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Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful marks golden anniversary

International Cherry Blossom Festival’s founding organization was the first of its kind organized by Keep America Beautiful in 1974
Liz Fabian
Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful founder Carolyn Crayton, (right) prepares to cut the organization’s 50th anniversary cake with KMBB’s current executive director, Asha Ellen.

Nearly 10 years before the 1982 launch of the International Cherry Blossom Festival, its founding organization, Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful, took root under Keep America Beautiful.

In 1974, Macon-Bibb County was the first of three pilot communities chosen to foster a national experiment in litter reduction through the Macon-Bibb County Clean Community Commission. 

That March, the Bibb County Commission and the Macon City Council each contributed $15,000 for what would become KMBB in 1987. 

Carolyn Crayton, founder of both KMBB and the Cherry Blossom Festival, sold the volunteer-led concept to local leaders as not the usual cleanup campaign, but a long-range, 18-month science-based program. In 1978, she persuaded Gov. George Busbee to create Keep America Beautiful’s first state affiliate, Keep Georgia Beautiful. 

Crayton initially enlisted the support of dozens of volunteers, some who still work with KMBB five decades later.

Those volunteer efforts in the ‘70s coincided with Crayton’s campaign to beautify the landscape by enlisting local garden clubs and others to plant Japanese Yoshino cherry trees about town. In 1982, March 23 was declared Cherry Blossom Festival Day to honor the contributions of the late William A. Fickling Sr., a local businessman who at the time had donated about 18,000 trees to the community. The festival, which is always scheduled around Fickling’s March 23 birthday, now touts a total of 350,000 trees distributed to date.

In 1973, Keep America Beautiful, which organized in 1953, touted research that identified primary sources of trash and reasons why people litter. 

The original Macon-Bibb County Clean Community Commission used that research to educate and train the public, and two years later Crayton noted a 64% reduction in litter. Keep America Beautiful thought so highly of the local effort that the Advertising Council produced a 15-minute national film titled “A Place to Begin” highlighting Macon-Bibb’s efforts. 

At a Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful 50th anniversary luncheon, Bibb County Sheriff David Davis “deputized” KMBB founder Carolyn Crayton for her beautification efforts that he said help reduce blight and crime. (Liz Fabian)

Earlier this month at a 50th Anniversary luncheon for the Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful board, Sheriff David Davis remembered the “Carolyn needs your help” bumper stickers that were in vogue in the mid-70s to call attention to the anti-litter campaign.

“We always talk about how that aspects of crime come from blight, come from unkempt streets and all of that sort of thing. Well, Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful over these 50 years has been right there at the forefront of keeping our community clean,” Davis told the KMBB board before making the 92-year-old Crayton an honorary sheriff’s deputy. 

Award-winning organization

Over the years, the efforts of Crayton and KMBB have been recognized with more than 100 awards across the globe. Crayton captured Keep Britain Tidy’s Queen Mother’s Award in 1983 as the award’s only recipient outside of the United Kingdom. She earned two prestigious awards from Japan in 2012 and 2015.

Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester proclaimed March 1 as Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Day by mentioning the model program is one of the most-honored of the national organization’s more than 700 local programs. 

Miller said Crayton’s leadership “initiated numerous beautification projects through local garden clubs, spearheaded efforts to encourage all residents to make behavioral changes by picking up litter, clearing vacant lots, demolishing old structures and beautifying each local district.”

Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful founder Carolyn Crayton, left, praises KMBB’s executive director Asha Ellen for her award-winning work since taking the helm of the organization in 2022. KMBB Board Chair Janice Habersham captures the moment on her cellphone. (Liz Fabian)

Asha Ellen, who has taken up the mantle as the current executive director of KMBB, fought back tears as she remembered growing up in south Macon and seeing Crayton on television.

“I didn’t ever think that I would be able to stand here before you, to see you on TV, the epitome of class,” Ellen told her. “You set the foundation and example of what I knew it was like to be a lady.”

After 18 months at the helm of the volunteer-led KMBB, Keep Georgia Beautiful Foundation selected Ellen as the Barbara Mason Executive Director of the Year. She will receive the honor at an awards dinner in May. 

A little over a year after Ellen took over, Gov. Brian Kemp recognized KMBB for a Governor’s Circle Award recognizing “meaningful, positive and lasting change by directly addressing community needs in the areas of litter prevention, recycling, waste reduction and beautification.”

Thursday, KMBB learned Keep America Beautiful awarded the organization a President’s Circle Recognition Award for its standards of excellence in 2023.

Ellen continually joins local organizations picking up trash through the neighborhoods in all parts of town and has expanded from the yearly “Great American Cleanup” day to foster multiple cleanups throughout the year. She also has worked with the Macon Water Authority in keeping storm drains clear of trash and debris, organized the annual Christmas tree “Bring one for the Chipper” campaign and held a recent paper shredding event to reduce waste in the landfill. 

Ellen coordinated the Golden Anniversary luncheon at Crayton’s new home of Carlyle Place to pay tribute to her predecessor and thank the 24-member board for their efforts to keep the county clean and beautiful.

Crayton lauded Ellen’s work since she became executive director in March of 2022.  

“She does so much for all of us, and she truly knows how to share her love and influence people,” Crayton said. “How I love you. Thank you for being a great part of my life. … What a great work she has done and is doing for us every day. So proud of you.”

Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful plans to fully celebrate its 50th anniversary during its annual awards luncheon on May 23. 

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-301-2976.

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