Huntsville’s Greatest Variety Show

It was always the coldest part of winter when the annual United Cerebral Palsy Telethon was televised in Huntsville. With temperatures too cold to play outside (and only five local channels to choose from before cable TV graced our home), I sat and watched the telethon for as many of the 24 hours as my young eyes could endure. From church choirs to nightclub bands, stand-up comedians to high school cheerleaders, I didn’t want to miss a single moment of what was, in my childhood opinion, the best variety show EVER.

Most importantly, I didn’t want to miss potentially hearing the names of my friends and family as host Johnny Evans would ask phone bank volunteers to recognize those who had called in to donate money to United Cerebral Palsy of Huntsville and the Tennessee Valley.

Mayor Steve Hettinger would announce a $5 donation from a lady in Lacey’s Spring, Sheriff Joe Patterson a $100 donation from a family in Meridianville, Liz Hurley a $20 donation from a Girl Scout Troop in Madison, and so on. I was always very proud to hear the names of people I knew personally. It was exciting to watch the total on the electronic tally board rise with each phone call and check presentation and to know that my community was so incredibly generous.

Hazel Green High School cheerleaders perform at the annual UCP Telethon in 1994.
Hazel Green High School cheerleaders perform at the annual UCP Telethon in 1994.

Then Johnny Evans, with his velvety voice and calm presence, would talk with parents about how UCP had helped their children—precious little angels with cerebral palsy and other physical and developmental disabilities. Children in wheelchairs, on canes and walkers. Children who might never walk, or talk, or play like their siblings and peers without the help of the amazing folks at UCP.

And I would cry. Wail might be a more appropriate description. Then I would proceed to beg my parents for large sums of cash to send to UCP. I wanted to help children with disabilities to be able to do all the things that my friends and I could do, but my $5 allowance didn’t seem like nearly enough to make that happen.


Advertisement. Content Continues Below.

My parents would compromise by matching whatever I chose to pull from my piggybank. While they appreciated my budding philanthropy and tender heart, for some reason they just weren’t willing to skip a mortgage payment to dry my tears.

Johnny Evans and a multitude of city and county officials, local media personalities, entertainers, students, businesses, civic groups, and volunteers supported the annual UCP Telethon in Huntsville for more than 30 years. From the mid-1960s until 1997, hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised to enable UCP to fulfill its mission—to provide a life without limits for people with disabilities.

Our community was moved to donate not because of the great variety show, but because of the personal stories each family relayed to Johnny Evans and viewers. Their stories and my own were also the reason I joined UCP six years ago as the fundraising director.

The Johnson High School ROTC mans to the phone bank at the UCP Telethon.
The Johnson High School ROTC mans to the phone bank at the UCP Telethon.

Now it’s your turn to tell your UCP story.

Join United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) of Huntsville & Tennessee Valley, Inc. in a yearlong celebration of UCP’s 50th anniversary in our community. If you or a loved one has ever benefitted from UCP services, appeared on the annual telethon, volunteered, served on the board of directors, or worked at UCP, we want to hear from you.


Advertisement. Content Continues Below.

Tell us your story and register to receive information about UCP 50th anniversary events by visiting this link or by calling 256-859-4900. Email your UCP photos to ucphsv50@gmail.com and we will include them in the celebration.

During 2013, UCP will post photos online and on Facebook from past events, including the long-running UCP Telethon, and will ask for your help in identifying participants and supporters by tagging your family, friends, classmates, church family, neighbors and co-workers. I’ve posted a few photos here to get you started!

UCP will also host a variety of 50th Anniversary events during the year to celebrate. Please help UCP spread the word and commemorate this very special milestone.


Advertisement. Content Continues Below.

For questions or additional information, contact me at 256-859-4900 or email tracyc@ucphuntsville.org.

UCP Huntsville Website 

UCP of Huntsville on Facebook

Do you recognize any of the UCP supporters in the photos above? Tag them on UCP’s 50th Anniversary Facebook page!