Mention the words “Community Chest” and most people immediately think of the board game Monopoly. But, Parker Brothers, Inc. was just reflecting a common “door to door” cause when they included a yellow card saying “Pay Community Chest $20” in one of the best selling games ever.
In the summer of 1930, a group of Wausau businessmen and civic leaders felt the time was right for the Wausau area to organize a Community Chest. The intent was to consolidate the many fund-raising activities to avoid duplication of effort and costs. The goal in 1930 was $60,000, but the community raised almost $75,000 – at a time when this country was reeling from the stock market crash of 1929. The first campaign theme was “Help Meet the Need” and during most of the 1930’s the campaign was conducted during a one-week period in mid-October.
There were eight agencies that received Chest funds in 1930. Five of those are still partner agencies today: American Red Cross, Samoset Council Boy Scouts, Federated Charities (now Family Counseling Services), Marathon County 4-H and YWCA.
World War II Increases Need
As the Community Chest moved into its second decade, the impending war in Europe is evident in the material and ads of the Community Chest. The 1940 campaign theme was “Count your blessings as Americans,” followed in 1942 by ad copy that read “Some of us must fight and die! Some of us must work and Pay! If you can’t Go—Give.” It was during World War II that 16 foreign War Relief efforts were added to the list of funded programs, including two that have evolved into Lutheran Social Services and Catholic Charities. Also during this time there were frequent references to patriotism mixed with religion as reasons to support the Community Chest. With the end of World War II, the focus of the Community Chest changed to rebuilding, children, families and the American Dream.
The United Fund
There were many changes in 1957. The Wausau Community Chest became the United Fund of Marathon County. The occasion was marked by the lighting of an Olympic torch on the Courthouse lawn to recognize our United Fund as the 1000th Fund in the United States. Dignitaries from across the state and nation attended the event or sent congratulatory telegrams.
Stan Staples, president of the United Fund stated at the time, “Community Chest was an organization of agencies; United Fund will be an organization of givers.” During the next decade the United Way campaign grew to include thousands of new donors.
During the late 1950s and 1960s, more than 15 new partner agencies were added to the United Fund family. Most of these focused on disease prevention or providing services to these affected by terminal or long-term illnesses. The “dread diseases” of cancer, heart attack, polio, and others were a major concern, and United Fund not only contributed money, but purchased equipment for local hospitals.
Miss Virginia Lemanski, Detroit's "Miss Torchy" of 1956, uses the Olympic Games torch to light the big new torch which symbolizes the United Fund of Marathon County. Looking on are James Linen (right), president of the United Funds and Councils of America and publisher of Time Magazine, and S.F. Staples, first president of the new county United Fund. The ceremony took place on the courthouse lawn after Miss Lemanski and Linen arrived here by plane from Detroit, the first United Fund city, which sent "Torchy" to salute the Marathon County unit, 1,000th United Fund in America. (...Record-Herald Photo, September, 1957)
The United Way
In 1972 the organization’s name was officially changed to United Way of Marathon County, Inc. and the role of United Way in the community began to evolve as well. The first community-wide assessment was done in 1977—a forerunner of the biennial LIFE Report done today, and United Way provided more information about how funds were addressing real needs.
As the community changed over the years and workplace campaigns replaced door-to-door or neighbor-to-neighbor solicitation, many creative kick-off events were tried. One of the earliest was the torch-lighting ceremony which was repeated for several years. On September 20, 1972, the campaign was kicked off with the ringing of church bells throughout the city and a United Way Sunday was held in October of that year. The idea of Pacesetter companies starting their campaigns early and “setting the pace for the rest” was initiated in 1978 by Campaign Chair Dwight Davis.
Maybe the most visible and certainly the longest running kickoff event is the annual United Way Parade. Started in 1986 by an enthusiastic group of volunteers, the United Way parade has been held on the third Saturday of September ever since. Local businesses, partner agencies and area bands participate in one of the largest parades held in the city of Wausau each year.
Another fundraising milestone was reached in 1984 when the campaign raised over $1 million. In 1987, with the organization of the Summit League leadership giving program, the annual campaign saw significant growth, climbing to $1.8 million over the next five years. During that same time frame, United Way increased accountability by requiring funded agencies to define how their services helped people and the number benefiting from United Way funds.
2009 and Beyond
United Way has evolved from a fundraising organization to an organization that brings all segments of the community together to look for solutions to community-wide issues. It’s not just about how much money we raise, or how many people we help. That’s important—but even more important is a focused effort to address the root causes of problems like homelessness, poverty, early childhood development, abuse and more.
Together with our community partners, we will concentrate on preventing problems while maintaining a safety net for those in need. Our work will be guided by the “Roadmap for Change” developed by more than 100 community members who contributed hundreds of hours and many months to meetings and discussions about the most important issues we face today.
We invite you to be part of the change. Give. Advocate. Volunteer. LIVE UNITED.