On January 3, 1968, eight former members of Associated Junior Leagues of America (AJLA) invited fifty women in Morganton to meet with them to organize the Morganton Service League. These former AJLA members and their associated leagues were Mary Adair Phifer (Orlando, Florida), Martha McGuirk (Columbus, Georgia), Barbara Norvell (Greenville, South Carolina), Jean Craven (Asheville, North Carolina), Millie Gordon (Asheville, North Carolina), Katherine Russell (Chicago, Illinois), Joan Culberson (Greensboro, North Carolina), and Adelaide Reece (Winston-Salem, North Carolina).
At this initial meeting these AJLA members explained the programs, policies, and operations of leagues of which they had been members, and pointed out the valuable
services that could be rendered in a community by a group of civic and culturally oriented women. The fifty women, present expressed a desire to organize, and Adelaide Reece agreed to act as temporary chairman for organizing the group.
The first official constitution was adopted on March 14, 1968 with the purpose of the Service League to foster interest among the members in the social, economic, educational, cultural and civic conditions of their volunteer services.
The following officers were elected for a term of one year: Adelaide Reece, President; Gladys Pitts, Vice-President; Sis Erwin, Secretary; Margaret Hoyle, Treasurer; Gussie Cheslock, Assistant Treasurer. Margaret Collett served as the First Projects Chairman. The purpose of this committee was to select a project or projects for the Service League members to participate in on a volunteer basis, which would be for the enrichment of the community. After a study of community needs, the committee submitted a plan for a proposed Play School at Mountain View Center.
In the following years major projects have been: League Puppet Theatre; Art Slide Lecture Series; Remedial Reading Program; organization of the Burke Arts Council; presentation of the Bicentennial musical, "Oh, Penelope"; opening the historic Tate House for public viewing; brining symphony groups to schoolchildren; Pink Ladies; chartering the Historic Burke Foundation; and awarding scholarships for two Freedom High graduates and a Western Piedmont Community College student. The Service League received in 1984 the "9 Who Care" award from WSDC- TV in Charlotte recognizing our volunteer projects for Burke County. The Children's Theatre in the Schools was begun in 1985 bring professional, live productions for students in Burke County. A provisional training year for new members was initiated in 1986. A gala fundraiser celebrated CoMMA's opening with Western Piedmont Symphony in concert. In May 1989, the League entered the retail trade business with the opening of the Nearly New Shop on North Sterling Street. By September, revenues were sizable enough to make it our primary League project, replacing the annual "'i Bargain Fair. The Nearly New Shop moved to West Union Street in May 1997.
During the 1990-91 year, the Morganton Service League became incorporated. This move required reapplication for a tax-exempt status. In memory of our first president, Adelaide T. Reece, the League established a scholarship in her name. One scholarship was awarded to a Freedom High School senior and one to a student at Western Piedmont Community College. Both recipients were enrolled in a health science curriculum, an area of particular interest to Adelaide.
The League first participated in the Historic Morganton Festival in 1996. During the 1997-1998 year, in honor of the 30th Anniversary, the Morganton Service League published a Morganton-opoly game.
On May 31, 2002, the Morganton Service League members voted to close the Nearly New Shop, after fourteen years of successful retail consignment business. The League decided to concentrate on its mission statement and return to "service" in the community.
Beginning in June 2002, the League began work on what would become their In-League Project for the next 3 years. Renovation of the downtown Children's Park began and the League endeavored to buy new equipment, plant trees and make the park a better place for the children of Morganton. The League began an annual tradition of a community run and walk deemed the HOP Race (Help our Park which became Help our Projects) to earn money for the park project. A generous benefactor, the Phifer family, came forward with a large monetary donation in memory of a former MSL member, Martha Phifer. In recognition and thanks to the family the park was renamed Martha's Park. An endowment fund was established to ensure the continued beauty and upkeep of the park. In May 2005, Martha's Park opened to a crowd of Morgantonians eager to enjoy the newest and best park in town! What had begun as a simple idea by 2002-2003 President Lynn Henderson, ended as a city park with all new equipment, landscaping, fencing, picnic shelters, restrooms, engraved brick walks, a water park and custom made entrance gates. This was one of the most successful League projects made possible through the League's hard work and dedication and most importantly through great community support. Yearly proceeds from the HOP run go toward a new piece of equipment for a city park.
As of 2003, the League chose several In-League projects to focus our efforts upon. These include the HOP Race and a Red Cross Blood Drive in February of each year. Each member is required to commit a minimum of 30 volunteer hours. Official League Service projects beginning in 2003 included BUCM, Christmas Cheer, Habitat for Humanity, Options and Historic Burke.
2003 also saw the formation of the "Friendship Groups". These three smaller groups allowed members to become better acquainted with each other on a more informal basis and to work cohesively together on projects.
In 2004, an additional membership drive in the fall of each year was added, allowing the League to grow in size.
In 2006, the League adopted the Prom Project as a sponsored project. This project is held in the Spring of each year and gives young girls throughout Burke County and opportunity to have a dream prom with no costs. Community members volunteer everything from gowns to beauty services. The League also began providing meals and childcare to Options every other month and provided volunteers at the BUCM Soup Kitchen on alternating months.
Several provisional projects which occurred from years 2007-2009 included Cop on Top, which helped raise money for needy individuals in the community, an adoption event with Friends for Animals, and March Out Hunger raised funds through area restaurant proceed donations for BUCM.