hat eventually became the United Way had its beginnings 60 years ago, 1953, in Washington. With the 2013 campaign about to begin, it’s interesting to look back on its history. We did that by looking at The Missourian files from 1953.
The idea of one fund drive by uniting agencies in one major campaign was hatched by the Washington Planned Progress group. That group was created by Union Electric, which now is Ameren. Union Electric started the program in communities it served. It was an early “think tank.” The goal was to improve the communities and quality of life. The idea was if the communities prospered so would Union Electric.
In February 1953, Planned Progress in Washington began. Dr. Walter H. Heseman, a dentist, was elected temporary chairman. Later that same month, Henry Hartbauer was elected president of Planned Progress. Other officers elected were Norbert Barringhaus, vice president, and Robert Lange, secretary-treasurer. The group began to hold regular meetings.
wo of the initial ideas were to have a summer playground program for children and a united drive for funds for agencies that normally would conduct their own drives. Local leadership was being drained by ending one drive and beginning another. It seemed there was a never-ending campaign for funds, with many agencies seeking donations. Donors also were tired of being asked for funds.
An organization called the Community Chest was born. That organization began to hold one annual drive. Later it became the United Fund and finally the United Way, with support from the St. Louis United Way. Also, in recent years, it became the Franklin County Area United Way.
Not all charitable organizations that were used to holding their own campaigns were thrilled to be part of the united way of giving. Initially, some didn’t agree to be a member agency. Later some of those agencies did join. There still are a few holdouts.
or many years, it was an all-volunteer organization. Along the way, the Washington organization partnered with the St. Louis United Way. Paula Obermark began working part-time for the United Way in 1980 and then became the full-time executive director. She just retired after a 33-year career with the organization. There now is a new generation of leaders.
In the beginning, about a half dozen or so agencies joined in one united drive. Gradually, the number grew. There now are 48 member agencies that share in the results from the campaign. The United Way from the very beginning screened organizations that wanted to be members. The screening also includes an evaluation of the organization’s needs and past record.
The goal went from a few thousands dollars to now slightly more than $1 million.
There are countless people who have volunteered the past 60 years, serving in many capacities, a number of them for many years. The organization has been blessed with excellent leadership. The cooperation of member agencies has been rewarding for the organization and for their needs. The needs have grown with population growth.
The organization has lived up to its objectives — the main one to eliminate the many fund drives and to hold one major campaign each year.
Last year was the first in which $1 million was raised. With a goal slightly higher this year, with the needs of member agencies growing, it’s going to take another strong push to be successful. With the cooperation of donors, we don’t doubt for one Franklin County second that the campaign will be successful.