History of the United Fund  

Serving Our Community for 140 years

On December 19, 1877, a group of about 40 women formalized their local philanthropic activities into “The Ladies Union Aid Society.” All from area churches, they set to work. Their goal was to comfort the sick, furnish employment to those who needed a job and collect or purchase items such as wood, clothing, shoes and food – all the while helping teach people to help themselves. Officers were elected, constitution framed and matron chosen to look after the house they rented on Seminary Street to temporarily house families. Their 1879 annual report in the paper listed their first year contributions as $132.68 with expenses of $112.51.

Of great interest (and rather bold at the time) the officers’ challenged the city: “At this time we would like to call the public attention to the fact that although many families have applied to us for help that have been brought to want through intemperance, yet there is a large proportion of men out of work who would be glad to labor at small wages, if work would be provided them. We take this opportunity as a society of ladies to earnestly urge the propriety of starting a stone yard that men can do something that will help support their families, and at the same time reduce the clouds of dust in summer, and sea of mud in autumn and spring, that Main street is noted for.” Bold indeed!

In 1884 the Union Relief Society (notice the name change) “distributed gifts and means that have been entrusted to its officers with economy and discrimination.” By 1913, and again a name change to The Smile Club, President Ted Williams was elected. He asked for referrals to their Christmas program. It was very much like our Basket Basics Program we do today; helping with personal and household items for families who are referred by area businesses and organizations.

We were called the Community Chest by 1924 and were headquartered in the Kiwanis Club rooms. The campaign ran from Thanksgiving through Christmas. Eight teams of volunteers met for lunch at the Presbyterian Church to get their campaign instructions, but they already had $600 from teachers and janitors at 100% giving, and donations from Norwalk Vault Co., McCrillis Handle Co., Garretson Lumber Co., and Huron County Bank. At the end of November, Fisher Auto took the Chest over goal with a $1500 donation, the equivalent of $20,934 in today’s dollars.

The Community Chest become a community funder in the 20’s in addition to their own programming which included a $1600 Emergency Fund. Requests from Girl & Boy Scouts, the Hospital, Red Cross, Opportunity School and Salvation Army were received. They raised $18,755.45, enough to fund all of the organizations who applied. The United Fund’s Budget & Admissions Committee still looks at every request and visits every organization applying for funding – that has not changed.

November 1933, the Great Depression. Reports in the paper cited a Goal of $14,000 ($258,000 in today’s dollars – in a population of 8,000!!) Our population is 16,000 today; that would be $516,000…in the depression! One of the 1933 campaign stories cited was that a young woman who worked as a domestic gave $10 the year before and $15 this year (that’s $184 and $276 respectively). Chairman Weidemaier was said to have checked up on her to make sure that’s what she wanted to do and she replied, with tears, about what the Chest had done for her and she wanted to participate as much as she could. What an inspiring story for such a difficult decade.

During WWII, and in cooperation with the 18 National War Fund organizations, they aimed for $17,000 and raised $17,076.24. President John F. Ernsthausen declared “Norwalk has not failed in a single war campaign, and I have confidence that our citizens and firms will put Norwalk ‘over the top.’” He was right. Our community was generous again as it had been all of the years before. A story from 1943 cited help given to a woman, her two children and sick husband meet their bills, a mattress for a sick man, a practical nurse for an ailing woman. Another article expressed gratitude to everyone who mailed in their donations and achieved the goal. Donations were to be mailed in to PO Box 134 – the very same box we still hold. They could also call Mrs. Brown for information. Her phone number was 9353. No, that was not a typo – it was a 4-digit number.

We funded 10 organizations in 1953 including Memorial Hospital and Mental Health. Three banks sponsored the drive for $16,100 with the tag line “No other dollars that pass through your hands can do so MUCH for so MANY.” A red feather was their symbol.

The Community Chest goal in 1960 was $16,400. Mr. Parke, President announced that we exceeded the goal – the year Norwalk Truck Lines and Fisher-Titus Memorial Hospital-Employee Civic Fund started employee payroll deduction as a way to benefit the Chest.

On June 26, 1961 at the Court House, a public meeting was held to establish the Norwalk Area United Fund. Our new Articles of Association were presented by Mr. Parke and an18-member Board of Directors was elected. Mr. Harry Parke was elected president; John R Gerken, VP; Tom Paffenbarger, Secretary and Stanley Pohl, Treasurer. Mr. Parke continued as president until 1978 followed by Curt Casper (pictured) who served until December 1989. Our 24-member Board continues to grow the Annual Campaign to fund area programs and continue its mission to provide for the needs in our communities.

Those 40 women started this adventure because they understood the community and created relevant needed programming – later becoming a funder. With support from our community we will continue this important work. We are…Better Together.

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