History of the Southside Business Men’s Club

Welcome to the Southside Business Men’s Club. We are very proud of our substantial history as a Jacksonville civic organization.

Following the merger of Jacksonville and South Jacksonville, in early 1932, the Southside Business Men’s Club was founded by a few civic minded men who wanted to improve the working environment of the Southside of Jacksonville. At that time, the Southside’s link with Jacksonville was by one bridge and an old ferryboat. Only one telephone existed on the Southside and records show that it was number 367 belonging to a Mrs. H.P. Phillips.

Early leaders of the Southside Business Men’s Club recognized the need for banks, major businesses and adequate schools to be built and they set about the task of accomplishing the goals of making this side of the river a safe and prosperous part of Jacksonville.

Evidence of one of the Club’s earliest accomplishments is the Southside Branch Library. The library is the result of the Club obtaining an appropriation for its construction. The cornerstone of the library reads – “Through united community effort, this building stands as a constant reminder of the initiative, energy, and devoted service of the Southside Business Men’s Club.” Another example of their diligence for improvement is Baptist Hospital. The hospital solicited and received the Club’s assistance in obtaining its’ charter.

Meeting first in the back of the Lane Drug Store at 2011 San Marco Boulevard, where the Bank of America branch now stands, they decided to meet weekly in order to stay abreast of the issues of the day. They next met aboard the old “City of Jacksonville,” a retired stern-paddle wheeler tied up where Baptist Medical Center is today. American Legion Post 88 leased the old boat and the ladies Auxiliary charged our members 50 cents for their hot lunch, 10 cents of which went for the payment of dues. They later met at a restaurant at the intersection then known as “Times Square”, now overshadowed by part of the Southside’s expressway system. During World War II, the Club met in the employees’ dining room at Gibbs Shipyards and later at the old Lobster House Restaurant.

While dining each week on Southside’s dilapidated, debris-strewn waterfront, the Club set about plans to convert that shoreline into a waterfront park. Legal work and resolutions were used to acquire the land between the bridges and our members served on the Citizens Advisory Committee during all preplanning phases of Friendship Park. In 1965, the park was dedicated and public officials gave our Club the lion’s share of the credit.

Streets, roads and traffic planning have long been a priority of the Club. The old East Coast Railway right-of-way from Southside to the beaches was secured by the Club for the construction of Beach Boulevard. The Club also secured U.S. 1 south of Jacksonville as it is today. We had the honor of naming it Philips Highway after Judge Philips and we were in charge of its dedication when Governor Sholtz cut the ribbon to open it on July 12, 1934.

The Club did an outstanding job of fighting for the Main Street Bridge. We were again in charge of the ceremonies in 1940 when governor Holland cut the ribbon to open it. In 1966, the Club dedicated another road we fought for – Interstate 95 – from Atlantic Boulevard to Bowden Road. Governor Hayden Burns made the dedication remarks.

In mid 1982, recognizing the years of work to secure an overpass at University and Philips highway, the Department of Transportation invited the Club to the site at the onset of construction. There, each member present signed his name on the first piling driven into place by Mayor Jake Godbold, who operated the pile driver. At its completion in March of 1983, we met for lunch on top of the overpass for the dedication ceremonies where the Mayor, local and state dignitaries and officers of the Club cut the ribbon opening the overpass to vehicular traffic. Immediately after the ceremony, the decorations and ribbons were hastily pushed aside as the first vehicle to cross the new overpass was an ambulance on an emergency run.

The youth of Jacksonville has also long been of interest to the Southside Business Men’s Club. The early days of Landon High School saw the Club help buy band instruments and uniforms for the school band and the Landon Lionettes, a girl’s marching unit that became known nationwide. Over the years our members have built many parks, soccer fields and furnished playground equipment throughout Southside.

Many new schools served Southside’s growth in the 1950’s and 60’s and in 1969 our focus shifted to Pop Warner League projects. At that time, the “Little Gator Bowl” game (a name sanctioned by the Gator Bowl Association and given exclusively to us) was established. Each year, we sponsored the top teams participating in the Pop Warner League as they competed in the mighty Gator Bowl facility for the Championship. Game proceeds were used to sponsor our scholarship fund for deserving Pop Warner boys and girls and to help perpetuate Pop Warner activities in Jacksonville. We felt their programs fostered principles of honesty, self-sacrifice and fair play in our youth.

Back in the 1930s, the roster of the Club was limited to a maximum of 30 members, but as South Jacksonville grew, so did our membership. In 1977, under the direction of C. Lee Daniel, club membership grew to an all time high of 400 members. A motion was presented to the board to limit membership, however, it failed.

