In The Beginning There Were Five
In 1964, Barbara Smith recognized a growing need in their community for volunteer services in the educational, economic, and cultural areas. This, together with the social needs of the young women to participate in the growth in their community, spurred her to undertake the monumental task of initiating the organization of what is now the Junior League of the Emerald Coast, Inc.
After consulting with members of various Leagues from Tallahassee to Pensacola, Barbara enlisted Sug Brown, Carolyn Crotzer, Boota Walker, and B.J. Totten. By July 1964 they, as charter members, completed the organization and incorporation through the office of the Secretary of the State of Florida, which resulted in the League being chartered as a non-profit corporation in February 1965, and the first incorporated meeting was held in March of that same year.
Throughout the entire year “surreptitious” meetings were held every Tuesday. The need for secret meetings arose from confusion about the Association of Junior Leagues Handbook’s statement concerning the confidential nature of League activities.
This group of five vividly recalls the election of the original officers, Sug Brown agreed to be President, and the remaining four charter members filled the other four offices.
Despite the waxing and waning of enthusiasm, there always seemed to be at least one person whose optimism held the group together. Extensive surveys were conducted to determine the needs for services, and the groundwork was laid for expanding the membership.
A luncheon for twenty guests was held at the Lemon Tree. Following a social hour, B.J. Totten broke the news to the guests as to the purpose of the gathering with gratifying results. By dessert the membership had swelled to eighteen, and the Junior Service League of Fort Walton Beach was launched into its first full year of operation under the guidelines of the Association of the Junior Leagues Handbook.
Visions of the 60’s
Five charter members grew to eighteen and then to twenty-nine. The playground Daily News described these founding members on September 28, 1969 as “young wives, probably mothers, who are seeking to balance their lives between service to their families and service to their communities.” The newspaper went on to say ” the purpose of the Junior Service League of Fort Walton Beach is to promote civic pride within its membership, in the social, economic, educational and cultural fields, and to efficiently render volunteer service to the community.” Each member has a quota of 8 hours of service a month, but in fact they spent many more hours a month on community projects and fundraisers.
Their vision of community service became a reality when in 1967 over 200 hours went in to the production of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” the first in a series of four puppet shows designed for the entertainment of the primary grades. “Puppet Theatre” delighted school children for eighteen years. In 1968, seven educational suitcase exhibits were prepared for use in elementary schools. By 1969, 5260 school children had been tested for hearing deficiencies and 1033 volunteer house expended on the Hearing Testing Project. Initial research had begun to study the feasibility of a Speech and Hearing Center in Fort Walton Beach. Junior Service League volunteers also contributed to the city library, chamber of commerce and the Indian Temple Mound Museum. Fundraisers to support these projects included a Bridge Benefit, Rummage Sale and annual Bundles Coffees.
In the 70’s the Visions Grew
Membership grew to eighty women during the seventies. The Junior Service League Speech and Hearing Center held its grand opening in January 1971. League members worked at the center and continued the Hearing Testing Project in the school on an “as needed” basis. Bundles Coffees, Puppet Shows and Suitcase Exhibits continued. The vision expanded to include historical research and the publication of “Recollections”-The History of Fort Walton Beach and the restoration of the Camp Walton Schoolhouse, which opened as a museum in 1976. The Schoolhouse became the League headquarters as well as the site of numerous community events organized by the League members.
A League newsletter was started and members received individual League handbooks. The League supported a newly established League of the Arts by hosting an Evening With the Arts from 1972 to 1976. They studied the feasibility of forming a Volunteer Action Center, donated filmstrips to local schools, purchased $4546 of equipment for the School of Hope, served on the City Beautification Commission, participated in a variety of community programs and started the Child Clothing Project.
Fundraising to support the ever expanding League projects grew with Casino Nights, annual Fashion Shows, the Santa Rosa Mall Opening Cocktail Buffet ,which attracted 1500 people and raised $10.000 during that single event, Rejects and Relics Bargain Sale and a Christmas Decorators Showcase.
