents had lost their jobs. Being able to help people in need gives you a great feeling."
Two really big fundraising changes during her tenure include the auction and car sale.
"In 1984, Bill and Beverly Johnson spearheaded an auction," Phares said. "No other United Ways had auctions at that time. The first year we made a few thousand dollars, but it has grown and now makes upwards of $20,000."
The other big fundraiser was added by Lloyd Teter, who donated a vehicle for at least 15 years.
"It was always very successful," Phares said.
Elkins resident Judy Guye Swanson said she began working with United Way of Randolph County in the 1970s.
"I was very involved with Girl Scouts, and became involved with United Way because they are a big supporter of Girl Scouts," said Swanson, who worked as campaign chairwoman, assistant chairwoman and president of the board.
Swanson said one big boost while she was with United Way was when Ira Coberly worked with area businesses to get workers to participate in payroll deductions. The idea was that it is easier to donate in smaller amounts on a regular basis - and those donations add up. Giving $1 each pay period is simple, and it amounts to a nice donation.
She recalled attempting to make a presentation once that didn't turn out as expected.
"One time, I was going out with Mr. Coberly to speak with the employees of Huttonsville Correction Center," Swanson said. "We drove up to the prison, and all of the dogs were out. The had an emergency, and we had come in the middle of that. We ended up not being able to make our presentation that day."
She said the flood of 1985 seemed to be a turning point for those donating to the United Way of Randolph County.
"After the flood, people saw firsthand the good things our partnering agencies accomplish," Swanson said. "With the concern for others, donations began to grow."
United Way Board Member Robbie Morris joined up in 2010.
"My father, Bob Morris, was involved with United Way in the late 1980s and 1990s," Morris said. "He was involved in a great many community organizations and he and my mother instilled in me the importance of community service. They led by example and always volunteered."
Morris said his dad was his hero, so it inspired him to take an active roll in community organizations.
"I wanted to be involved with the same things as my dad," Morris said. "My fondest memory of the United Way is going to the auction every year with my dad. We spent the entire day together, and it was so much fun."
Morris said the United Way brings a sense of compassion to the community, and believes residents are blessed to have one in Randolph County.
"United Way is recognized worldwide as one of the premier community service organizations and supports many of the vital service organizations in our community," Morris said. "By supporting the United Way, you are able to help everything from food banks to animal shelters and libraries, to Boy and Girl Scouts.
"The number of citizens and businesses that have supported the United Way over the years is astounding. Countless people have been helped by the generosity of others through the United Way."
Sue Pifer was a member of the United Way board of directors and was named volunteer of the year. One of the projects she spearheaded was the United Way Quilt.
"Members of the community purchase a kit and create a block for the quilt," Pifer said. "This gives members of the community the opportunity to have a hand in raising funds for the United Way."
The project has been a very popular fundraiser for more than 25 years, and is featured during the kickoff auction.
"We all have fun with the quilt," Pifer said. "One of my favorites was the 2011 quilt, based on special black and white fabric featuring a variety of West Virginia scenes."
She said it is important for businesses to give back to the community and to provide support for various agencies in the community that help in a myriad of ways.
Cindy Hammer, Catholic Charities West Virginia regional director, said the organization receives funding from the United Way on a monthly basis.
"We are thankful to be a United Way agency," Hammer said. "We could not do the things we do without the support of agencies like United Way. If we had to go out and raise these funds ourselves, we would not have time to do our work."
Randolph County Senior Center Director Laura Ward agrees with Hammer.
"The funds we receive from the United Way help us to provide meals to seniors in Randolph County," Ward said. "One in every seven senior citizens is at risk of not receiving proper nutrition. We could not provide these services without the help of United Way dollars."
Gary Clay, campaign director for the United Way of Randolph County, said the United Way continues to grow with the help of the volunteers and donors.
"In the future, we will continue to look at the community to assess where the needs are and see where funds need to go," Clay said. "We will continue to expand our workplace programs, giving employees the opportunity for payroll deductions."
Clay said the group is looking for ways to obtain more planned giving bequests.
"Planned giving affords the opportunity to help the United Way of Randolph County for the next 50 years," Clay said.
According to the United Way of Randolph County website, "The United Way has brought together people and resources to build a safety net to help meet the needs of our friends, neighbors, co-workers and families. ... When we think of others' lives as linked to our own, our compassion grows. When we reach out a hand to one, we influence the condition of all. We build the strength of our neighborhoods, we bolster the health of our communities and we change the lives of those who walk by us every day."
The United Way of Randolph County is located at 309 Henry Ave. in Elkins. More information is available at 304-636-0516 or www.unitedwayrandolph.org.