North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

August 24, 2009

Civitan’s ‘General’ wins major recognition

By Adam Smith

The North Jefferson News

Robert E. Lee was a revered confederate general during the Civil War.

Gardendale native Robert E. Lee is revered as “The General of Recruiting” as the president of the Gardendale Civitan Club.

Lee has led the club for more than 20 years and he’s recruited about 200 people into the organization. “There’s a secret to recruiting for Civitans and I’m one of the few people that knows it,” he said. “The secret is a-s-k. You just have to ask people to join.”

The club, which meets each Monday night at the Gardendale Civic Center, currently has 62 members, about 30 more than when Lee first became a member.

Lee joined the club in 1985 and has since won just about every award the international civic organization has to offer. He has served as the club’s president since 1988, with the exception of a short period of illness.

This summer, Lee was presented with the organization’s highest honor, the International Honor Key.

Lee received the District Honor Key in 1998 and was named Outstanding Civitan in 1999. He also has all four of the club’s international fellows — research center fellows, foundation fellow, junior civitan fellow and freedom fellow.

Despite all of his accomplishments, he remains humble. “It’s a wonderful thing; I’m proud of it,” he said.

Lee, who turns 87 on Sunday, grew up in Ensley. Lee was born in 1922. Civitan International was formed in 1917 in Birmingham and had its first meeting on April 15, 1920, according to the group’s Web site.

Lee said he can remembers walking through Ensley as a child and seeing the familiar Civitan International sign, announcing its Monday meetings. He actually knew two of the club’s charter members, one of which was his father’s Sunday school teacher. “I guess you could say I’ve known Civitans all my life,” he said.

When asked what being a member of the club was all about, he was quick to answer, “We help people.” He said one of the club’s slogans is “Builders of good citizenship.”

The club has helped a number of north Jefferson County charities, in addition to helping fund the International Research Center at the UAB Hospital. The center helps find cures for developmental diseases.

The club has also given at least $15,000 to Gardendale’s Miracle League field at Luman Harris Park. Lee presented Mayor Othell Phillips with a check for $6,500 at a recent city council meeting. It was the second large donation from the club, which raised funds through a series of fund-raisers.

Miracle League organizer Jeff Dennis said the Gardendale Civitan Club was one of the first organizations he approached about supporting the project. He said the club’s contributions were instrumental in seeing the project come to fruition.

“They really grabbed onto the project from the beginning stages and have been a major contributor,” Dennis said. “Mr. Lee has talked to me about it a number of times; he’s so proud of it.”

Lee said the club would continue to raise money for the Miracle League and other groups through Boston butt sales, candy box displays and through the sale of Claxton fruit cakes.

“It’s just a good feeling to know we’ve done things that have helped others,” he said. “It makes you feel good because you know you’ve repayed some of your old debts.”