Strengthened Vision of the 80’s
The League continued to grow and in 1989 membership stood at 262 women. In 1987, the Junior Service League of Fort Walton Beach became the 286th member of the Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc. The three year affiliation process from 1984 to 1987 required by the AJLI served to strengthen both our League’s internal structure and to solidify its vision of community service and community action. The addition of a Public Affairs Committee, including participation in the State Public Affairs Committee, opened new avenues of involvement in advocacy for the League.
Members continue to serve as docents at the Camp Walton Schoolhouse. They hosted community events there and the building continued to serve as the League headquarters. The League soon outgrew the Schoolhouse and began meeting at the First Methodist Church. An office was rented for the League headquarters and a part-time Secretary was hired to provide continuity in helping the League meet its commitment to the community.
League members volunteered in the areas of children, legal aid, and juvenile justice, historic preservation, grantsmanship, health and welfare, environmental resources, community affairs, the disabled, education, drug abuse, advocacy and cultural affairs. From these focus areas, members developed projects to meet community needs and devote volunteer hours.
Highlights of the 80’s include the restoration of the Garnier’s Post Office, The Amanda the Panda and Safe At Home Alone projects, Child Clothing and the 1989 opening of the F.O.C.U.S. Center. In 1982, the League received both the Liberty Bell Award from the Okaloosa-Walton Bar Association for their work with Legal Aid and the Guardian Ad Litem program as well as the Paula Hawkins Award from the U.S. Senator Paula Hawkins for volunteer efforts within our community.
After three years of research, testing and editing, Sugar Beach Cookbook made its debut in 1984 with the publication of 15,000 copies. This fundraiser was an addition to the very successful sale of Christmas Gift Wrap and Greenery, Rejects and Relics Bargain Sale and an occasional fashion show.
League of the 90’s
Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It’s Into The 90’s We Go….
The Junior League of the Emerald Coast forged ahead, growing from 225 members in 1990 to 249 members in 1999.
Here’s a look a what our hard-working, full of smiles volunteers were doing back in 1990:
Amanda The Panda project helped educate parents of newborns.
Safe at Home Alone project taught 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders how to be safe at home when alone.
As of May 1990, the new and exciting hands-on Science/FOCUS Center in Fort Walton Beach had over 3000 school-children visitors.
The Child Clothing project clothed 123 children (over 18 schools participated).
The first “Volunteer of the Year” award was presented.
It was the first year to have two provisional classes.
It was the first year to have a Community Advisory Board. Fifteen members of the community representing areas of education, government, social services, arts and culture were invited to serve.
The JLEC was selected as a finalist for the Dick Petermann Award for community service.
The year 1990 was a BIG year, not only did we accomplish all of the above, but it was also the 25th Anniversary of the JLEC! Twenty-five years of steadfast commitment and involvement to our community! Here’s a “high-five” for all the hard work of our dedicated JL volunteers!
Moving right along on our 1990’s timeline, lets see what our JL lady-leaders were doing in 1995:
Buckle, the Safety Bear project
Safe at Home Alone project
Done-In-A-Day projects (one of which was making Easter baskets for kids and the elderly)
We had various fundraisers during this time period:
The Duck Race
Gift Wrap / Christmas Greenery wreaths
Rejects & Relics Sale
Sugar Beach cook book
Wrapping it up for the 1990’s, let’s take a glimpse into the year 1998-1999:
In May of 1998 the Staff family donated the Historic Gulfview Hotel to the Junior League. In July, 1999 the League received a grant from the State of Florida for the exterior renovation of the notable building. The League also obtained approximately $100,000 in cash and in-kind donations to match the grant funding. Conclusively, the restored building would provide office space, meeting rooms, a museum space and historical research library on the first floor.
Reading programs were established where volunteers worked with local libraries to promote literacy.
Buckle, the Safety Bear
Fundraisers consisted of:
97 for $97 (for child clothing)
Gift Wrap / Christmas Greenery Wreaths
Sugar Beach cookbook
Friends of the League
The Ducks Race Festival
American Girls (dolls)
Overall, the 1990’s were a decade of fulfilling the Junior League’s purpose: promoting voluntarism and improving our community. The JL has granted its members “the joy of filling someone’s need.” Let’s hope that the 2000’s are just as fulfilling as the 90’s!
