CENTRAL REGION History
The Cool & Classy Central Region
The Central Region is one of the seven regions established under the regional plan of organization committee and finally adopted by the national body at the annual convention in San Francisco in 1957. The Central Region covers the largest geographical area in Jack and Jill spanning the heartland of America, from the mighty Mississippi River to the rustic Rocky Mountains. Currently, there are 16 chapters in seven states that stretch north to Iowa, south to Oklahoma and Arkansas, east to Illinois, and west to Colorado. States rounding out the rest of the region are Missouri and Kansas.
At the first Mothers’ Regional Conference held in 1959, eight chapters made up the region including Memphis, TN; St. Louis, MO; Tulsa, OK; Kansas City, MO; Oklahoma, OK; Pine Bluff, AR; Kansas City, KS and Topeka, KS. Melba Briscoe was elected the first Central Regional Director.
The first regional teen conference was hosted by the St. Louis chapter in June 1954 at the Sarah-Page Youth Center where teens from three chapters -- Memphis, Oklahoma City and St. Louis attended. The theme for three-day conference was “The Teen-age Citizen.”
The region has hosted six national conventions in 1953 (Memphis, TN), 1958 (St. Louis, MO), 1976 (Denver, CO), 1990 (Memphis, TN), 2004 (Kansas City, MO) and 2018 (Kansas City, MO).
Throughout the history of the organization, the Central Region has been graced with wonderful national leaders. Margaret Simms from the St. Louis Chapter was elected the seventh National President in 1962 and in 1978, Dr. Lillian A. Parks from the East St. Louis Chapter was elected the eleventh National President at the 23rd National Convention in Miami, Florida. The Region named the annual teen oratorical competition in her honor. And today, Dr. Parks remains very active in Jack and Jill and in her community. Dr. Karen Clark who served as National Program Director from 2000 – 2002 wrote the official national Jack and Jill Children’s Prayer. In 2000, she along with her son Kyle Clark penned the Rites of Passage Ceremony conducted at teen conferences that honors high school graduating seniors. Sadly, Dr. Clark died in 2011. Dr. Shelley Cooper from the Kansas City, KS chapter served as president of the Jack and Jill Foundation from 2016 to 2018.
The Region is organized into four clusters: North Cluster (Des Moines, Johnson County, Kansas City, KS and Kansas City, MO chapters); South Cluster (Air Capital Wichita, Greater Little Rock, Northwest Arkansas, Oklahoma City and Tulsa chapters); East Cluster (Bloomington/Normal, East St. Louis, Greater Champaign-Urbana, Greater Peoria IL, and St. Clair County chapters) and West Cluster (Denver, Greater Pikes Peak and South Suburban Denver chapters). In addition to organizing regional mothers’ conferences every other year, the region plans annual teen conferences, two mother/teen area work day clusters in the fall and four children’s clusters in the spring. In 2014, the region begun hosting Chapter Presidents' Retreats every other year and in 2018 hosted our first regional trip for members and families to Memphis, TN.
At the 2005 regional conference, the body voted to honor the legacy and leadership of its regional director with the Tara Bradley Leadership Award that recognizes members for their commitment to service within Jack and Jill and the community. Members from across the region compete for this coveted award at every regional mothers’ conference. In 2015 at the Mothers’ Conference, the body officially adopted the region’s tagline “Cool & Classy Central Region.” In June 2017, led by Regional Director Debrah Mitchell, a record number of attendees helped commemorate the 60 years of the Central Region at the 30th Biennial Mothers’ Conference in Oklahoma City. Special guests included the 25th National President Joli Cooper-Nelson as guest speaker at the awards dinner and National Vice President Danielle Brown. The region also celebrated the record-breaking monetary contribution from its members to the Jack and Jill Foundation with the first “Spirit of Giving” Foundation Luncheon led by MAL Elsie Jackson. As an added commemoration to the 60 year-milestone, a special resolution was unanimously passed by the body requiring all registered members to sign the official registry book documenting their attendance at regional mothers’ conferences for the next 60 years.
In 2018, Central Region made history as hosts of the 43rd Biennial National Convention, celebrating “80 Years of Love, Leadership and Legacy” in Kansas City, MO. The Central Region’s Family Fun Night whisked families away to the Kansas City’s Union Station for “Cool & Classy Adventures in Oz”. The evening featured interactive fun in Science City, showcasing the diverse history of the Central Region from Oklahoma’s black towns to Colorado’s black cowboys. Mothers journeyed back through 80 years of history in the Jack and Jill Museum and were blessed by an unprecedented reunion of 8 past national presidents, including our own 11th National President Lillian Parks (ESL).
The current regional officers for 2019-2021 include: Suzanne Ornelas – Regional Director from the Greater Little Rock Chapter; Michele Henry-McGee – Regional Treasurer from the East St. Louis Chapter; Thembi Conner-Garcia – Regional Secretary from the Greater Peoria Il chapter and April Hall Key – Regional Member At Large from the Johnson County Chapter.