United Way celebrates 50 years of community giving

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 11, 2004

United Way of West Central Mississippi Barbara Tolliver laughs about trying to blow out the 50 candles marking the United Way’s 50th birthday during the annual meeting and awards program Tuesday evening at the Vicksburg Convention Center. (Jenny Sevcik The Vicksburg Post)

[2/11/04]Aided by a cake topped with 50 candles, the local chapter of the United Way toasted its 50th birthday Tuesday and took time to honor volunteers for their commitment to serve Vicksburg and Warren County.

Begun in Vicksburg as the United Givers’ Fund, the agency is now called United Way of West Central Mississippi.

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The celebration at the Vicksburg Convention Center was a chance for United Way leaders to pay tribute to those who donate and raise money and those who provide community services.

“These people give and give and give and give,” said president Barbara Tolliver. “Anything you ask them to do, they do. They give up their own lives.”

United Way is a national organization with autonomous local chapters. Each raises money in combined charity campaigns to help free member agencies to spend more time providing services.

Top awards this year went to Johnny Reynolds and Steve Reynolds, who are not related, as Volunteers of the Year; Bryan Brabston received the Leadership Award; Coordinator of the Year was Janice Carstafhnur; and Alene Thornton was Agency Director of the Year.

Living in Vicksburg and working at River Region Medical Center has shown Johnny Reynolds the importance of giving, he said.

“I love this town,” he said. “And working at the hospital, you meet people in need, and a lot of times you want to give back.”

Reynolds is a patient advocate at the hospital on U.S. 61 North.

The other Reynolds receiving the same award is the director of marketing at Ameristar Casino Hotel, and Steve Reynolds said his workplace provides him support in helping out in the community.

“It is part of our responsibility to give our time to others,” he said. “I work for a company that allows me the time and resources to do as much as I can for United Way.”

Ameristar was given the Corporation of the Year award.

Brabston moved back to Vicksburg and is retired from Exxon. He called receiving the leadership title “overwhelming” and said he was practically at a loss for words.

The United Way raised nearly $1.5 million for 2004, and the money will benefit 23 agencies.

But the birthday party and annual meeting focused more on the past with a glimpse to the future.

Tolliver said she looked at old records in preparation for the 50th anniversary.

The agency raised $127,734 in 1953, when the annual household income was about $4,000, Tolliver said.

“I think the past indicates what we will be able to do in the future,” she said. “Leaders could raise money back then, and the needs are still present today… That inspires me to work a little bit harder next year.”

“I am looking forward to a long history with the United Way,” Tolliver said. “Tonight’s gathering and the encouragement we’ve received from so many people reinforces my belief that the United Way will be here another 50 years.”

Briggs Hopson III was honored for his work as 2003 board chairman, and Kim Tullos, general manager at Isle of Capris Casino, is the 2004 chairman.