Since 1938, the Greater Scranton Junior Chamber of Commerce, or the Greater Scranton Jaycees, has been helping young people develop leadership skills and find an outlet for community service and volunteer work.
The Greater Scranton Jaycees are an extension of the United States Junior Chamber (U.S. Jaycees) and the Junior Chamber International (JCI). Locally, we are also members of the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce.
The Greater Scranton Jaycees have been involved in and have planed numerous community activities, events and fundraisers throughout the years. They have include Valentine’s Day Visits to area assisted living homes, a Holiday Card project, Big Brother’s-Big Sister’s Bowl for Kid’s Sake, Saint Joseph’s Center Festival, our annual Easter Egg Scramble and the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.
Keeping in the Jaycee tradition, we are always looking to meet new people between the ages of 18 and 41 who share our passion for service to others. If you are over 41 and are interested in volunteering, you may be eligible for our newly formed Executive Membership. Check out our Calendar of Events if you share in the spirit of helping others. We hope to meet you at our next General Membership meeting.
Chapter History – The Beginning of the Beginning:
By Tim O’Malley, Past President
As the Greater Scranton Jaycees continue their journey forward, with various events planned through the year, and getting newer members involved for their turn at leading the organization, it is good to occasionally remember how the group came about. A problem with an organization specific to developing young people’s skills is that there isn’t much knowledge of its heritage. Especially with the Jaycees, which has been active in Scranton since the 1930s.
Some periods of our chapter’s history are well preserved. We still have totes full of press clippings from the 1950s. Our recent past is collected in scrapbooks. However, many eras are lost, at least to us as current members. How did we come about? What was happening to make for an active civic organization?
By searching the archives of the Scranton Times and the Scranton Tribune, for our early days, one can’t escape the context of the late 1930s. The impact of the time also made it right for our creation.
In early 1938, it seemed as though the world was in disarray (again). The big war being followed by the press was a war in China, after Japan invaded Korea and Manchuria in 1934. Japan’s allies, Germany and Italy had yet to begin the European portion of World War II, but that didn’t make them fun to be around, either. Adolph Hitler celebrated 5 years leading Germany by threatening Eastern Europe for more German living space, and more likely, access to the resources in the East. Rumania’s King Carol was ineffective in building a resistance to the Nazis, and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was trying every measure to avoid war. France and the USSR tried to stay out of conflict, too.
Here in the U.S, a stock market crash in late 1937 looked like there would be no end to the Great Depression begun in 1929. As this new recession set in, there was a lot of unrest in Scranton. The city, which was a sparkling jewel in 1910 or so, was getting worn down. People were tired of doing without, and more importantly, they were tired of malaise. A vocal group of young businessmen were trying to change the course of the city, which they felt was being held back by the long established Chamber of Commerce. The president of the C of C, attorney Joseph F. Gunster, realized that change was necessary, and in February of 1938, invited labor leaders to be involved with the Chamber. This was the first attempt of the Chamber to realize that workers, along with business leaders, had a stake in Scranton’s success.
Ralph E. Weeks, was on a committee to reviewing proposed changes to the Chamber Board. One of the recommendations put forth by William F. Forster was to give younger businessmen a break on membership dues. He thought the $30 a year cost was too high for a young man starting out. The suggestion was a $10 rate for men under 33 years of age. Not many on the board liked this idea of a “Junior Membership.”
After discussion, Mr. Forster offered a rate of $15 to all members, which would allow the membership to grow for the benefit of the entire community. William J. Schoonover mentioned how the membership to the Scranton Country Club grew when the rate was cut in half. This made a good argument for the cause of rate reduction. Mr. Forster also suggested that larger, more established businesses still pay the $30 rate.
This Chamber meeting did not yet establish the Junior Chamber, but the idea did spread. A spark was lit among the young people in the community. They actually did have a say in how things would be done. First, they would find their voice in an organization. This day would come soon.
In 2011, we wonder what the difference would be between paying $30 or $10. However, in 1938, when 10 cents would buy a movie ticket, and a dollar would be a nice night on the town, 30 dollars was likely a week’s pay for a successful person. $300 would buy a nice car. The chamber was a rather small organization at the time; led by department store owners, factory owners, railroads, collieries and other heavy businesses. A merchant with a corner store, or a young professional wouldn’t have much ability to find $30 in excess profit. There were more pressing bills to pay, and typically a larger family to feed. Also, 33 was a much “older” age than it is now. Most young men considered a High School education a big achievement. Their father’s may have made it to 8th grade, or even earlier before they were expected to earn their keep. It was a different world then; just as it is a different world now.
Seventy-four years later, the Greater Scranton Jaycees are established as a leadership organization. Many of its members represent themselves, rather than their business. A slogan often used in the past is “the Jaycees don’t have a lot of money, but they have a lot of energy.” As the future unfolds, the energy has results that ripple throughout the community.