The New Millenium
JLEC in the 21st Century
As the Junior League of the Emerald Coast entered the 21st Century, there were many new and exciting projects on the horizon along with the support of continuing past successful efforts to provide a stable foundation.
Gulfview Restoration – (2000- 2003) The recent donation of the Gulfview Hotel by Staff’s Restaurant presented the JLEC with the opportunity to bring the 1920’s building back to it’s former historic beauty while utilizing it for leased office space and accommodations for weddings, receptions and professional meetings. The space would also serve as a headquarters for the JLEC. Best of all, the building represents the local area as a historic landmark and helps to enrich our communities history as a place that was first popular as a resort community along the Emerald Coast in the beginning of the 20th Century.
Suit Up to Move Up – (2000-2003) Working in cooperation with the Okaloosa County Commission on the Status of Women (OCCSW) members helped to offer professional attire to women entering the workforce through the Welfare to Work program. This helped women to acquire gainful employment and build a better sense of self-confidence.
Child Clothing – (2000- 2009) Continuation of the successful outreach program clothing 200+ under-privileged children in Okaloosa and Walton counties has brought about profound support.
Mentoring – (2000-2001) This project entailed the creation and structuring of a local mentor program. This included recruiting area professionals to reach out and mentor to local children and highschoolers in the community.
Holiday Angel Tree/ Giving Tree – (2001- 2005) Offering the public an opportunity to support children during Christmas by selecting their names off a tree in a retail location and purchasing gifts for them that they might not otherwise receive. This began at the Stein Mart location and as it became more successful spread to other local business locations.
Kaleidoscope – (2001) A traveling Hallmark science exhibit that came to our Santa Rosa Mall location supported by JLEC membership involvement. This was an educational outreach opportunity.
Done in a Day – (2001-2009) Volunteering opportunities to do service to the community in a one-day activity. Activities were available to support a variety of causes and local service on a monthly basis but did not require long-term commitment.
Totes for Tot and Teens/ Suitcases – (2002-2004) This program provided children involved with foster families with suitcases for special items and clothing so as to make them feel some sense of permanence during insecure times.
Teacher Grants – Program to develop and distribute grants to local Okaloosa and Walton County k-12 teachers for classroom use on projects to enrich the education of children.
Emerald Evening – (2000-2005) First launched as a semi- formal evening fundraiser to help support the Gulfview Restoration project, Emerald Evening was a fun event for JLEC members and supporters alike to enjoy entertainment, delicious food and exciting live and silent auctions. From the first Emerald Evening held at OWCC to the most recent in 2005 showcasing speaker and renowned author Jill Connor Browne, Emerald Evening has been a successful and fun way to raise money for the many positive JLEC programs.
Sugar Beach – (2000-2002) Continuing the sales of the popular JLEC cookbook publication, this project was a year round annual fundraiser that not only helped with fundraising, but also in spreading the JLEC name, purpose and impact on our community.
Beach Appetit – (2000- 2009) With the introduction of a new JLEC cookbook, much effort was needed in the creation, marketing and sales aspects of ensuring it would be as successful as Sugar Beach. Owners of Sugar Beach were excited to own the next chapter in local foods of the Emerald Coast as well as remembering the Sugar Beach favorites carried over into the new cookbook.
Charity Sales – (2000-2003) Fundraising efforts through ticket sales for department store sales events to benefit community organizations were a way each member could help support the League in the fall and spring.
Gift Wrap – (2000- 2008) Sally Foster gift wrap and gift products
Holiday Greeting Cards – (2003-2004)
Christopher Radko – (2000-2002) Christmas ornaments
Annual Fundraising and Holiday Luncheons – (2000-2001)
Feel Like a Millionaire (2000)
Rejects and Relics – (2004-2005) Drawing on the success of this event in the 80s and 90s, this rummage sale fundraiser involved the entire league’s donating gently used household items, furniture, clothing, toys and much more to be sold to the public. The events included entertainment and food at a preview party sale as well as silent auction.