The Statesboro Jaycees, organized beginning in 1938 and fully chartered in January 1940, introduced Sunday movies as a fundraiser in the 1940s – helping to end a city ban on showing motion pictures on Sundays – and two decades later led a local drive to push the polio vaccine to a large majority of the population.
Those were two highlights from a history of the Statesboro Jaycees presented to the Bulloch County Historical Society during its April meeting by three current Historical Society members who were leading Jaycees in the 1960s. Jack Henry and Edwin Akins were Statesboro Jaycees presidents; Henry for 1965-1966 and Akins for 1967-1968, while Rodney Harville was a Georgia Jaycees state director for 1967-1968.
Harville, also a past Bulloch County Historical Society president, talked about the growth of the Jaycees nationally and the beginnings of the Statesboro chapter. Henry “Hy” Giessenbier Jr., who had founded the Young Men’s Progressive Civic Organization in St. Louis, Missouri, with 32 members in 1915, successfully encouraged the formation of similar groups in other cities. These came together in January 2020 to form the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce.
Leodel Coleman, long the editor and one of the publishers of The Bulloch Herald, was dubbed “Mr. Statesboro Jaycees” for his role in launching and continually promoting the club, Harville said. Officially formed during a meeting at a restaurant called the Tea Pot Grille on Jan. 11, 1939, the local chapter was chartered by the Georgia Junior Chamber of Commerce that year and received its national charter in January 1940.
“In 1940, one of the most controversial projects was started and would not end until 1946,” Henry said in his prepared remarks. “This was the showing of motion pictures on Sunday, which was forbidden by the City Council with backing from the Ministerial Association. Townspeople who wanted entertainment on Sundays challenged someone to come forth and oppose the council.”
The Junior Chamber – for which Jaycees was originally a nickname and later became the official name – took up the cause. In an opinion poll, 599 of 724 respondents wanted Sunday movies, but Statesboro City Council still voted twice not to allow them. On a third vote months later,
the council agreed to allow Sunday showings with restrictions on the hours and the content of films.
“The controversy lasted until 1946 when the Ministerial Association was given the right to reject the showing of any movie they deemed inappropriate,” Henry said in his script. “The club was given a portion of the admission fees for their efforts in obtaining the rights to have Sunday movies.”
Movies were shown at the Georgia Theater, the cinema later restored for live performances by the Averitt Center for the Arts as the Emma Kelly Theater.
The Jaycees used the money for their scholarship fund and other projects, he said.
For most of these early details, Henry, Harville and Akins relied on a written history by another local Jaycees leader they knew. The late James “Chick” Radcliffe, who was Statesboro Jaycees president for 1966-1967, wrote “Youth on Parade 1938-1966: A History of the Statesboro, Georgia Jaycees.”
Polio vax drive
In 1963 when the Sabin oral polio vaccine became widely available, the Statesboro Jaycees again took a community leadership role, as Henry noted from Radcliffe’s history.
In fact, the Bulloch County Hospital’s staff and the Statesboro Junior Chamber of Commerce were “joining forces and energies in the promotion of a county-wide project designed to provide immunization of every man, woman and child in Bulloch County against polio,” the Statesboro Herald’s parent newspaper, called after a merger The Bulloch Herald and Bulloch Times, reported May 9, 1963.
The vaccine was administered in three doses. So, a series of three “Stop Polio Sundays” were held that May 19, Oct. 20 and Dec. 8 at 13 sites – elementary schools – around the county.
On May 19, 1963, the first Sunday, 18,863 people turned out within six hours, Ric Mandes, as publicity chair for the Statesboro Jaycees, reported on the front page of the May 23, 1963, Bulloch Herald and Bulloch Times. He noted that this amounted to 77.7% of Bulloch County’s population of 24,263 at that time.
In 1951, the local Jaycees had started their annual Empty Stocking Fund, collecting donations of clothing, nonperishable food items, toys, books and cash for families in need identified by what was then the Bulloch County Welfare Department.
Among many other service projects that Henry noted were the annual Labor Day Coffee Breaks launched in 1957. In the years when U.S. Highway 301 was a major tourist route, the Jaycees would set up two “coffee stations” on South Main Street to provide rest stops that furnished travelers coffee, orange juice and printed information about Bulloch County. When this project was extended to four nights in 1963, more than 2,900 cups of coffee were served, Henry said.
In 1962 the Jaycees held the first of their annual horse shows that raised money for the Recreation Department. Over the years, the Jaycees backed the construction of the historic swimming pool pavilion called the Pav-A-Lon, which was removed in 2016, and Jaycees Field, both at Memorial Park.
Through the years covered in the historical presentation, the Jaycees remained an all-male organization, for men up to age 35 and originally as young as 18, and the local club grew to have 135 members. The Statesboro Jaycettes, founded in 1964, was made up of Jaycees’ wives, who assisted with Jaycees projects and launched some projects of their own.
Not included in the historical presentation, the Statesboro Jaycees eventually became inactive for a number of years. But the chapter was resurrected in 2014 and now has 38 members. Like today’s Jaycees chapters across the country, it is open to young professionals, women as well as men, ages 21-40.
In fact, a majority of the Statesboro Jaycee’s current leaders are women, as seen when nine of the current members, including President Hayden LaTulip , Vice President Meagan Lee and other officers, attended Monday’s meeting as guests of the Historical Society.
The group has helped oversee the Toys for Tots drive the past two years and recently hosted a Poker Run with Bikers Against Child Abuse. Among other projects, the Statesboro Jaycees hold a Luck of the Irish Raffle each March and an annual Drinks for a Cause fundraiser to benefit a selected organization.