At the invitation of Ralph Slavens, a Springfield businessman, a group of people interested in forming a civic improvement club on the north side of Springfield met at the First City Bank (now UMB Bank) at 2300 North Glenstone on Thursday, April 30, 1970. At the meeting, the name “North Side Betterment Association” was chosen for the club and officers were elected.
President – Ralph Slavens
Vice President – John Chambers
Secretary – Cloye Lea
Treasurer – Eugene Cantrell
Organizing members agreed the Association should welcome and encourage new businesses, new shipping outlets, improved services, and projects for civic betterment on the north side. As later formalized, the Association’s purpose “is and will be to promote and encourage worthwhile and honorable endeavors that will make North Springfield a better place to work and live. Our intent is to be alert to our community needs, to be well versed and knowledgeable in order to take constructive action for community betterment.” This “creed” of our Association was authored by one of the founding members, John Pennell, and is part of our constitution and by-laws and articles of incorporation.
The first regularly scheduled Association meeting was held at the Imperial Arms Restaurant (now Ziggie’s Café) at 2515 North Glenstone on Thursday, May 14, 1970. In response to a public invitation extended to anyone believing in the club’s purpose, 72 people were present. At this meeting the name of the club was changed to the “North Springfield Betterment Association” and then mayor Carl Stillwell spoke on civic involvement. Annual dues were $10. The Association has always been comprised of citizens from all sections of the city who have an interest in community betterment.
During the first year, Association members heard speakers such as: Sheriff Mickey Owen on “Drugs and Crime in Greene County”; Dr. W. E. Dowell on “College, Church & Community”; and a debate between proponents and opponents of the Council-Manager form of government. Members toured convention facilities in Tulsa, Oklahoma and the new police station; studied the feasibility of locating a civic center at Glenstone and 1-44; lighting portions of Kearney; dangerous intersections; Doling Park improvements; city-appointed boards; and north Springfield promotion maps. The Association sponsored a banquet for the Hillcrest Merchants Baseball Team who had performed well in the Regional and Missouri State Baseball championships. The group also held many social events.
On March 23, 1971, the North Springfield Betterment Association celebrated its first anniversary with a banquet at the Holiday Inn. Dr. Graham Clark, President of the School (now College) of the Ozarks, was the featured speaker, after which the first Betterment Plaques were given to eight northside businesses who had improved their appearance and/or upkeep. It was moved to give framed certificates instead of plaques for betterment recognition going forward because of the large number of recipients and the costs were unfeasible—a practice that was later changed back to awarding plaques.
Throughout its existence, the Association has encouraged all members to get involved and to serve north Springfield in various ways. The Association has worked on multiple civic issues over the past five decades including proposed sales tax and city bond issues, intersection and other public safety improvements, north Springfield clean-up and beautification, supporting public education, and so much more. For years, NSBA planted thousands of tulips annually all across the north side, cracked down and helped end Kearney Street cruising, organized Balloons Over the Ozarks, hosted chili suppers, and held the annual attendance party for more than 20 years.
It is hard to imagine that after more than 50 years, many of those first traditions adopted still remain a core part of our Association. We still meet the second Thursday of each month and only a thousand feet from the location of that first luncheon; we still award betterment plaques each month; we still have engaging speakers at our luncheons and focus on important issues; and we still work collectively as a membership toward our purpose. Ralph Slavens loved his Queen City and worked for its betterment all of his life. We are thankful for his vision more than 50 years ago, and for all of the good our organization has offered to so many through our common purpose.
Portions contributed by Ann Reed from “The Northsider – July 1972”
Edited by Terry Allcorn, Rick Fay & Matt Hudson – 2022