During the Christmas season just past, the Portsmouth Jaycees held its 80th annual Christmas parade in downtown Portsmouth.
October 1977 marked the opening of their haunted house. According to lifetime member LeRoy Hackworth enough people paid the $2 admission fee that first year to allow them to pay off what was then the just purchased vacant home that became the haunted house and their headquarters on Gallia Street.
Hackworth didn’t know off the top of his head when the group started their annual Easter egg hunt or yearly spring trout derby.
Attendance figures for the latter event are weather dependent, said Jenny Richards, a naturalist at Shawnee State Park, talking last year about the 2018 derby.
“Usually, by about 6 a.m., the lake is covered with boats,” she added.
Hackworth said the civic organization he joined in 1977 had 170 members in 1983. Since then, for whatever reason, interest in the Portsmouth Jaycees has fallen off considerably. Currently there are 14 paid members. The group is in serious jeopardy of losing its national charter. They must have a total of 20 dues paying members by the end of March or they will be forced to forfeit their charter and simply cease to exist.
Dues are $60 annually.
“Mostly, I guess I just got a lot of confidence out of it,” said former longtime member Rick Morgan, one half of Portsmouth’s Morgan Brothers Jewelers. Jaycee membership is for persons 18 to 40 years of age. Morgan has passed the age of 40 and is not a dues paying member of the group, though he is considered a lifetime member.
“To me, that was a great honor, them giving me a lifetime membership,” Morgan said.
As did Hackworth, Morgan specifically mentioned gaining practice and poise with public speaking, although Morgan did quip, he never really became a proficient public speaker. Still, he said there are a lot of things he is able to do now he does not think he would be able to do had he not joined the Jaycees all those years ago.
Neither Hackworth nor Morgan had a definitive answer as to why interest in the Jaycees has waned. Morgan said he believes many time-honored civic organizations such as the Kiwanis and the Rotary, are experiencing membership difficulties. To some extent, he said, the gene promoting community involvement seems to have grown somewhat weaker over time.
An employee of Scioto County, Hackworth said the Jaycees can provide a wonderful, real life networking tool. He noted the Portsmouth group is somewhat informal in that they run the organization in a style he referred to as the “country club version” of Jaycees. In other words, they do not follow strict parliamentary procedure. Largely because the membership problems, the group currently has no president.
Hackworth talked a lot about planning for the group’s various events. He specifically mentioned, as an example, the Easter egg hunt held annually in Portsmouth’s Mound Park. Somebody interested in running the event or some other event of their choosing or creation, essentially would create a business plan outlining how the event would unfold. Organizers need to understand what materials are going to be needed, where those materials will come from, how many volunteers will need to be on hand, what the costs are, if any, and so on. Hackworth said the professional and personal benefits of taking on such a project, building your leadership skills, should be self-evident.
Hackworth said as of this moment the Portsmouth Jaycees charter will be 80 years old this week. That makes the group the oldest continuously operating Jaycees chapter in Ohio. By some quirk or another, the Portsmouth group is not the oldest Jaycee group in the state.
The possible demise of the group has been gaining a lot of attention on various social media. Hackworth believes that attention and some other measures will help ensure the group’s survival. He said a number of people already have stepped forward and expressed an interest in joining the organization. But Hackworth added, they have not crossed the finish line yet and more members always are welcome.
Even if the worst occurs and the Portsmouth Jaycees do lose their charter, Hackworth said the organization is committed to both the Easter egg hunt at Mound Park and the trout fishing derby at Roosevelt Lake in Shawnee Forest. Regarding the fishing derby, Hackworth said various other groups, such as the Friends of Brush Creek, are involved in have a stake in ensuring that event takes place.
For anyone interested in joining the Jaycees are just finding out more information, you can visit their Facebook homepage. You also are invited to call their Gallia Street headquarters at (740) 353-6709. The next meeting is at the headquarters, 2033 Gallia, on the first Thursday in March.