Aiken Sertoma Club celebrates 50th anniversary

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Sep. 21—The Aiken Sertoma Club celebrated five decades of local and statewide outreach at its Sept. 20 meeting, celebrating a variety of highlights and recognizing a pair of local residents for excellence relating to the organization's theme of "service to mankind."

The meeting, held at South on Whiskey, included a salute to Tom Johnson, a Millbrook Baptist Church deacon largely known as the owner and operator of Aiken's Chick-fil-A. He received the local Service to Mankind Award, in recognition of his decades of community involvement.

Johnson's local associations have been with such organizations as Tri-Development Center of Aiken County, Aiken Chamber of Commerce and the USC Aiken Alumni Association. His Chick-fil-A roles included owning and operating the restaurant in the Aiken Mall, establishing it in 1991, and expanding in 2000 with the advent of the free-standing restaurant that is now a fixture on Whiskey Road. The past 18 months, with COVID-19 precautions forcing businesses to adapt in order to survive, saw the Chick-fil-A go into high gear, enhancing its drive-through facilities and services.

Accolades also went to longtime club member Dennis Saylor. He received the Club Sertoman of the Year Award. Saylor, a 43-year employee with Crane Merchandising Systems, in Williston, is his employer's inside support team lead ("troubleshooter," as he offered for clarification) and the local Sertoma organization's vice president of membership.

His community roles have included service as the Aiken County Republican Party's chairman and also as chairman of the Aiken County Parks and Recreation Commission.

Saylor's local Sertoma roles have included club president and chairman of the board. Serving farther afield in Sertoma, he has been been the Midlands District governor (covering "the central portion of South Carolina"), and in June, he completed a three-year term as the Atlantic Coast Region's director (covering Augusta, the Carolinas, Virginia and Maryland).

Saylor's group was founded in March 1971, having been sponsored by the Columbia Sertoma Club, which dates back to 1950. The Aiken group, in turn, sponsored the North Augusta Sertoma Club, which was established in August 1971. The national organization is based in Kansas City, Missouri.

An estimate from the Aiken club's treasurer had the club's giving level, over the past 25 years, at $850,000; and about $1.2 million over the entire 50-year course of the club's existence. High-profile moments in the club's history included having Don Bartelmay, the current vice president of programs, serve as the national Sertoma president for the 2016-17 term, followed by a 2017-18 term as president of Hearing Charities of America, a subsidiary of Sertoma.

Among the high-profile guests in attendance were two state legislators: Sens. Tom Young (R-Aiken) and Shane Massey (R-Edgefield). They presented a proclamation expressing thanks and honoring the club, acknowledging its "substantial support and commitment to serving greater Aiken and the Central Savannah River Area" and its enriching impact on the community.

It also noted the group "has provided assistance to individuals with speech and hearing loss, awarded scholarships, sponsored Camp Sertoma for disadvantaged children, assisted for years with the Aiken Steeplechase Association's events and supported countless causes."

The late Skipper Perry, largely remembered for his years in the state legislature and on Aiken City Council, was one of the club's presidents. Perry, who died in 2017, was reportedly the last of the club's surviving charter members.

The national organization's website includes a statement of Sertoma's purpose ("to meet the needs of communities through volunteer service), vision ("to create communities of change under common leadership and with a common voice that will serve the many in need") and mission ("to improve the quality of life today for those at risk or impacted by hearing loss through education and support").

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