How UWWC Was Formed

The following is a 2004 narrative by Tom Voigt about how the local United Way was formed in 1994: 

I remember when… not too long ago… 1994 there were three United Way campaigns in Williams County… Bryan, Montpelier and Stryker.

At its peak in 1993, the United Way campaign in Bryan raised $100,000. Some of the places receiving funds were in the Bryan Gala Dining Center ($6,000), little league ($3,400), Bryan Softball ($2,400) and Bryan soccer ($5,280). Youth sports seemed to be a big selling point. We all knew we were missing the point of helping the needy of our county.

I remember when ARO Corp. was the leading corporate giver. In 1993, ARO still had 800 employees and ran a great campaign. Montpelier’s campaign was led by Robinaire. Well, Robinaire is gone and ARO just isn’t the same.

Patsy Mealer was on the first board and took excellent notes during that transition year.

As you might expect, it was Tom Mack from Henry County who got us going in January, 1994 with a meeting in this very same building.

Some of the people who served on the first board such as Jeri Adams, the Bryan Chamber Executive at the time, liked the county-wide idea since the Bryan Chamber had done all the Bryan United Way work free of charge. Bob Johnson, who was an earlier Bryan Chamber Executive Director, said that the United Way was part of his job and had no administrative costs, however it didn’t raise much. The 1987 campaign raised $80,000 and was just part of the chamber’s responsibility.

The first organizational committee included: Dana Bennett, treasurer, Tim Connors from Minteq, as well as Bill Clogg, Gordon Vaughn, and Dave Srodes from Robinaire. Roberta Oxender from Pioneer, Rob Storrer from Montpelier , Mike Queen from General Tire and Jim Armstead from WEDCO as well as Patsy and I were on the board. Everybody seemed to co-operate and think it was a good idea.

As I said, Bryan’s 1993-94 campaign had raised $100,000. Montpelier raised $38,000 and Stryker raised $5,000 for a grand total of $143,000.

There were a lot of special interest organizations supported by the United Way in those days. Many of the towns had youth sports on their list. In Montpelier, the See and Do club was important as were the music boosters and the senior center.

At our February 22, 1994 meeting we began addressing the following parochial issues.

  1. Many funds were not necessarily helping the needy. This took years and years to fix and we decided to grandfather out.  At this time 17 agencies supported were determined as not helping the needy.
  2. Some of the agencies were not county wide.

In all, the three United Ways had supported 43 different agencies in the 1993-94 campaign and needless to say, the new funds distribution committee had its work cut out for them. We had some very long meetings and not only did we have to eliminate agencies, when we announced United Way was county-wide, more agencies applied.

I had submitted research on the United Way organizations in Definance, Van Wert, Seneca, Darke and Clinton counties to help us work on those issues. The motion to establish United Way of Williams County was made on April 11, 1994. Bryan United Way gave $25,000 and Montpelier gave $5,000 to the new treasury.

Attorney Bob Lowe worked free of charge to dissolve Bryan and Montpelier United Ways. Bob also made up the code of regulations for the United Way of Williams County.

Mary Ellen Valaitis of General Tire Co. and Vaughn Gordon of Robinaire were the co-chairs of the 1994 campaign and Louie Harmon was hired as the first paid Executive Director for $1,000 a month.

At the April 11th meeting, Bill Clogg was elected president and Tim Conner vice president. Dana Bennett was the treasurer and Patsy Mealer the secretary.

The Williams County Customer Service Center became the new home.

On June 20, 1994 the first campaign goal was set at $218,000. On July 11, 1994 we reset the campaign goal to $ 222,000 to keep all the towns happy; we had to add more ball leagues. As I stated earlier this would take years to fully be resolved. There was also the continuing contract hassle with the American Cancer Society.

At the October 17, 1994 meeting, co chair Mary Ellen resigned because she was moving out of the area. Dave Scrodes of Robinaire volunteered to step in.

The new United Way was working hard just to be recognized.  We held celebrity bagging at both Chief and Miller’s supermarkets raising $1,890 and celebrity waiters at Ponderosa raising $ 1,689.  We also held a United Way coloring and drawing contest that was successful.

On November 21, 1994, new officers were selected. Tim Conners of Minteq was president. Dave Shrodes of Robinaire was vice president. Dana Bennett was the treasurer and Connie Frappier was the secretary.

At that time $97,951 or 44% of the campaign had been collected. By Dec 13, 1994 contributions jumped to $174,174 and we were off and running and as I recall we did reach our goal that first year.

A lot happened that first year but looking back we all thought that switching to a county-wide United Way was the right thing to do. I concluded one of my early research reports with the following.

REASONS for switching to a county United Way:

  1. It allows United Way to build on all the people in the county.
  2. Greater support will be generated throughout the county.
  3. More people will be served by a strong united way.
  4. It affords the opportunity to go from $ 150,000 to $300,000 .

Louie Harman was the United Way Executive Director for the first two campaigns followed by Penny Claudio from 1996-99. The next to serve was Thaddeus Huff for 2000-01 as well as Michelle Baker before Stacey Bock. All the directors and many volunteers contributed to what we have today. All in all it was interesting to be on the United Way board in the beginning and it has been a pleasure the last couple years.