“Proud of our past and challenged by the future” is a significant phrase that can well describe the Great Rivers United Way. On July 20, 1949, the La Crosse Community Chest and Welfare Federation was created. Retired Circuit Court Judge Peter Pappas and businessman Ted Solie remember that community leaders back then were continuously tapped to donate to community causes. When asked to explain the reasoning to create the Community Chest, Solie said, “It seemed like a good idea to pool resources and raise money for multiple agencies.”
The Community Chest and Welfare Federation had three purposes:
- To provide a means for agencies and the community to work together for the best possible program of health and welfare services for the people of La Crosse.
- To study and define social welfare problems and human needs. After the problems have been discovered, to find ways and means to solve them.
- To raise and disburse funds for voluntary member health and welfare agencies which provide services to the community.
In 1949 there were seven agencies: YMCA, YWCA, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Salvation Army, La Crosse Home for Children, and La Crosse Welfare Association. Albert Funk, Jr. served as the first Campaign Chair with a goal of $101,760. “It was the first campaign after the war and we didn’t know what to expect,” said Funk. John Felton from Northern States Power recruited him and told him that all he needed to do was “stand around and look wise.” The campaign met with overwhelming success and exceeded their goal by over $30,000. Funk attributed the success to the appeal of supporting multiple agencies with one contribution.
Now Great Rivers United Way continues to be our region’s premiere fundraising organization. There are currently 27 local agencies certified to partner with United Way, and 51 programs are funded through our Community Investment process. Since 1949, Great Rivers United Way has raised over 55 million thanks to the generosity of our community and the hard work of our volunteers.