The Shelby County Chamber of Commerce is celebrating its 100th Anniversary this year. Over the course of the past 100 years, the Chamber of Commerce has been exceedingly fortunate in having outstanding business and community volunteers give of their time, energy, resources and leadership.
In celebration of the Centennial, articles will be published saluting outstanding Chamber leaders.
The first Chamber Board President was H.B. (Butler) Johnson. On the night of August 27, 1919, Mr. Johnson invited 40 Center businessmen to meet at the Hurd Haley’s Cafe for a big supper in order to organize a Chamber of Commerce for Center. Mr. Johnson treated his guests to dinner (25 cents per plate) and was elected President that night. He served two terms from 1919 to 1922.
Some of the men present that night were Judge Jim Sanders, Neal Runnels, J.P. Wood, W.G. (Bill) Carnahan, Ed Nicholson, Oz Metz (third Chamber President), the Rev. A.C. Babcock, H.H. Jones, Sr., John C. Rogers and Bill Norris. A number of these men were appointed to the Board of Directors. Board meetings were held at Motley Department Store where Butler Johnson worked.
During Mr. Johnson’s time as Board President, two bonds were passed for water mains and road improvement into the downtown square. Mr. Johnson was largely responsible for the passing of the bonds. The first bond passed in 1921, in the amount of $25,000 to extend the water mains approximately two blocks off the square, down the main access streets.
Immediately following this project, a second bond was passed which was used for paving the streets around the square and to extend the pavement down the main streets leading into the square.
It was the task of the Chamber to get all the stores in Center to close in order for the male employees to work on the road projects. At that time, roads into town were “pretty bad” and not maintained. All males over the age of 21 years, were required to give five days a year working on the roads, or hire someone to take his place. The county had some equipment to use, but volunteer labor had to do the work.
Not only was Butler Johnson the first Chamber Board President, but he was also a strong church supporter and a member of the Rotary Club. Mr. Johnson joined the Center Rotary Club in 1932 and had a perfect attendance record for 29 years until health issues prevented him from attending meetings. Butler Johnson was married to Velma Sanders. They had two daughters.
It is men like Butler Johnson who had vision and made a commitment to use their time, talents and resources to help make the community a better place to live and work.
Thank you to Buster Bounds for the interview he had with Butler Johnson in 1976 Thank you to The Champion for publishing the interview. Information for this article came from the published interview on April 14, 1976.