In the years following World War II, E.T. Atwell, the Field Representative for the National Recreation Association, visited cities and towns throughout the Midwest. His goal was to establish community centers in these communities to provide wholesome leisure activities and develop organizations to operate the centers. Evansville was one of the targeted cities.
The building located at 705 Lincoln Avenue, served as a USO center during the war and was available if a management agency could be developed. Volunteers and interested persons came together during the fall of 1944 to listen to Atwell’s plan of action. A series of meetings and conferences with the Evansville Community Chest resulted in a promise for funding activities for the neighborhood, it was primarily black families. These meetings resulted in a grant of $15,000 to staff and operate for the following year.
Once activities began and leadership assembled the building was named for George Washington Carver, who became famous for his work as a chemistry professor at Tuskegee Institute. T.B. Neely who operated the Cherry Street YMCA for almost 40 years, previously served as a laundry boy for Dr. Carver and persuaded the group to name the building in honor of Dr. Carver.
Several persons served Carver in leadership roles between 1945 and 1948: William Smith, Henry Holiday, and William Jones served brief periods. In 1948, John E. Ridley was employed and served until his death following a heart attack in October 1959. Ridley was responsible for the incorporation of the organization as a non-profit organization in the fall of 1948. Carver Community Organization was accepted as a member of the Community Chest (later the United Fund of Evansville and finally United Way of Southwest Indiana).
James M. Landers, who had served as Boys Program Director since 1952, was named Executive Director in March, 1960. The board of directors was integrated almost immediately to invite community-wide representation and concern for the Center’s program.
In early 1967, the property (commonly known as Carver Center and Bellemeade Park) was acquired by the city of Evansville; Carver relinquished the promotion, organization, and supervision of recreation activities to the Recreation Commission of the City of Evansville. Carver embarked on a program of social welfare service to the neighborhood surrounding Carver Center at 705 Lincoln Avenue.
With the construction of the C.K. Newsome Community Center and the Carver-Ridley Rollerdrome in the early70’s, the scope and service shifted again to focus on child care and educational activity. In 1968, Carver began its Day Care Center in the basement of New Hope Baptist Church. Carver Day Care Center moved to the C.K. Newsome Center in 1971. Screening of potential college students was inaugurated in 1969, After-School Child Care began in 1982 and these programs have been our focal services since that time. James M. Landers retired as Executive Director on December 31, 1988. In 1989, his successor was David Wagner who still serves as Executive Director.
With the shift of downtown neighborhoods and commercial redevelopment fully underway the traditional needs of the area increased while the residents were displaced to other areas of the city. For the first time in the history of Carver Community Organization our central location of providing services was not located within a residential neighborhood. Under new leadership Carver quickly began to focus on strengthening existing relationships and building new partnerships.