One Hundred Years of Civitan Service

August 15, 2022

Civitans In Salisbury: How It All Started

As “The Great War in Europe” ended in 1918, our country’s soldiers returned home to a hero’s welcome after defeating Germany and the Central Powers.  Many of these young men had fought from muddy French trenches under horrendous conditions, and they came back with a new appreciation for the small towns and communities across America from whence they had come. Their families happily welcomed their sons back with formal social events and parties, and they tended to form close-knit groups not unlike extended families, with friendships that would last a lifetime.

In July of 1922, a 32-year-old Salisbury lawyer and World War I veteran, Charles Lee Coggin, rented out the dining room of the swank Yadkin Hotel and invited about 25 of his closest friends to a formal luncheon.  Most of those invited were also war veterans and many of them were younger than 26 years old, just starting out careers as lawyers, bookkeepers, insurance salesmen and storekeepers. Coggin was a well-known local orator and a natural leader. He had earned his law degree at UNC just before World War I and had served throughout the War as an officer instructor at two camps in South Carolina. 

Charles Coggin circa 1916(3).png

Charles Lee Coggin, from his

1916 Law School Yearbook Portrait

Taking the podium, Coggin gave an impassioned speech describing the problems that he saw in the town of Salisbury and the surrounding area – problems such as poverty, lack of educational opportunities, lack of recreational facilities and poor street sanitation.  He then proposed that the group start a Civitan Club similar to one started just four years earlier in Birmingham, Alabama to address problems such as these.  Those present agreed to the plan, and they obtained their Civitan Club charter on August 15, 1922.

 

The Club elected Salisbury lawyer William E. Hennessee as their first President, and Coggin became the new Club’s first Vice President. Coggin later become the only member in the Club’s history to serve two terms as President.  In keeping with the express purpose of encouraging the growth and development of new leadership in the community, our remarkable club has had 103 different Club Presidents over the past 100 years.

 

The Civitan Club of Salisbury has now grown over the years to over 100 members and continues to enjoy a reputation as being a club of friends and a club of leaders.  Our members have included city councilmen, county commissioners, a city manager, members of municipal boards, school superintendents, a postmaster, state legislators, members of state commissions, and a member of the U.S. Congress. We have had a college president, deans, professors and trustees, engineers, business executives, teachers, merchants, ministers, bankers, insurance representatives and others from almost every part of our social, political, religious, economic and educational community.  Three of the five currently serving Rowan County Commissioners are members of our Club.

 

One of our Club’s more remarkable accomplishments was bringing newly elected President Dwight D. Eisenhower to Salisbury to celebrate Rowan County’s Bicentennial in 1953.  The Chairman of the Committee was the popular Civitan and Postmaster James H. McKenzie, Jr., and two of the remaining four members of the steering committee were also Civitans.  An estimated 50,000 people attended the Bicentennial parade through downtown Salisbury that year, and some 15,000 people packed the Catawba College stadium to hear Eisenhower give a 15-minute speech, which was widely reported in the national news media by reporters who were in shock over the President’s insistence that he personally visit such a small community.

 

Once an exclusively male club, the Civitan Club of Salisbury opened to female members and began actively recruiting them in the early 2000's.  Today close to half of our club members are female, and among them are realtors, restauranteurs, retirees and businesswomen, all with the same desire that our founding members had... to be an active part of bringing solutions to the problems of our community.

 

Like other Civitan Clubs across the nation, our club has sponsored numerous Junior Civitan Clubs like that started recently at North Rowan High School.  Good citizenship, a value that is a big part of being a Civitan, is promoted and encouraged in clubs in schools across the nation.  Our Club offers $15,000 in scholarships annually to local high school and college students involved in charitable activities.

 

The Civitan Club today remains one of the most active civic organizations in Salisbury.  Before the COVID pandemic our trademark fundraising event was the annual “Spaghetti Feast” at the Salisbury Civic Center, and if you have attended the annual “Tis The Season” Holiday Parades in Spencer and Salisbury you’ve seen our Civitans lining up floats and directing traffic.  We provide officials for Special Olympics events, and we sponsor charitable organizations such as Saving Grace Farms and Victory Junction Camps.  Along with all other Civitan Clubs, the Salisbury Civitans also support the Civitan International Research Center in Birmingham, Alabama.  Since opening in 1992, the CIRC has emerged as a world leader in the research and treatment of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) which impact the lives of one in six people worldwide.

 

The Civitan Club here in Salisbury was recently recognized as being the third largest Civitan Club in the nation!  While community civic clubs in general may recently have declined somewhat in popularity, the Civitan Club of Salisbury continues to enjoy a vibrant, active relationship with the community and still attracts members who want to do more to help their neighbors and friends. It is our fond hope that we will celebrate at least another one hundred years of service to the Salisbury community and beyond.

From the article "Civic Improvement"

by Club Archivist Bill Bucher, Jr.,

Salisbury The Magazine August 2022, pp. 42-45. 

Today's Civitan Club of Salisbury