Optimist Club member Phil Hogie helps a young child fish at the Optimists’ annual Trout Extravaganza. The club is now celebrating 40 years in Brookings.
/ Sherwood Hatch, Optimist Club member, pumps up a bike tire for a girl during the Optimists’ annual Bicycle Rodeo at the Brookings Public Library. Courtesy photos
• Optimist Club of Brookings marks four decades of service, continues working for kids
BROOKINGS – If you’ve heard tell of “the Optimists” who meet at 7:03 a.m. every Tuesday, you may be wondering exactly what that group is and does.
Yes, optimism is central to their creed, but their work focuses mainly on creating opportunities for kids.
“We just really try to make sure that we do our part to live in a community that’s good for our kids,” said Gloria Kloster, a member of 14 years and past club president. Kloster said the Optimists are all softies when it comes to giving of their time, talents and treasure to help the young people of this community.
“If there’s a youth project out there and organizers need something done or need some help, we’re probably a good place to come ask,” she said.
This year, the Optimist Club of Brookings celebrates its 40th birthday. The club was chartered June 13, 1972, by 37 men. Their sponsor was the Sioux Falls Morning Optimist Club.
“We were an all-male organization at that time,” said Glen Anderegg, one of those charter members. Anderegg is among four charter members still active in the Brookings Optimist Club; the others are Mike McCann, Les Tlustos and Clyde Calhoon.
“In 1983, Optimist International voted to allow women to become members, and Candy (Nelson) was our first president; she was the club president in 1997 and ’98,” Anderegg said.
Since 1997, the club has had six female presidents, each serving a one-year term. Kloster was one of those presidents, and she went on to serve as an officer for the club’s district, the DMM (Dakotas, Manitoba and Minnesota), and as an international officer. Providing members the opportunity to learn and network on an international scale is one of the organization’s strengths, Kloster said.
“There’s lots of opportunity to go beyond the local level, but everything that we do at the district level or international level comes back to the local community,” she said.
Focus on kids
Brookings Optimists sponsor or co-sponsor an array of programs for kids: The Trout Extravaganza, Brookings Library Bike Rodeo, Kite Festival, Youth in Government Day and Boys & Girls Club of Brookings are just a few of many that happen each year.
“Programs designed to enhance the lives of youth,” said Brenda Schweitzer, a newer member. “A lot of kids never have an opportunity to go fishing. We’re also involved in the kite festival; we’re involved in the bike rodeo, they just had that a few weeks ago.”
The group has been hosting its Trout Extravaganza for about 15 years, Anderegg said. At first it purchased fish from the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks. Now, the state donates the trout and uses the event as a showcase family activity. Larry Tidemann, an Optimist since 2004, said it’s one of his favorite events.
“I see the families, when they show up for the Trout Extravaganza, the moms and the dads are helping the young kids learn how to fish,” he said. “Of course, the kids focus for about 5 seconds and they take off, but Mom and Dad stay there.
“Then, when they catch a fish, the kid comes back,” he added. “They go home and you have smiles on the moms and dads and the kids, that they’ve accomplished something together.”
While these programs often cater to younger children, Brookings Optimists support older youth as well. Their district essay and oratorical contests award $2,500 college scholarships to the winners, and their club gives scholarships to graduating Brookings seniors. They also choose one senior as Student of the Month each month during the school year, who is recognized for their achievements.
In one of its own fundraising efforts, the Optimist Club provides a chance for the Brookings High School Band to earn some money. This is the Avenue of Flags. Band members and their parents help to put up and take down flags each holiday, and earn money for the band doing it.
“We sell subscriptions to people around town for the cost of $7 per holiday, and there are five holidays,” Anderegg said. “We’ll put a flag out on their boulevard at 6 o’clock in the morning or as soon as it’s light, and take it in about 6 o’clock at night.”
The project is one of the club’s largest sources of income, and a good way to show patriotism, members said. The club’s largest fundraiser is the concession booth it runs at Brookings High School during all events.
Through these and a variety of other fundraisers – many of which ask only Optimist members for money – the club supports not only student scholarships but also the Optimist International Childhood Cancer Campaign. Some of the money pays to host an annual Law Enforcement Appreciation breakfast, to which all law enforcement officials in the Brookings area are treated. During this breakfast, the club delivers its Law Enforcement Award for distinguished and dedicated service that advances a respect for law.
As members volunteer their time and money in these ways, they meet weekly – at 7:03 a.m. “because 7 is too early” – to have breakfast together and build friendships. The family feel to the club is what attracted Kloster and her husband right away, as he prepared to retire from a military career.
“Knowing that we were leaving another family, in the military, and that we were probably going to have a big life change, when we walked into the meeting, it felt like we had walked into another family situation,” she said. “The people, they laughed together, they were making plans, they were reporting on things they had just done for the community and they had other things coming right up.”
The club and its creed value working together to accomplish things, which is especially important in South Dakota, Tidemann said.
Since it began in 1972, the Optimist Club of Brookings has sponsored new clubs in Watertown, Milbank, Madison, Aberdeen, and Redwood Falls, Minn. It has also sponsored an Octagon Club for students at Brookings High School, first in 1991 and again in 2005. But the club’s first sponsorship was right here in Brookings, a “club within a club.” That year, the club more than doubled its own membership, which Optimists International counts as if it began a new club elsewhere.
“By that time, our membership had slipped from 37 down to, oh, it was in the mid to high 20s. So, we added about 25 members. We built up in that one year and we’ve gone on from there: Right now we have 119 members in our club,” Anderegg said.
Drawing in new members can be a challenge, and Optimist International helps local clubs tackle that challenge, he added. But new members do come, and a membership is now a good mixture of men to women of various ages.
“We’re really seeing anywhere from college students coming up and wanting to join and participate – we’ve got some that are just getting secured in their job positions
“It really is very diverse, which is also great for networking,” Schweitzer said. “You can take the value and the lessons learned from the members who have been there for a long time, and you can fuel it with the energy and the enthusiasm that the younger ones have.”
Learn more about Optimist International at www.optimist.org.
Contact Charis Prunty at email@example.com.