HANNIBAL – The United Way of the Mark Twain Area celebrated its 80th anniversary on Monday, with donors, board members and partner agency members reflecting on the milestone and unveiling two steps toward the future — United Way Legacy Giving Societies and a new endowment fund.
Executive Director Denise Damron shared some history with guests in the packed dining area at Riverside Inn — UWMTA began in 1939 as a Red Feather Society raising $17,000 before becoming a Community Chest. In 1978, the organization officially became a United Way member. From the first year on, UWMTA has raised funds through an annual campaign and supported area nonprofit organizations with funding and specific projects. Since 1939, $15 million has been raised thanks to generous donors.
Tom and Becky (Preston Danner and Lanie Privett) presented awards to several donors after Damron and 2019-2020 Campaign Chair Justin Gibson unveiled a sign displaying the four tiers of United Way Giving Societies: Huck Finn, $5,000-$9,999 in donations; Community Hero, $10,000 to $24,999; Community Impact, $25,000 to $49,999; and Samuel Clemens, $50,000 or more.
"There are many individuals in the community who have given to the United Way for over 30 years," Damron said. "It is the commitment of individuals like these donors that make the work of the organization possible."
Pat Benson talked about how he became a part of the UWMTA Allocation Committee, helping decide which nonprofit organizations would receive funding or specific initiatives. His wife, Connie, served on the board at the time and suggested he join the group.
"I truly believe —I've said this many times — coming in that way and serving on the Allocation Committee, I think you truly get to see what the United Way is all about," Benson said.
He remembered the joy of seeing what organizations and agencies in Lewis, Marion, Monroe, Ralls and Shelby counties are doing to give back to their communities, stressing that the "presentations were just awesome."
"You got to see what truly was happening," he said. "As you gave of your time and your talents and your possessions and your money, you got to truly see what that was going toward. It was so easy, year after year, to be involved in this great organization."
Dave Dexheimer told everyone about a permanent endowment fund through the Community Foundation Serving West Central Illinois and Northeast Missouri. The new fund would be a way to supplement each year's campaign. Donors can give portions of their trust or will to the endowment. The goal for the new endowment is to use the money for operating expenses over time — freeing up more money to support partner organizations.
"Every agency and organization ought to have some plan for the long term," he said. "We've got to think ahead."
Dexheimer was grateful to celebrate the 80 year anniversary, and he commended Damron and Administrative Assistant Teresa Niemeyer for discovering records and several campaign brochures from past years. Preston and Lanie made the rounds to greet everyone at the event, and they agreed the evening was special.
"It's an honor to be able to be here and celebrate 80 years with them — to be their Tom and Becky."
They walked up to chat with Joe and Janet Yarbrough as the group shared their enthusiasm for what the United Way has accomplished.
"They've done a lot of good work the years they've been active in the Mark Twain area," Joe Yarbrough said. "Lots of lives have been affected, and lots of lives have been helped by them."
Damron expressed her excitement about the difference UWMTA made in the past, as well as what the future will bring.
"Thank you guys so much for coming and celebrating the past 80 years, and we are looking forward to the next 80, we just might not all be here for it," Damron said, sparking several chuckles and a round of applause.
More information about the UWMTA's endowment and projects in the community is available by calling 573-221-2761.