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At 30, local club still serving
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Exchange Club of Richmond Hill charter member Harry Brigdon Sr. with current club president Laura Evans.

A local service club which annually puts on a wildly popular kids fishing derby and honors local public safety honors is now getting behind an upcoming blood drive.

The Exchange Club of Richmond Hill announced it will support the American Red Cross in an Oct. 14 community blood drive because "volunteerism is the lifeblood of a vibrant community," according to longtime member Lynn Bennett.

The announcement came during the club’s 30th anniversary celebration, which was held Aug. 27 at the Richmond Hill City Center. Word of the blood drive followed the club’s recognition of its two remaining charter members, Harry Brigdon Sr. and Richard Davis.

The two were among the men who helped start a local chapter of the club on Aug. 25, 1984 at the urging of then-Mayor Doug Ellis.

"Our Board felt strongly that the best way to celebrate our club’s 30th Anniversary was to recognize our two remaining Charter members," current president Laura Evans said. "We’ve been so proud to have these two community leaders in our club through the years. Harry alone was responsible for more than 50 new members and he continues to invite folks to join us. Mayor Davis has been a stalwart in our Great Ogeechee Seafood booth for many years, stirring our cajun jamabalaya with a canoe paddle!  Our club owes them a huge debt

of gratitude for our formation and for being loyal and active members through the years."

Davis, who spent 25 years as mayor of Richmond Hill, was unable to attend the lunch, Evans said. But Brigdon, a two-time club president of the Richmond Hill chapter who also did a term as a district president and attended 19 national conventions, was on hand and received a plaque from Evans.

He appreciated the plaque, he said. But he didn’t take credit for starting the club, however.

"I didn’t start it, I just happened to be here when it did start," Brigdon said. "Mayor Ellis, he’s the one that asked me to join."

But Brigdon did take credit for one of the Exchange Club’s most popular events, the annual kids fishing derby at the Richmond Hill Fish Hatchery. That was in 1991.

"A game warden fellow asked me if we’d be interested in doing it," he said. "I said I thought we’d be interested in that."

About 80 kids showed up for the first derby. Like the county, it has since grown.

"There are at least 200, 300 kids participating in that thing now," Brigdon said.

Also popular is the club’s annual banquet honoring the county’s top public safety officers, and the Exchange Club monthly and yearly recognizes top students at Richmond Hill High School.

The club also installed Freedom Shrines at each of the schools in South Bryan and sponsors a "One Nation Under God" program, according to Bennett, who is one of the club’s longest tenured members along with former president David Aspinwall, who joined the year after the club was chartered.

The Exchange Club of Richmond Hill has also been a fixture at the Great Ogeechee Seafood Festival since its inception, and Brigdon remembers cooking catfish stew and shrimp gravy to haul out to the Fisherman’s Coop when the event was held there for crowds of a few hundred back in the 80s.

"Have you ever tried cooking catfish stew in a 60-quart pot without it scorching on the bottom?" he asked. "It’s not easy."

These days, the club meets twice a month for lunch at the City Center. It’s also met at various locations around town - but in the beginning members got together at a motel on Highway 204. Brigdon recalled the first meeting room included a bar, which angered one of the members.

"He was a Baptist preacher, and he didn’t want us meeting in a bar," Brigdon said. "So we quit that meeting place and move and then he quit the club. Boy, that made me mad. We move to satisfy him and then he quits."

Brigdon paused.

"He proved his point though. He got us out of that place," he said.

Despite the changes in location and times, members say the club’s mission remains the same. Brigdon said that boils down to one thing: giving back to the community.

"That’s what it’s all about, really," he said. "Giving back some of what you get out of living in a place."

Bennett said the Exchange Club also has worked to recognize veterans and active military at Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield and supports the American Cancer Society.

The club also provides financial support to both the South Bryan County Recreation Department, the local YMCA and has lent support to programs aimed at preventing child abuse.

"While Richmond Hill and South Bryan County have undergone tremendous growth and change over the past 30 years, the opportunities and need for community service has seen similar growth," said Bennett, who has served as an informal club spokesman in recent years. "The Exchange Club of Richmond Hill is proud to have been able to help with that process, and will continue our commitment to the community in the future."

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