Longtime Optimist members were honored at a dinner for their 50 year anniversary. Left to right are Optimist member Ron Merson, Optimist member Steve Turchik, and Optimist member Dave Lagesse.

Optimist Club: 50 Years of helping community youth celebrated

June 08, 2012
Santa Paula News

Optimists always seem to on their feet bustling around at various fundraisers, always on the go on the behalf of kids. Hard work is not the only thing club members live by.

They also develop optimism as a philosophy of life utilizing the tenets of the Optimist Creed; promote an active interest in good government and civic affairs; inspire respect for the law; promote patriotism and work for international accord and friendship among all people; and aid and encourage the development of youth, in the belief that the giving of one’s self in service to others will advance the well-being of humankind, community life and the world.

The Santa Paula Optimist Club recently celebrated 50 years of adhering to the tenants, philosophies and goals of Optimist, a now-international organization founded in 1919 in Louisville, Kentucky. The Santa Paula club has 13 members and President Cathy Hicks has led the group for five years, noting that devotion to youth is their top priority.

“Optimist’s motto is ‘Friend of Youth,’” and the local club has seen that friendship be a solid one for five decades. The organization also uses the branding statement “Bringing Out the Best in Kids,” and Optimist Clubs demonstrate their caring attitude by carrying out the mission of the organization: “By providing hope and positive vision, Optimists bring out the best in kids.”

During the school year Santa Paula Optimists recognize a “Student of the Month,” making sure that recipients are rotated from Santa Paula Elementary School District’s campuses except for Isbell Middle School. “Every school gets one student of the month” selected, said Hicks, not on the basis of grades but rather for “being a good kid, helping others, kids that are coming along and are doing good.... Superintendent Dr. F. Paul Chounet and his Executive Assistant Marisela Hernandez set it up for us during the school year; along with Dr. Chounet she was also congratulated at our dinner. In the past we didn’t have anyone in the district” to help the Optimist’s with the program.

“It can be complicated, but when Dr. Chounet came on board he said he would help us with it.... And he’s been true to his word on that, as has Marisela.”

When it comes to Santa Paula High School, one way Optimist helps is with its “Chain Gang” that do the field markings during football games. “After this year I guess the equipment is 30 years old and they said they needed new equipment,” so Hicks said the club purchased some items for the team, including new chains. “So that will be good for another 20 years or so.”

Being on the small side itself, the club likes to take care of smaller needs such as a special project last year a kindergarten teacher had in mind. “She wanted to do a photo shoot for the kids, so the Optimist Club got instant cameras for the students,” who were instructed to take photographs “of what is important to them and their lives... that’s a project we really liked being involved in. We can give $100 here and there and we do those types of projects” on an ongoing basis.

And that has filled numerous scrapbooks over the years: Hicks said former longtime Club President Ron Merson “keeps the scrapbooks. I don’t know how far back they go... but at our 50th anniversary celebration we recognized Steve Turchik. He’s been with the club since it started, is our last Charter Member.”

Patrick Cunningham, who no longer lives in the area, shows that once an Optimist always an Optimist. Hicks said Cunningham picked Turchik up for the May 14 celebration and, although “not an active member, Pat still helps us out at fundraisers.” Also honored was 38-year member Jim McCoy, among others that have longevity with the club. 

And that includes many husband-and-wife teams. Cathy’s husband Tim Hicks is also a member: “I told him he couldn’t put his two cents in unless he was a member; if he’s going to talk he might as well join.” 

The club raises money that in turn it donates to youth programs and activities by handling the parking at special events and other duties such as the Pumpkin Patch and Citrus Classic Balloon Festival. Money the club makes is split among their high school helpers, as well as put away for sponsorships throughout the year.

The club stages the annual Christmas and Halloween parades. Merson also helps other groups organize parades. 

“And just for fun,” the club helps Santa Clara Valley Hospice/Home Support Group by stringing the Christmas lights on the tall tree for the Light Up a Life program and helps direct parking at the annual Giant Plant Sale. “We know from what happens at the Pumpkin Patch” that the UC Hansen Trust/Faulkner Farm parking lot “is crazy - one way in and one way out!”

The club meets on the first and fourth Monday of each month and, “We’re always trying to build our membership!”

Hicks admits she enjoys organizing club fundraisers, and Optimists are always at the ready to help. “Oh, we’re always working, but I thought well after 50 years it’s time to just sit down and have a good time” celebrating the club’s Golden Anniversary. 

For more information, call Hicks at 805-625-3259.

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