UWKC 65th VideoUnited Way of Kershaw County President Donny Supplee presents the Jake Watson Award for a lifetime of service to Rose Sheheen and her family during the organization's 65th Anniversary celebration on Wednesday, June 5 (6/5), 2019.
Donny Supplee pulled a fast one on Rose Sheheen and her family.
Despite the fact that Sheheen organized the United Way of Kershaw County’s 65th anniversary celebration Wednesday, Supplee -- the organization’s director since 1992 -- didn’t tell her she would be honored during that very celebration.
He did contact Sheheen’s children and asked them to attend with their mother, telling them she would be receiving the United Way’s Jake Watson Award, given to a group or individual who have given a lifetime of service to the organization and the community.
What Supplee didn’t tell them, however, is who the Watson Award was really being given out to: the entire family of Rose and the late Fred R. Sheheen.
As he began to reveal the award winners, Supplee said there had been three organizations and a number of couples who had received the Jack Watson Award in the past -- INVISTA, Lyttleton Street United Methodist Church, the Kershaw County School District -- but never a family, until Wednesday. As he tried hard not to give away the secret too quickly, Supplee actually threw his notes down on the ground under a tent being used out front for the ceremony.
“Today, we’re going to add a person to that list who is pretty incredible and I must apologize right now to the family because I tricked them into coming because it’s really a family award,” Supplee said, asking Sheheen to come forward and then ran to his car nearby to retrieve the award. “Rose, among other things is nosy and if I hadn’t done this, she would’ve figured this thing out, so I hid it,” he added to a ring of laughter, especially from Sheheen’s family.
He then asked Sheheen’s son Vincent, daughter Maria, daughter-in-law Amy, grandson Austin, and daughter Margaret to join Rose.
“The Fred and Rose Sheheen family, the United Way of Kershaw County -- if you see on the list (in the program), Fred was a former president of our board as well -- the family has meant so much to me, personally, but also to our community that we thought it was appropriate to add our first family to our list… So, to you, we are most thankful,” Supplee said.
Rose Sheheen thanked everyone on behalf of her family.
“I’ll just say that it’s always been my personal motto that there’s a destiny that makes us brothers and sisters. None come this way alone. What we bring to the lives of each other, it comes back into our own, and there’s nothing that we have done that is not multiplied and increased in our lives,” she said.
Earlier in the program, Sheheen, who is considered something of a United Way historian -- not to mention a former history teacher -- gave, appropriately enough, a history lesson about the United Way in Kershaw County. She said she spoke to many people, and that if she saw that they were “a little bit older” she would “grab them and ask them what they remembered about the United Way.”
Sheheen said Camden Mayor Henry Savage called the first meeting together in the Hunt Room of the Sarsfield Hotel, thanking all those who had been named directors who presided over the election of the first president of what was first known as the county’s Community Chest operation. That first president, she said, was Frank E. Rector.
“You have to understand, coming out of World War II and the Great Depression, there was this great feeling amongst people of community and of coming together and of working together and so when DuPont (INVISTA’s predecessor) ... when they first came in, they were very involved,” Sheheen said, explaining that many of the organization’s first officers were DuPont employees and executives.
The first secretary was Julian H. Burns, the father of current Kershaw County Council Chairman Julian Burns. The first campaign chairman was R.M. Kennedy III.
“These are a lot of lawyers and a lot of bankers,” Sheheen joked, “but representatives from all areas of the county were included… people from all over the county were involved. They organized 40 teams made up of 10. That was 400 people who spanned the whole county for that first drive.”
It was called the Red Feather Campaign and its goal was to raise $9,750.
“They actually raised $10,870 and six cents,” Sheheen declared, which was split among eight organizations:
• Girl Scouts - $500
• Boy Scouts - $2,400 (which drew some derision from the crowd on behalf of the 1954 Girl Scouts)
• Hospital Auxiliary - $900
• Associated Charities (which is still active today) - $250
• The Heart Fund - $1,000
• The United Jewish Appeal (Sheheen remarked that there were many Holocaust survivors throughout the state) -- $500
• Cancer Society - $2,000
• United Defense Fund -- $2,320
A remaining $1,000 was set aside as an expense, fund but wasn’t used that year, Sheheen said.
“The Community Chest of Kershaw County was one of the most successful in all of South Carolina,” she said.
Sheheen went on to note that the United Way has no historical record of its activities during the 1960s for some reason.
However, in 1959, she said, the Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce, at the request of Camden City Council, appointed a 40-member committee to study all the fundraising activities in the county. Once again, she said, Rector became the chairman. Council’s concern was that the national-level organizations of which local groups were members had a tendency to take money out of the communities from which they were raised.
The goal, Sheheen said, was to create a single, united fund.
The committee sent out 200 surveys to local businesses and received 122 back.
“They were thrilled,” Sheheen said.
So much so in one case: The chamber director at the time -- a Mr. Llewellyn -- couldn’t wait until the chamber’s next meeting and published the results immediately. For some reason, however, Sheheen said she could not find out what the committee recommended. Luckily, she did learn that in the next year, 1960, all Community Chests across the country became United Ways, and assume Kershaw County’s did the same.
