Macon is not known as the “City of Roses.” That designation belongs to Thomasville, which hosts an annual Rose Festival in the spring.
Still, Macon has a somewhat “rosy” history.
Simri Rose, one of Macon’s early community leaders, lived up to his last name as a horticulturist and lover of flowers. Rose Hill Cemetery is named in his honor.
As a 12-year-old boy, Gen. Robert L. Scott was working on his Boy Scout aviation badge when he cut a section of canvas from a church’s revival tent and built a glider. He had intended to fly, but when he jumped off the roof of a neighbor’s house on East Napier Avenue, he nearly killed himself.
He crash-landed in a bed of Cherokee roses. He later claimed the rose bushes likely saved his life, although the thorns made a rather painful impression. Those local roses probably helped saved the world, too, since Scott went on to become one of the greatest aviators of World War II, a member of the renowned “Flying Tigers.”
And lest we forget one of the most famous athletes to play for the Macon Peaches at Luther Williams Field.
Pete Rose – no relation to Simri – was the National League’s Rookie of the Year after his 1962 season in Macon, and went on to become baseball’s all-time hits leader.
Today, I want to tell you about another “rose” growing among us, and it has nothing to do with Valentine’s Day coming up in a few weeks.
The National Charity League is a women’s philanthropic organization that has been around since 1925, and brings together 65,000 mothers and daughters in the spirit of community service.
There are 244 chapters in 26 states. Several of the chapters have distinguished themselves by adopting the names of flowers. There is the Bluebonnet in Montgomery County, Texas, and the Carolina Lily in Wake County, North Carolina.
When Stacie Hill and nine other women founded a Macon chapter in 2013, they wanted to follow that tradition.
Their first choice was easy. Cherry Blossom. After all, Macon is the cherry blossom capital of the world.
Oops. Sorry. It already had been taken by the NCL chapter in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Fairfax, Virginia.
Stacie and other board members didn’t let that discourage them. They picked another name.
There may not be as many Cherokees as “Chero-trees,” but every time Stacie started looking around, she began noticing more and more of the white flowers.
It has been Georgia’s official state flower since 1916, and it has historical ties to the state with the Native Americans and the famous Cherokee Indian “Trail of Tears.” Around Macon, many of our major rivers, lakes and creeks carry Indian names – Ocmulgee, Tobesofkee, Echeconee and Colaparchee.
Stacie’s aunt, the late Josephine Rollins, would take her to visit the Indian Mounds at Ocmulgee National Monument as a child. That same aunt taught her the names of every flower that bloomed.
So, the Cherokee Rose was a perfect fit. Now all Stacie had to do was educate others on the National Charity League. She rolled up her sleeves and planted the seeds to get the organization going and growing. Cherokee Rose is now the southernmost chapter in the eastern U.S.
Although she grew up in Macon, Stacie had been away since the mid-1980s. She lived in Atlanta for 21 years, then her family moved to Texas. It was in Texas – first in San Antonio and then Dallas – where she first learned about the National Charity League.
As the mother of three daughters – Lindsay, Shannon and Betsy – she admired and appreciated the league’s commitment to provide mothers and their daughters with opportunities to serve their communities by partnering with nonprofits, developing leadership skills and enjoying cultural experiences.
When she approached several of her former high school classmates about the possibility of organizing a chapter, she received plenty of blank looks.
“Nobody had ever heard of it,” she said. “I had to sell them on it.”
Cherokee Rose now has 216 active members – 93 mothers and 123 young ladies in grades 7-12 from Mount de Sales, Tattnall Square, Stratford, ACE and First Presbyterian Day School. Another 114 mothers and daughters have “graduated” from the program over the past four years. (Anyone interested in applying for membership, there is a current recruiting drive. The on-line registration is at cherokeerose.nationalcharityleague.org.)
Mary Cay McCullough is a charter member. Her daughter, Caitlyn, and Stacie’s daughter, Shannon, are both graduates. Their youngest daughters – Maggie McCullough and Betsy Hill, are high school juniors and will become members of the first class to complete all six years when they graduate next year.
“It has been a great way to model to my girls that we are very fortunate in what we have, and giving back to the community is important,” Mary Cay said. “My mother (Kay White) modeled that kind of volunteerism to me.”
At Thanksgiving, Mary Cay and Maggie cooked dinner for the residents at Crisis Line and Safe House. Next month, they will help with the Valentine’s Banquet at the Middle Georgia Rescue Mission.
Other chapter philanthropies include Backpack Ministries, The Children’s Hospital, the Museum of Arts & Sciences, the Ronald McDonald House, Daybreak Ministries, Pine Pointe Hospice, Middle Georgia Food Bank, Carlyle Place, the Alzheimer’s Association and Jay’s Hope.
Stacie said when local organizations contact the chapter for donations and financial contributions, she issues a friendly reminder.
“We don’t give money,” she said. “We are there to work.”
Ed Grisamore teaches journalism and creative writing at Stratford Academy in Macon. His column appears on Sundays in The Telegraph.