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.

Since 2004 SBMC’s leadership expanded from our first female Vice President, to 3 of our 4 VPs being women by 2011.  In 2012 we installed our 2nd Madame President, Galina Schott.  Having joined leadership after running our most successful year to date for new members in 2008 with 100 new members inducted, Galina made this a priority among other things during her year at the podium.  One of our first speakers, by his request, was then Mayor Alvin Brown who enthusiastically shared many of his successes and endeavors in his first year in office.

As membership was on the rise, it was important to improve our onboarding process to help get people involved, as well as recognizing involvement.  In 2013 Jepp Walter’s Presidency focused heavily on recognizing current and prior leadership by regularly addressing Past Presidents & Officers by name and title; following suit in newsletter references as well.  This proved very helpful at guiding our newer members as to the numerous leaders in the organization who could help get them involved, and in various committees and functions within their purview.  It also recognized the hard work and accomplishments of current and prior leaders, setting expectations for their successors.

That same year we attempted to fulfill a decades long dream of procuring our own “Clubhouse” after changing venues occasionally, sometimes multiple in the same year.  The Southside Women’s Club sought a partner in their building, we discussed options for months but ultimately both parties determined this wasn’t the right fit for either.  In hindsight they sold years later for a hefty sum, and after the impacts of Covid we were relieved the management responsibilities of such a facility, to which we would’ve been committed, never came to fruition.

Just 2 years following our 2nd female President, we inducted our 3rd, AND after 82 years our youngest President ever.  Annie Howe also still leads our history of having her 1st Gentlemen serving as her subordinate at 1st Vice President.  As leading our organization takes a great deal of time and involvement, having both spouses at the top of leadership ensured 2014’s success as they were able to commit much of their social time together towards their roles within SBMC.

In late 2013 we learned, from our partnership with Robert E Lee High School’s (Riverside High today) NJROTC program, of the challenges many less privileged cadets face in securing scholarships.  As most available are heavily weighted by GPA, many cadets in single parent households are challenged by the needs of their families requiring their time to help support the family leaving less time for studies and academics.  In 2014 the officers added a new scholarship to SBMC Charities, for a program to support such cadets.  The exception here though being our scholarship had little weight on GPA beyond that sufficient to graduate and focused primarily on their achievements in their respective JROTC program within Duval County.  Also, unlike our YAP Safety Patrol Scholarships, this program would not restrict funds solely towards a traditional college or university.  Instead trade schools are also eligible as the goal is to support awardees in education for any career type.

Any new expense needs a funding source, so that same year we held our Inaugural YAP JROTC Charity Clay Shoot; and our very own Hank Duckworth, of Duckworth Construction, led the event as Title Sponsor; raising more than $10,000 for the new scholarships our first year.

2015 focused on deepening our community involvement and moving the club forward technologically.  After years of spending the first several weeks compiling our printed Directory, checking for accuracy and updates, and of course updating photos, President Tim Howe decided it was time to fully enter the 21st century by migrating that publication to the virtual environment with a complete website redesign.  This allowed us to integrate and expand membership details, also we built the site to allow anyone to view limited details of the membership.  Additionally, we added online payment features for our events, which made a significant impact to improving efficiency for all club and charitable functions.

That same year we partnered with several non-profit members for volunteer projects of their choosing providing a small budget, and labor.   Pinecastle put us to work relandscaping part of their headquarter building, City Rescue Mission put about 25 volunteers to good use serving food and assembling packages for another upcoming event.  Angelwood took the opportunity to have our volunteers clean out a warehouse.  This was a project they had been trying to tackle for some time; our team of volunteers showed up early, filled a large roll off dumpster, and had the building cleaned out by lunch.  That same year our Christmas Kids shopping spree expanded, thanks in large part to additional funding from the inaugural Texas Hold ‘em Tournament.  Our Past Presidents partnered with the Best Bet Casino to help us host this new fundraiser, which enabled SBMC to purchase gifts and bring smiles to many underprivileged children for the Christmas of 2015.  The year culminated with one of our strongest ever for membership retention since 2010!

Now everyone remembers 2016 as the year of Trump, but SBMC focused heavily various levels of politics that year and reclaimed our spot in the news more than a few times.  Our calendar was packed with fantastic speakers, many C-Suite level occupants of large Jacksonville based companies and other senior level community leaders.  We held multiple political forums for candidates of different offices to engage in friendly debates.  To the best of our knowledge, we held the only debate in NEFL for Florida Congressional District 5, which Corrine Brown had involuntarily vacated soon prior.  Glo Smith and Al Lawson drew quite a crowd, the Republican Women’s Club of Jacksonville made a prominent appearance, and their red jackets dominated the room.