“The Kershaw County United Way has grown significantly since its earliest beginning with a fundraising goal of $9,750 dollars; being housed in one room in the American Legion staffed by only volunteers. The first person that we can find evidence (of) is Jimmy Green,” Sheheen said and appealed to those present to assist them with personal knowledge or images, documents, news accounts, and even obituaries to fill the gap. “These people should not be forgotten to history. These are the people who made a big influence in our county and we want to remember them.”
Current United Way Chairman Mary Anne Byrd then talked briefly about the difference the organization is making now.
“Today’s United Way campaign raises more than $675,000 and employs a staff of 10 incredibly talented staff persons who provide direct assistance to those who need assistance in our community,” Byrd said. “Now, we have four areas of focus for the United Way: education, health and hunger, homelessness and financial stability.”
As a highlight, Byrd mentioned New Day on Mill, which has served more than 150 clients and 58 households since 2006.
“After leaving New Day, 93 percent of program participants move into permanent housing and 83 percent improve their income status,” Byrd said. “Community volunteers also provide four financial literacy lessons to more than 850 4th Grade students in our Kershaw County schools … (and) teach them to save, share and spend the money they earn to teach them financial stability at an early age.”
Byrd also touched on a program called “Hand to Hand Mentoring” for students needing additional support, and the United Way’s relatively new Mobile Nutrition Center that delivers healthy, nutritional food to the county’s “food deserts.” In addition, she noted the presence of the Community Clinic of Kershaw County and Food for the Soul on the United Way campus.
Supplee, in his 27th year as the United Way of Kershaw County’s president, talked about the future of the organization by talking about what that future is not. He held up an image generated from a website parodying each of the 50 states. The one for South Carolina he said showed a “mother of the year” holding a beer and a baby in one arm and a rifle as large as herself in the other.
“That’s not the future of South Carolina,” Supplee declared, crumpling up the piece of paper and throwing it to the ground. “That’s a mistake. We have a lot to overcome, sometimes, with people’s perspectives of what South Carolina is all about and I think that Kershaw County is a great place to show that we make a huge difference in our community. And our community is not the United Way -- it is our community and we’re part of it and we appreciate that you are the United Way.”
Supplee said that honoring its Legacy Leaders is one way of recognizing that with the future comes change.
“If you can dream it, you can achieve it,” he said, and then quickly went on to say, “My board probably would not be happy about me sharing who some future Legacy Leaders are, but I can tell you and with great confidence, that Arthur Holsten will be on that next list… Bob Sheheen called me one day 20 years ago and said, ‘You’re going to get a bequest from this man named Arthur Holsten,’ and little did we know we it was going to be enough to begin the purchase of this building to implant a dream that we had had, but we didn’t have what Lent Bridges, when he was at First Palmetto and served on our board, said, ‘You have to have two things: You have to have a down payment and you have to have an anchor tenant.’”
Holsten’s bequest -- which Supplee said earlier during Wednesday’s event totaled $300,000 -- took care of the first prerequisite. The county, he said, took care of the second when it decided to move the Department of Social Services from what is now Camden Police Department headquarters to the “One Stop Shop” that would become the Holsten Center.
He went on to speak of various dreams being fulfilled, such as the Community Medical Clinic, as well as a goal of ending homelessness.
“In 2008, we said we wanted to end it. There were 106 people we counted that day. This year, we counted 50, but over 40 of those were either in Food for the Soul or in our transitional shelter… So, we’re getting close to that dream,” Supplee said.
What are the next dreams, he asked.
“What if every child had a place with supportive, trained and educated parents? What if every child started and finished Ready to Learn and entering school? What if every child graduated high school? What if there was a trained and ready workforce? I know Julian Burns isn’t here, but I want him to know that we said we want a trained and ready workforce. What if there was no more obesity, no more mental health concerns, no more lack to transportation? What if there were no food deserts? What if there was transportation for people that needed it and we could get them here? What if there were no more homeless people in the community?
“Those are the ‘what ifs,’ the ‘what can you dream,’” Supplee finished.
Prior to the outdoor ceremony, Supplee and his oldest living predecessor president, Dean Jordan, looked over newspaper clippings of past United Way activity in the Holsten Center’s conference room. With them was Camden Mayor Alfred Mae Drakeford who was president in 1998. It was she, Jordan and Supplee said, who signed the purchase agreement for the center.
Jordan said when he was president in 1972, he started asking the agencies under the United Way’s umbrella to be accountable for their expenditures.
“They were pretty resistant,” Jordan, who is still president of the Associated Charities that used to run a children’s home in Camden, said. “Some of them still are.”
Supplee said there were 3,000 United Way organizations in Kershaw County when he moved over from Columbia’s Babcock Center in 1992. Now, he said, there are only about 1,400. Some of that is due to mergers.
“Some have just gone under,” he said.
The good news is that the United Way of Kershaw County is considered one of the most successful in the state with its 65 years of history and much more on the way.