Looking back: Franklin Jaycees ‘OMC’ is in progress

Published 10:32 am Wednesday, December 19, 2018

by Clyde Parker

December 19, 1968

The Franklin Jaycees are in the process of carrying out their annual “Operation Merry Christmas” project.

“The current estimate for the number of families and children that will be receiving aid this year is 132 families and 410 children. Accordingly, we have sharply increased our budget,” stated project chairman Kenneth Gay.

“Much more money needs to be raised in order for us to carry out the full scope of “OMC,” said Franklin Jaycee President Eugene Benedict. “All in all, we’ll probably spend well over $6,000 this year,” he said.

For many years, Operation Merry Christmas was a successful project organized by the Franklin Jaycees.

“Union Camp Corporation, Franklin Equipment Company, and the Franklin Charity Fund have been generous supporters of our project. Many of our local merchants, such as Western Auto, Steinhardt’s, and Panton and Lackland, have been very helpful by either donating or discounting, food, clothing or toys.”

In addition to providing food, clothing, and toys to needy families, “OMC” also includes the annual Franklin Christmas Parade, Christmas Theater Party for children at Lyon’s State Theater, Christmas gifts to patients and medical staff at Southampton Memorial Hospital, Christmas baskets for the elderly, and Jaycee Radio Day at the Clark Family’s WYSR.

“Radio Day” is an interesting project for the Jaycees. On that day, the Jaycees take over the radio station, doing all the advertising, programming, news and weather — with “coaching” by WYSR’s Augie Biedenbender and Mark Richard. All radio station revenue for that day is donated to “OMC.” This year’s project was held last Saturday.

“One reason for expansion of “OMC” is that we heard that some families in Nansemond County, down around South Quay, were in need of help,” said Earl Blankenship, co-chairman. “And, we are, as usual, assisting families in Southampton County and the Camptown section of Isle of Wight County — but this time even more so.”

Used toys are donated by people in the community. Jaycee members put in a lot of their personal time to do necessary repair work, making the items look almost like brand new. Kenneth Gay, Robert Holland, Clarence Puckett and David Flythe, along with many others from time to time, are hard at work doing this.

“Operation Merry Christmas” was originally conceived by early-day Jaycee member Dr. Ernest B. Gatten Jr. many years ago. Over the years, it has grown in so many ways, reaching so many people. “Operation Merry Christmas 1968” promises to be the best yet.


NOTE, as a follow-up to the preceding story: At the Virginia Jaycee State Convention held in Roanoke in May of 1969, the Franklin Jaycees’ “OMC-1968” was judged to be the most outstanding community Christmas programming in the entire State of Virginia, receiving the “Lacey McClelland Memorial Trophy.”

And, at that same convention, the Franklin Jaycee organization received the “Henry Giessenbier Memorial Award,” after being judged to be one of the five most outstanding chapters in the State of Virginia. That award recognizes a chapter’s overall balanced programming. President Eugene Benedict, who has been the major driving force behind the chapter’s increased community involvement and organizational development, accepted the award.

And, in May of 1970, at the end of Clyde Parker’s presidency, the Franklin Jaycee organization, again, was awarded the “Lacey McClelland Memorial Trophy” for “OMC-1969;” and, for the fourth year in a row, the chapter received the Henry Giessenbier Memorial Award.

At the 1970 United States Jaycee Convention in St. Louis, the Franklin Jaycee Chapter was given second place recognition for having one of the most significant Christmas programs in the entire United States.

The ultimate recognition given the Franklin Jaycees was in 1971. At the Virginia Jaycees State Convention held at the John Marshall Hotel in Richmond, following an earlier tri-state judging session in Charlotte, North Carolina, the chapter was named the MOST OUTSTANDING JAYCEE CHAPTER IN VIRGINIA, receiving the HENRY GIESSENBIER MEMORIAL TROPHY, winning out over the other 131 competing chapters throughout Virginia. Competition was intense.

Jaycee chapters located in small towns and in big cities were competing with one or another. Yet, even though competition from much bigger chapters such as those in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach, Richmond, Roanoke, Danville and Charlottesville was especially heavy, Franklin’s win was not a great big surprise.   

Franklin Jaycee President at that time, Richard Bowen, received the trophy on behalf of, and for, the large turnout of Franklin Jaycee members and their wives. Virginia Governor Mills E. Godwin Jr. was guest speaker for the convention and participated in the huge celebration.

During the period from the late-1960s to the mid-1970s, the Franklin chapter’s membership ranged from approximately 85 to over 100 young men. Membership was limited to young men from age 18 to 35.     

During the years earlier than the late-1960s, dating back to its founding in 1946, the Franklin Jaycee chapter, with its strong leadership by many young men, was laying the foundation for future chapter development and community involvement.

In years subsequent to the mid-1970s, the Franklin Jaycee Chapter, led by many young men and women, continued to be a major community involvement organization, receiving many additional awards, and much recognition not only in Franklin and surrounding communities but also throughout the State.

Sadly, in the late 1990s, due to its decline in membership, the Franklin Jaycee Charter was withdrawn.  The Franklin Jaycees had outlived its time.

CLYDE PARKER is a retired human resources manager for the former Franklin Equipment Co. and a member of the Southampton County Historical Society. His email address is magnolia101@charter.net