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Rekindling the flame

Pictured is some of the playground equipment at the Second Street Park, also known as J. Robert Long Memorial Jaycees Park. The park also includes two basketball goals. The Connersville Jaycees helped develop the park, at Second Street and GrandAvenue, and now aim to renew their commitment to it.

By BOB HANSEN - bhansen@newsexaminer.com

In an era when civic involvement is decreasing, the Connersville Jaycees is an organization trying to buck the trend.

Not long ago, the organization invited potential Jaycees to learn about the club. Twelve new members signed on. The club also elected new officers, some of whom have been Jaycees for less than a year.

Officers include Brian Durham, president; Ryan King, vice president; Libby Lucas, secretary; and Benjie Cloyd, treasurer.

A former Jaycees president, funeral director Joel Long, shares enthusiasm for the organization with Durham, who is a marketing representative for the local radio station. But they are on opposite sides of the Jaycees’ age divide.

Unlike many civic groups, a person can’t grow old and continue attending meetings. Jaycees is a national organization which started as the Junior Chamber of Commerce and purposefully limited its membership to young adults. When a person hits 40 years old, he or she can no longer be active.

Long is past that age – he’s an “exhausted rooster” in Jaycees terminology – but, speaking with him, it’s obvious a flame still burns in him for Jaycees.

Jaycees is part of the Connersville community’s hope for the future as well as having accomplished much in the past, Long said. Durham, who grew up here and worked in the Cincinnati area for a few years, came home to live. He, too, sees the club as vital to the community’s future.

“I think people my age really want to be involved,” Durham said. But young people don’t want the commitment of a meeting every week.

“Jaycees is not like Rotary, not like Kiwanis,” said Durham, who also belongs to both of those groups. “We don’t meet every week and have a program. We meet about monthly and talk about a project that we’re doing. I tell people if they can commit to eight hours a year, like for the 4th of July or maybe four hours a day for the go-karts, then that’s what it takes.”

Jaycees work on the projects that interest them. They don’t have to be there for weekly meetings. And, said Ryan King, the vice president, it’s a fun-loving group. “We do good things but we have fun doing it,” comparing it to the best aspects of a fraternity.

Long remembers when Jaycees led or were involved with nearly every civic effort. He recalls the Jaycees raising more than $45,000 to help move the Longwood Covered Bridge to Roberts Park, furnishing equipment for the Second Street Park (known as Jaycees Park), building several shelters in Roberts Park and restoring a mausoleum that had fallen into severe disrepair.

“In the past, the Jaycees were involved in nearly every project,” Long said, “Little League, promoting the national draft (for military service). The Jaycees had quite a history for getting things done.”

More than that, he says the organization provides valuable training that carries over into civic life.

Every project, he said, is guided by a Community Planning Guide. Project chairs prepare the CPG, listing the steps of what needs to be done, how much money needs to be raised, and planning all the details needed for successful completion. Once the CPG is completed, the chair presents the project to the Jaycees membership, who discuss and decide whether to become involved.

“The Jaycees taught me there’s ways to get things done and people wanting to be involved,” Long said. “Jaycees is unique among organizations. It’s a young person’s leadership development organization.”

King, the director of golf at Willowbrook Country Club, joined about five months ago – at Durham’s invitation – and finds himself the new vice president. 

“It’s an 18-to-40 club,” King says. “A lot of young folks in Connersville don’t know how to get involved in the community. This is a really good opportunity for them to go out and get involved.”

He said the reinvigorated Jaycees will be represented at this weekend’s Dribble Over Drugs 3-on-3 basketball tournament, Apple Dumpling Days on Sept. 15 and the group’s own golf tourney Sept. 29.

That’s in addition to raising money to pay for Connersville’s Independence Day fireworks show. Today, the 30th Street Shell is donating some of its profit from gas and sandwich sales to the Jaycees for the fireworks. A bowling tourney organized earlier this year by Durham raised about two-thirds of the $12,000 needed for the fireworks. The Jaycees Grand Prix go-kart races will be June 30 and July 1.

Among Durham’s goals for the organization is restoring the Second Street Park, which he calls by its official name, the J. Robert Long Memorial Jaycees Park. If it’s going to be there, the park needs to be in good enough condition that people want to use it, Durham said.

He told the city’s Parks Board recently that the club also wants to raise funds to put up a shelter at Offutts Park on the city’s north side.

The organization now has about 25 members, Durham said. Long remembers a time when 50 or members would come out for projects. Durham plans to rekindle those days.