By Kelly Daniel
For the Opelika
The Opelika Civitan Club, which played a prominent role in the community for many years after its founding in 1950, sold its clubhouse to Christ Covenant Church on Aug. 8. James Powell Jr., an active member who served as the club’s treasurer for over 40 years, explained the decision to sell the building in an interview with The Opelika Observer. Powell said that after 10 years of decreased membership, the remaining members decided to sell the clubhouse because their numbers had dropped to the point that there weren’t enough people to pitch in to maintain the building. Before the last five to 10 years, the organization had sustained membership numbers that allowed the club to carry out its purpose of promoting civic engagement in Opelika.
The club is part of Civitan International, a civic organization founded in Birmingham in 1917. The organization started as a broad civic organization before choosing to focus on the primary cause of research and advocacy for individuals with neurological disabilities, as is stated on the club’s website.
Significance in Opelika
Through its history, the Opelika Civitan Club brought together some of Opelika’s most dedicated citizens to contribute to the wellbeing of the community while also supporting Civitan International’s mission. During the years, the Opelika Civitan Club’s membership included leaders from Opelika’s government and organizations throughout Lee County. Powell listed a few examples, including former Sheriff Herman Chapman, former Mayor Bobby Freeman and former County Commissioner Denson Barfield.
In the preface to the organization’s written history, former Opelika Civitan Club President Charles Bush and his wife Glenda stated that by gathering the club’s achievements and milestones, “what has emerged from this process is a picture of a small but very active civic club that has made a significant contribution to the Opelika community.” The preface continued, “There is no doubt in our minds that Opelika Civitan has made a difference in the quality of life in Opelika for its citizens.”
Contributions Throughout History
One point emphasized by Powell and active member Don Mullins in the interview referenced earlier is that The Opelika Civitan Club existed to help people, and all of the money raised by the club was donated back into the community and worthy causes. The club provided funding for local schools, The American Cancer Society, the Food Bank of East Alabama and many others. The club also gave donations to the Civitan International Research Center, which develops treatments for developmental disorders while promoting the support of individuals with neurological disabilities worldwide.
The club was able to benefit these organization through successful fundraisers. Fundraisers over the years took many forms, including events, fish fry dinners, and the sale of Claxton Fruitcakes. In addition to supporting charitable causes, the fundraisers brought Opelika citizens together for fun events, which sometimes even brought tourism into Opelika.
When asked about the achievements of Opelika Civitan Club, Mullins described one of the organization’s most successful projects, a series of horse shows that the Opelika Civitan Club organized along with Opelika High School band parents. As stated in the organization’s history, “This “AA” rated event attracted horse enthusiasts from throughout the southeast.” The shows brought people together within the community and attracted thousands of visitors to Opelika from 1960, when the first show was held, until 1976.
Close to the Hearts of Its Members
For several current members of the organization, the club has been a part of their lives from a young age. Powell recounted his first significant memory with The Opelika Civitan Club as a child, which was of helping the Civitan Club to sell Claxton fruitcake in a food cart placed in the city of Opelika. The club has been a significant part of Powell’s life since childhood because his father, Jim Powell Sr., had been an active member since the mid-1950s, serving as the club manager for many years.
The clubhouse, which was built mostly through the labor of Civitan members under the leadership of Arthur Wood, was the location of Civitan Club meetings and fundraisers, including highly popular fish fry dinners that were a mainstay of the club. When asked about unique characteristics of the club, Powell said that the Civitan Club members actually cooked the food that was provided at meetings and events, while many civic clubs order from restaurants and catering services. When the club rented its building out for local events, the club members often provided the catering themselves.
After the club is gone, its current and former members, as well as their family members, have made plans to continue one of the club’s traditions. As Powell shared in a written statement, “Even after the club is gone, we have ex-civitans, family and friends of civitans that have pledged to continue to display the flags on special days throughout the city.”
When asked about the sale of the building, Powell expressed gratitude that a church had purchased it.
“We feel and hope our building will continue to serve the people of Opelika for many years to come,” Powell said.