In 1993, City Council Resolution 93-132-37 outlined the Club’s history and proclaimed to the city of Jacksonville that proper recognition was given to the Club for its years of service to the community. A framed copy of the resolution was presented to a large contingent of past Presidents who gathered in Council Chambers to accept the Resolution on behalf of the Club’s entire membership. It was a prestigious honor indeed.

1994 saw the emergence of our Club-created Youth Achievement Program (YAP) masterminded by past presidents Fred Harford and Gene Bushor. This program, together with the schools, recognizes youths who are contributing to their school and its neighborhood, notably through involvement with the school’s safety patrol. Once a school is chosen, and after fund-raising by Club members and school faculty and parents, forty percent of the money raised is immediately given directly to the school for use toward an event or activity of their choice. The other sixty percent of the money raised during these events goes into the Club’s Charity account for use in providing college scholarships to those same children when they enter college. On May 26, 1998, the City Council honored our Club with reference to our Youth Achiever Program with a Resolution (98-422-A).

In 1995 the Club elected its African-American president, Tyrone Townsend. Tyrone is also credited with creating the “Kids Shopping Spree” in the mid 1980’s. Christmas charity work for disadvantaged Southside children has been underway for almost three decades. Scores of children and their families are happier by the actions of this Club during the holiday season. For the first several years K-Mart opened its doors to the Club and the kids. In 2003 the Club initiated a formal relationship with the Target Company’s Mandarin store to assist in fulfilling the Christmas dreams of many of Jacksonville area’s underprivileged children.

Also In 1995, at the City’s request, the Club adopted Treaty Oak Park near the river and planted a splendid rose garden.

In 1996 the membership voted to admit women for the first time. Fittingly, Pauline W. Smith, the Executive Secretary of the Club since 1959, was voted as the Club’s first female member as well as the first female lifetime honorary member. She was also elected to a three year term on Board of Governors, making her the first female Board member. Pauline retired in 2000 after 41 years of faithful service. Each year we now recognize a local college student in Pauline’s honor with the Pauline W. Smith Scholarship Award.

That same year also saw the birth of the Clubs first Annual Charity Golf Classic, which netted $5,000 for our scholarship program in its’ inaugural year. The tireless efforts of past president Crump Kirby and member Jay Cann are directly responsible for many thousands of dollars donated to the Club’s charities account from this annual event.

In 1999, the Club established a building fund that will one day allow our Club to have a permanent meeting place.

In 2004, for the first time in the history of the SBMC a woman vice-president presided over a weekly meeting. Belinda Mitchell, then Vice President and Branch Manager for CenterBank of Jacksonville went on to become the first woman to be elected president for the year 2006. One of her favorite accomplishments included the first Club parade float entry in the Veterans Day Parade, resulting in a well deserved recognition from the Office of the Mayor.

One of the Club’s greatest accomplishments was exceeding $100,000.00 in the SBMC Charities Fund, which is used to provide scholarships to eligible students from Jacksonville’s Southside. This occurred in 2005 and while that milestone was taking place, we also built a playground for the Children’s Home Society. 2005 President, Steve Johnston, established a new award to be given annually, the “Volunteer of the Year” award. The first ever Volunteer of the Year award was given to Art Fields for his willingness to support our Club by volunteering at every Club event.

In 2007 the Southside Business Men’s Club, under the leadership of President Tom Harris, proudly celebrated its 75th Anniversary. The year was highlighted by a 75th Anniversary Gala which not only celebrated the club’s past but also honored the many achievements of the club’s past presidents. That same year began the Clubs efforts to assist the St. John’s River Alliance in its’ efforts to obtain funding for a State of Florida specialty license plate, and long time club member Charles McBurney was elected to the Florida House of Representatives.

In 2008 the club had another first. Angelo Volpe, after many years of dedicated work on all programs and activities of the club, became the first Canadian citizen to be president of the Southside Business Men’s Club. He initiated work on a much needed, more businesslike look for the new SBMC web site.

The history of this great Club was attained by individuals actively engaged in a vision of the future. We do not intend to rest on their laurels; rather, we seek active involvement from energetic leaders of our Southside business community to add their mark to these hallowed pages. The message is clear – Get Involved!

In 2009 President Tim Buchanan brought the club up to date with a complete overhaul of the By-Laws. also Political Action committee started our Annual trip to Tallahassee to meet with State Representatives.

2010 Gene Maszy was elected President for a second time when President Greg Tucker needed to step down due to a job change. Gene was also President in 2003.

2011 Ken Dean was our President and the club embarked on a new mission. Our Charities started the VIP (VETERANS INDEPENDENCE PROJECT) This program will supports Jacksonville’s wounded Veterans returning home from service. The Wounded Warrior Project already helps them with a job and place to live, but they need so much more (household goods) Towels, sheets, pots, pans, pantry items etc. The V I P will help supply these items. After all Jacksonville is a military town and we love our veterans.