United Way of Fort Smith will celebrate its 90th anniversary on Thursday at the Fort Smith Convention Center.

The celebration will include a reception at 5:30 p.m. honoring board members, board chairs and campaign chairs. Dinner catered by 21 West End will begin at 6:30, including a brief program and awards.

At 7 p.m., multi-platinum selling country recording artist Mark Wills will provide entertainment.

Call (479) 782-1311 for table sponsorships and individual tickets, which are $60.

In 1928 community leaders decided to form an organization, Community Chest, that would raise and distribute funds for needed services in Fort Smith. Over the past 90 years, people have donated more than $80 million to support health and human services within the area.

Originally there were 13 local charities that received funds, including Welfare Association, Boy Scouts, Rosalie Tilles Home, Playground Association, The Salvation Army, YWCA, Boy Rangers, Carnegie Library, Negro Welfare, Traveler’s Aid, Sparks Memorial and St. Edward Mercy hospitals and Boys Club. The first campaign raised $54,946 under the leadership of Community Chest President Marshall Yantis.

Joining Yantis in 1928 was a “Committee of 21” with officers George Carney, first vice president; H. Frank Goodnow, second vice president; and Louis Cohen, secretary/treasurer.

Members were J.W. Ramsey, Cecil Warner, E.E. Weldon, W.H. Johnson, Allan Kennedy, Walter Hinton, C.F. Burns, H.J. Miller, M.J. Miller, A.Y. Berry, J.L. Swofford, Allen Henderson, Dr. M.E. Foster, W.T. Oglesby, I.H. Nakdimen, W.G. Shipley, Jack Adams and the Rev. Wallace R. Bacon.

The Community Chest became the United Fund in the fall of 1962 under the leadership of Don Flanders. The United Fund included most or all of the individual campaigns previously made. The 1962 campaign had a kick-off with the Air Force Thunderbirds.

In 1977, Fort Smith started its annual United Way campaign with a raft race down the Arkansas River. Randy Ney, campaign chairman, set a goal of $600,000 to support the 20 agencies.

In 1988, with W.K. McGehee Jr., as president, the United Way held an open house at a new location, 320 S. 18th St., Fort Smith. Still serving as the United Way Service Center, the building was bought and remodeled with private endowments, without one dime coming from any campaign dollars.

In 1990, an endowment fund was established by the board of directors with the purpose of covering all cost of the service center so that campaign dollars would not be used for overhead.

In 2002, a campaign associate was hired to expand participation in the six counties the United Way serves - Crawford, Franklin, Logan and Sebastian in Arkansas and LeFlore and Sequoyah in Oklahoma.

In 2010, for the first time, 100 percent of all donations made to the United Way of Fort Smith Area were distributed to agencies and initiatives. No campaign dollars were used to cover operating expenses of the service center. The 2018 campaign will be the eighth consecutive year for this to occur.

“At United Way of Fort Smith Area, we believe that working together is the best way to measurably improve people’s lives in our six-county area,” said Eddie Lee Herndon, director. “With your financial investment, you become a vital part of the United Way effort and have the greatest impact on improving lives by creating long-term and lasting change in conditions such as early childhood literacy, kindergarten readiness and homelessness.’

Herndon said United Way could not be successful in its efforts to help people in this area if it were not for the hard work and dedication of committed volunteers.

Current United Way agencies are Abilities Unlimited, The Arc for the River Valley, Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund Region 8, Boys and Girls Club of the Alma Area, Boys and Girls Club of LeFlore County, Boys and Girls Club of Paris, Boys and Girls Club of Sequoyah County, Boys and Girls Club of South Logan County, Boys and Girls Club of Van Buren, Boy Scouts - Westark Council, Boys Shelter, Center for Arkansas Legal Services, Community Dental Clinic, Community Services Clearinghouse, Crawford County Senior Citizens Center, Crisis Intervention Center, Fort Smith Boys and Girls Club, Fountain of Youth Adult Day Center, Girls Inc., Girl Scouts - Diamonds of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas, Girls Shelter, Harbor House Inc., Lincoln Childcare Center, Literacy Council of Western Arkansas, Next Step Day Room, Ozark Area Youth Organization, Parents as Teachers, Project Compassion, River Valley Regional Food Bank, The Salvation Army, Sebastian Retired Citizens Association, South Sebastian County Boys and Girls Club and Stepping Stone School.