The McPherson Optimist Club has adapted and grown during the past four decades, but its mission to serve youth and the community has remained steadfast.
Now celebrating the club’s 40th anniversary, its members enjoy reflecting on how their passionate investments of time have reaped a harvest of a stronger community.
Striving for the national creed to “provide hope and positive vision, and bring out the best in kids,” their local sponsorships, donations and volunteer hours have made a deep impact on the community.
“When you have a community where people can do those things, I think you can tell the difference,”
John Holthus, past president, said.
But the difference wasn’t always seen so clearly.
The club began on Feb. 27, 1973, planted by a club from Hutchinson. Larry Thompson was the first president of about a dozen members in their 20s and 30s.
The group started small, selling light bulbs and Christmas trees, and only had the man power to coordinate a few projects. But even then, it was the Optimist’s national creed that drove their efforts.
The creed has a number of goals, including being strong and enthusiastic, thinking optimistically and giving of one’s time.
“I think people identified with that,” Holthus said, who joined in 1975. “That’s been the passion of the club since the very beginning.”
The creed is one of the main reasons why Eldon Wiens, former secretary and treasurer, joined the club in 1974.
“The Optimist creed is very powerful,” he said. “It’s so positive and meaningful and a good way to live your life.”
The McPherson club later grew to more than 100 members and has remained at that level ever since. While other state clubs have struggled, several of its members say McPherson’s club is different.
“Nationwide the trend of attendance and membership in these service organizations have declined,”
Holthus said. “I’m not sure why. I’m not sure what it is about the people of joining age that they feel different than the way they used to.”
But McPherson's members have indeed invested in the community over the years, and their projects have grown over time. Now they are known for their sponsorships of the community’s annual Easter egg hunt, the girl’s basketball tournament, the Mid-America Classic, and junior Olympics track meets, among other events.
“We were so limited in scope and had so limited resources when we started, that we had to pick something and go with it,” said Rick Wilborn, past president who joined the club in 1974. “Now we have such an energetic group with a lot of different people with special interests that, man, we can do a lot of different things. It’s amazing. You can see the benefits right before your very eyes. We’ve watched young people mature and grow.”
Page 2 of 2 - Members said the group also spends about $10,000 a year on programs, such as Toys for Teens, the School Supply train and Heart to Heart.
“It feels good to be able to know that if someone really needs money, that we don’t have to discuss it very long,” President Jay Pavlik said, who joined in 1996. “If it’s a good cause, we’re going to write the check.”
In addition to helping the community, the club members said another main reason they enjoy being part of the club is working with each other.
“There’s a certain amount of synergy that goes on that provides the enthusiasm to work hard on projects,” Wilborn said. “You get together with the guys you don't see outside of work.”
A lot of its members are plugged into the community through other groups or clubs, and bonds are tied when members are working on a shared goal.
“It’s the camaraderie you develop and the bond you get with those people, just knowing you’re out there giving of your time with someone else who is willing to do the same thing — to help have a better community and to benefit the youth of the community,” Holthus said.
The tight-knit group will have a special 40-year celebration Feb. 26 with special guests Mayor Tom Brown and Kansas Optimist leadership.
Contact Jenae Pauls at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @PaulsSentinel