An even larger audience turned out for what was intended to be a “fun” debate by our own State Attorney and Public Defender, every local news channel attended and captured the fireworks that ensued on film.  We continued the civic project efforts enacted the year prior, the highlight of which found members spending a Saturday working for Habijax alongside some NJROTC Cadets from Robert E Lee HS; assisting in the construction of a new home.  Our Charity Golf Tournament exceeded the prior year raising $23,000, and our Charity Clay shoot grew from $12,000 to over $21,000 that year alone; further helping us support our scholarship programs.  We also sponsored some Capital Projects for Lee HS’s NJROTC program that year.  Endeavoring to aid the hard-working cadets to travel in style, we helped purchase replacement travel uniforms and wrap the trailer in which they carry equipment.  Later that year we partnered for the first time with the Meninak Club of Jacksonville, and the Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Assoc. to design and construct one of our most elaborate & memorable floats ever for the 2016 Veterans Day parade.  To this day no other float had its organizations leadership leaning on an actual missile fastened to it!

A decade after installing our first female President, Julie Clements became the 4th woman to lead SBMC after serving the prior 4 years in each of the VP roles; immediately following her triumph over cancer the prior year.  No doubt 2017 saw a fun year, our charitable efforts continued with the Clay Shoot exceeding its prior record raising more than $25,000.  However, if you asked Julie what made that year most memorable, she’d remind us it remains our Charity Golf Tournament’s highest grossing year ever having raised $31,313.87 for our YAP Scholarship Program!  Now some are quick to highlight, that year a golfer hit a hole in one which resulted in a windfall shared with the charity…. but we’re a business club, and revenue is revenue, no matter how you come by it.

Sadly, the following year we lost the founder of our annual Charity Golf Classic, Crump Kirby.  That year we renamed the event in his memory, as his decades of hard work in large part is credited with more than 20 years of scholarships for high achieving Duval County Students.  With its consistent success, and that of the JROTC Clay shoot continuing to grow our endowment, in 2018 President Steve DeSorbo convinced our Board to raise all our Youth Achiever Program Scholarships to a minimum award of $5,000 each; and begin awarding at least $50,000 annually.  We also expanded our business networking efforts changing the program once monthly to structured business networking instead of a speaker, and the inauguration of “Member Hangouts” where members enjoy fellowship in a relaxed setting at happy hour.

The following year SBMC had to find a new home due to renovations at San Jose Country Club, landing us at Epping Forest Yacht Club after an exhaustive search by Jeanne Marron.  Our former City Council President Bill Bishop led us through a local election year, keeping members better informed than ever!  After enjoying meetings there, we migrated downtown years later to the DoubleTree Hotel, until landing for the first time at St Johns Town Center where we currently meet weekly for lunch at Fogo De Chão.

Unfortunately, like many organizations, 2020 was probably our most challenging ever with the year of Covid.  After an energetic start, we cancelled most of our events for the year; our golfing members call 2020 our “Mulligan.”

The following found the club rebuilding as many continued to shy away from group gatherings even after vaccines became available.  Eventually we caught steam and ramped up in the second half continuing our community involvement and business networking; Member Hangouts are alive and thriving!  For the first time since 2010, a committee was formed to update our By Laws once again.  Now if you’ve read this far, you may be wondering how after 90 years we’re still called the Southside Business MEN’s Club?  You might be surprised to learn, one recommendation to come out of this ad hoc committee, was for the club to consider a name change.  Various ideas were suggested, even simply changing “Business Mens” to “Businessmen” was proposed.  After a decade that saw 4 women leading the club, and more in the ranks to follow soon after, for the first time a formal vote on merely the idea of holding a later vote on a name change was presented to the membership.  We chose instead overwhelmingly to point towards our history and retain the name we’ve proudly born for 90 years.

In January of 2022, our leadership once again made history.  14 years after the first Canadian Citizen was sworn in as President, Jeff Volpe followed in his father’s footsteps and took the podium as the club’s first ever “Legacy” President.  Jeff is also, to the best of our knowledge, the first President having entered the club originally being granted “Honorary” membership by the Board of Governors in June 2005; following his return from combat service as a United States Marine.  The “Honorary” designation is typically reserved for members having made significant contributions to SBMC, and typically not considered by the Board until at least 25 consecutive years of membership has elapsed.  In rare occasions like Jeff’s, the Board has bestowed this title on those with whom it deems appropriate in the club’s interest and recognition of said individual’s accomplishments.

Today SBMC is growing at an even faster pace than the year prior, the organization continues to rise like a phoenix from the ashes of our mulligan year, rebuilding membership and loading up the calendar with traditions old and new, endeavoring to stand out as Jacksonville’s oldest, and only, Business AND Civic organization.  We have our sights set on our 2032 centennial and look forward to expanding the rich history we’ve built since our founding.