By John Schaffner
“I’m an old Buckhead boy,” states 68-year-old Greg Farris, who is thought to be the longest-tenured member of the Buckhead 50 Club. He joined the club in 1967, 35 years after the oldest civic group in north Atlanta was founded.
In 1932, Buckhead was a crossroads community in the country, north of the city of Atlanta in Fulton County, with a few commercial stores and homes and some estates with wooded acreage. There was little street paving north of Buckhead and services such as trash removal were left to local communities to handle as best they could.
“The county did not have services, so the Buckhead 50 did the garbage pickup for the Buckhead area,” explained Vance Rankin III, a Sandy Springs lawyer who lives in Buckhead and was club president in 1996. “Then, when the county started providing services, that eliminated the mission of the Buckhead 50 Club.”
But it hasn’t stopped members of the club from getting together for a meal, a speaker on important local or national topics, and just plain camaraderie the first Tuesday of every month (except for July when they take a break). What members have in common is that they either live or work in Buckhead and care about the community and their friendship.
The by-laws say “the purpose of the club shall be to develop enduring friendship, to render civic service, to build better community, to cooperate in creating and maintaining that sound public opinion and high ideals that make possible the increase of righteousness, justice, patriotism and goodwill.”
The club was formed by John W. Pickelsimer in February, 1932, because of an apparent need for local Buckhead businessmen who could handle the community problems in a spirit of mutual cooperation. Pickelsimer, who became the club’s first president, gathered together 20 of his neighbors in the old Fulton National Bank Building, 3039 Peachtree Road, N.E., and the rest has been history.
Along with Pickelsimer, the other founding members included R. B. Miller, J. Schley Thompson, Matt G. Perkins, R.E. “Red” Dorough, Lon Bridges Sr., E. J. Wood, John Allen, Chief George Mthieson, Oscar Jones, Bub Clark, George Murray Sr., T. Dumas, H.C. Rippy, Gene Minhinnett, Charles Adams, Marvin Roberts Sr., R.H. Johns, D.E. Pinkard, Dr. Bussey and Davis & Courtney Theatre—many names still recognized in Buckhead today.
It is unclear from a club history why the name Buckhead 50 was chosen, except to distinguish it from other clubs in the area.
Among some other prominent Atlantans who have been members over the years were Attorney Morris Massey, George Ivey, Jr. (the Iveys were among the first residents of Atlanta) and Sam Massell, former mayor of Atlanta and president of the Buckhead Coalition.
During the 1930s the club was interested in the paving of various streets in the Buckhead area, proper street lighting, trash and garbage collection and the parking situation, according to a 1979 club history.
According to Rankin, “The Buckhead 50 Club was very instrumental in the formation and development of Constitutional Avenue, which is now known as Roswell Road.”
In 1936, the Buckhead 50 Club recommended to the Fulton County Commission that the Waldo M. Slaton Post 140 of the American Legion be allowed to purchase a tract of land in on Powers Ferry Road in Buckhead to erect a clubhouse, a location at the southern end of Chastain Park where both the Legion and the Buckhead 50 Club meet today. The club was also instrumental in getting the county to develop the Northside park, which is not Chastain Park.
The club played a role in Buckhead becoming a part of the city of Atlanta and assisted in the formation of the Buckhead Merchants Association, which later became the Buckhead Business Association.
According to the club’s current president Philip Curtis, a lawyer and partner in executive search firm Matteson Partners, Inc., the present active membership is about 75. That number is higher than what was the average age of the 48 members and guests who attended the June 2 gathering at the Legion Post, but there were a number of white-haired gentlemen there as well.
“When I joined, the people who were in here were the fathers of the people I knew,” longtime member Greg Farris said. Asked if any of the members when he joined are still around, he said, “I can’t think of anybody. Most of them died.”
Rankin explained, “Everybody who wants to get in (the club) is introduced for the “first reading.” Then on the second time, they have the second reading and members vote on accepting them. They are asked if they would like to tell us a little about themselves. When he starts to speak, everyone starts hollering and drowning him out.”
“We have had one or two retired major generals,” Farris added. “One got up one night. He started speaking when we voted him in and as soon as he started talking we started clapping. He looked indignant that people would dare interrupt him when he was speaking. He was probably a member a year and then he dropped out.”
Curtis added, “Joel Isenberg (former president) has probably recruited half our members in the past 10 to 15 years.
He said the club has never excluded females from becoming members, “but has never had one apply. We have at least one meeting (in September) where we have the spouses and girlfriends for an indoor/outdoor barbecue picnic.”
“Over the years, it has been some pretty good food,” Farris said. “There have always been some very interesting speakers. I doubt that we have had more than two boring speakers all the time that I have been a member.”
On the evening of June 2, the presentation was on the Federal Reserve Bank by a young woman, Galina Alexeenko, senior international economic analyst with the bank.
Farris said he tried years ago to get a historian to write a book about the Buckhead 50 Club and its members, but it never happened. And, he added, that historian died a year or two ago.