Op­ti­mists ‘all about kids,’ 50 years ago and to­day

Group marks half a cen­tury of help­ing youth

The Calvert Recorder - - News - By DANDAN ZOU dzou@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @CalRecDANDAN

Fifty years ago, eggs were sell­ing at 38 cents a dozen; Apollo 8 was the first manned space­craft to or­bit the moon; The Bea­tles re­leased “Hey Jude”; and Calvert County had a pop­u­la­tion of about 20,000, one-fifth of what it is now.

“So things have changed,” Spencer Howes said Satur­day night, after hear­ing that a Christ­mas tree used to be sold at a price as low as $5 dur­ing the Christ­mas tree sale or­ga­nized by the Op­ti­mist Club of Calvert. Nowa­days, the cheap­est tree costs around $35.

Howes was one of about 60 peo­ple sit­ting in a room dec­o­rated with blue lights at the Calvert County Fair­grounds to cel­e­brate the 50th an­niver­sary of the Calvert Op­ti­mists. For­mer pres­i­dents and mem­bers of the club came from as far as West Vir­ginia to at­tend the event.

Formed in Oc­to­ber 1968 with 29 mem­bers, the Op­ti­mist Club has grown to have 79 mem­bers and a long list of pro­grams it ei­ther hosts or par­tic­i­pates in. Over the past five decades, the club has had dif­fer­ent fundrais­ers rang­ing from print­ing high school foot­ball game pam­phlets to sell­ing hot choco­late and ice cream at the county fair, ac­cord- ing to Philip Mohler, one of the ini­tial 29 mem­bers and a for­mer pres­i­dent of the club.

The club “is all about kids,” Mohler said in a phone in­ter­view last week. “There was an ob­vi­ous need. There was no form of pub­lic re­cre­ation. … We wanted to work with kids.”

Be­gin­ning with in­stalling foot­ball goal posts at Calvert High School and putting up bas­ket­ball nets at lo­cal churches, the club went on to es­tab­lish its sig­na­ture schol­ar­ship pro­gram. Other than meeting the needs of the youth, Mohler said the club wants to rec­og­nize those for the things they have achieved. Since 1975, the pro­gram has awarded close to $300,000 to Calvert high school grad­u­ates.

The Op­ti­mist Club also started pro­grams like the or­a­tor­i­cal con­test, which has had life­long im­pact on some of the youth who par­tic­i­pated in it.

Greg Bowen, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Amer­i­can Chest­nut Land Trust in Prince Fred­er­ick, wrote a let­ter de­tail­ing how his ex­pe­ri­ence with the con­test has stayed with him ever since. The let­ter was read out aloud by a club mem­ber Satur­day night.

De­scrib­ing him­self as a “shy, back­ward farm boy,” Bowen said he spent weeks work­ing on his speech and prac­ticed it in his be­d­room. Al­though he didn’t win the re­gional con­test after win­ning the county round, it didn’t mat­ter.

“The con­test taught me valu­able les­sons that I never for­got,” he wrote.

Bowen went on to study math at St. Mary’s Col­lege of Mary­land and thought he would not be do­ing any more pub­lic speak­ing. But after he came back to Calvert to farm, he be­came pres­i­dent of Calvert County Young Farmers and served on a com­mit­tee to pre­serve lo­cal land, which led to him get­ting a job in Calvert County’s plan­ning and zon­ing depart­ment, of which he served as direc­tor at one point.

“It is en­tirely pos­si­ble that I would never have take th­ese steps if the Op­ti­mist Club of Calvert County had not taught me how to speak in pub­lic,” he wrote. “Thanks again for all you did for me and for all that you do for the youth in Calvert County.”

Other than in­spir­ing youth, mem­bers them­selves have formed a bond of fel­low­ship over the years that tran­scends through their per­sonal lives. Bob Chaney, a for- mer pres­i­dent, choked up mul­ti­ple times when talk­ing about how Dickie Pitcher, a for­mer pres­i­dent who died two months ago, was the push be­hind the an­nual Christ­mas tree sale.

“We had a lot of fun and en­joy­ment through the Op­ti­mist Club,” Mohler said Satur­day even­ing. “We had mem­bers with a va­ri­ety of abil­i­ties that en­abled us to do just about any­thing.”

On Satur­day, the club also hon­ored Eve­lyn Chaney, Penny Dorsey and Debby Horsmon, who have sup­ported the club through mak­ing bows to go along with the Christ­mas tree sale, or­ga­niz­ing bake sales and many other en­deav­ors, ac­cord­ing to Mohler.

Go­ing for­ward, the club said it added a teacher ap­pre­ci­a­tion week, Santa night and ju­nior Op­ti­mist clubs at lo­cal high schools in re­cent years and is de­vel­op­ing a youth film fes­ti­val, an art con­test, a poster con­test and other pro­grams.

STAFF PHOTO BY DANDAN ZOU

David Peter­son, left, watches in amaze­ment as John Turner tells an anec­dote re­lated to the club’s Christ­mas tree sale Satur­day even­ing at the Calvert County Fair­grounds dur­ing an event to cel­e­brate the 50th an­niver­sary of the Op­ti­mist Club of Calvert. Peter­son and Turner are both for­mer pres­i­dents of the club.

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