Optimists celebrate 50 years
The Henderson Optimist Club has a 50-year history of serving young people and the community.
Ed White was in at the beginning, and he was with the club when it celebrated its golden anniversary on Tuesday evening.
To mark the occasion, the club held a special dinner meeting at the Glass House at Kerr Lake.
Ron Dorsey, past-president of the Henderson club, presented White a plaque expressing the club’s appreciation for “your 50 years of dedication to the youth of Vance County.”
The club was chartered on Dec. 18, 1962, by 35 Henderson men. White served as the club’s first president. In his remarks on Tuesday evening, he described how the club began and downplayed his role.
“I still don’t know how I was elected president,” he said.
In comments before the meeting, White described some of the projects the club sponsored over the years, including Youth Appreciation Week, bike safety and oratorical contests.
Another project began when club members turned their attention to the needs of the community’s schools. White described the genesis of the project: “We got together with Yancey Hines and Eric Pierce and asked them, ‘What’s the biggest problem you have?’ They said, ‘Attendance.’”
That was the beginning of Attend and Win. To encourage regular attendance in the schools, the club gave prizes of pizza to the class that had the best attendance.
That project was followed by Read and Win. According to White, his wife — a teacher — pointed out a second problem in the schools: poor reading skills. So prizes were given for accomplishments in reading.
A presentation on Tuesday evening presented video highlights of the club’s history.
Optimist District Governor Jerry Medline read a proclamation from Optimist International President J.C. St-Onge that congratulated the club on 50 years of service, concluding, “You have made a great impact through all your programs.”
Optimist International includes more than 2,900 clubs around the world. Its purpose is “Bringing Out the Best in Kids.” Club members conduct over 65,000 service projects each year to provide a helping hand to youth along with an upbeat attitude.
The local club raises funds to support its youth outreach through a number of money-making projects, such as Christmas tree sales and operating concession stands at sporting events. These efforts have allowed the club to award scholarships to youths, conduct an annual bike rodeo and provide Christmas presents for children at the Masonic Home in Oxford.
Each year, the club recognizes local law enforcement and firefighters to help build the respect young people have for these community servants.
The history of the club is also a history of eating places in Henderson. The Optimists originally met for breakfast in the old Vance Hotel. Later meeting places have included the Holiday Inn, Gary’s Barbecue Restaurant, the Wildflower Cafe and its present meeting place, Henderson Country Club.
Between 1980 and 1988, the club abandoned local eateries to dine in its own building, which was later sold to Central Baptist Church. The club took the proceeds of that sale to establish its scholarship fund.
The Henderson Optimist Club seems to be avoiding the downturn in membership plaguing many civic groups. President Matthew Todd said, “Our club is strong. We’ve added nine members this year.”
White is a witness to the strength the club has demonstrated over half a century. Referring to the founders, he said, “I just wish those other 34 guys could see what we’ve seen tonight, where we were, where we are and where we might go.”
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