The Noon Optimist Club of Marshall met online July 8 with President Le Ila Dixon reminding us that on this day in 1776, a 2,000-pound copper-and-tin bell rang out from the tower of the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia, summoning citizens to the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence.
Today we wish Happy Birthday to Optimist Julie Brock. Not only are birthday greetings in order, but also Julie expects to be a grandmother for the first time later this month. Congratulations to you and Josie. We anticipate the birth with you. Keep us posted.
The club has a slate of new officers out for consideration and a new project is being circulated this week involving a partnership with the Marshall Regional Arts Council.
Continuing our celebration of 75 years of Optimist history in Marshall, Richard Magrill shares another tidbit of club history from its earliest days.
The Optimist Club motto originally chosen in 1933 was “Friend of the Delinquent Boy,” but “Delinquent” was dropped the following year — from the motto but not from the focus of the club.
In effect, the truncated “Friend of the Boy” carried a kind of secret: embedded in its DNA was an abiding concern for delinquent, disadvantaged, and under-privileged youth and Optimists knew this, although the members of each club’s “Boys’ Work Committee” knew it better and more personally. They were a kind of secret big brother network.
That remained the case when Optimists organized in Marshall on November 30, 1945. If your only source was the News Messenger, all you would know by January of 1949 was that recently there were seven boys being helped and that one was headed for Boys Town in Nebraska.
All fundraising was carried out for the benefit of the “Boys’ Work Fund” but the most reported was that the chair of the committee “made a report.”
On the last day in July of 1951, the News Messenger begins to shed some light on the subject. The article’s headline is “Optimists Hear Commendation For Boys Work.” County Sheriff Earl Elliott “pats the club on the back” for its work with delinquent boys and declares that the club members are doing “a magnificent work.” “It’s a fine thing to bring out the good in boys who might otherwise not have a chance,” he says, “and to make useful citizens of them.” Earlier, Optimists Joe Berry Pyle and J.B. Beckett had reported on steps being taken to rehabilitate three juveniles “under charges in Harrison County.” (Marshall News Messenger, July 31, 1951, p.9)
In August of 1951, another editorial notes: “Marshall and Harrison County have for the most part been exceedingly fortunate in having escaped virtually unscathed the wave of juvenile delinquency which has given rise to considerable concern in many parts of the land.” It warns against complacency but takes “considerable comfort in the thought that Marshall and Harrison County have not neglected their youth.” It specifically lists organizations and activities available and applauds Marshall Optimists for “the thought of a year-round center for boys”— a dream not realized until 1992, almost 40 years later, when construction began on the Boys and Girls Club of Harrison County. That in itself is a reminder that Marshall’s civic clubs, all of them, often dreamed dreams beyond the accomplishment of their own lifetimes. In its first few years, the club “handled some 50 boys providing them with clothing and schooling.” (News Messenger, August 16, 1951, p.4)
An editorial back in 1951 expressed the work of those early Optimists best:
“Quietly, and without public scrutiny, the Optimists have gone about their self-assigned mission of reclaiming for society the troubled, desperate boys who all too often find their way into the juvenile court of Harrison County.
“With some of these youth the club has had to admit failure. With others success has exceeded the highest hopes.
“Cornerstone of the club’s effort has been a desire to revive a sense of responsibility and obligation in the wayward boys with whom it deals. With two boys, charged with stealing and damaging a car, the club insisted that a special fund be established into which the youths would pay an amount weekly which eventually would pay for the damage, even though the loss was covered by insurance.
“We want to teach them that a man must be responsible for his actions,” a member declares. To that end, the club found jobs for the boys and supervises their expenditures, so that their obligation will be met.
“What the club does to salvage broken boys was unknown even to some of the club’s members until last Monday night, when the club entertained prospective members. A committee does most of the work. “There is no self-gratification in this; our work isn’t for public acclaim,” one of the committee reported to the prospective members.
In a religious vein common then but less so today, the editorial continues:
“Such an attitude is benevolent in the highest degree. Our Lord cautioned against charity for selfish ends, but did not enjoin against recognition of merit. The work of the Optimist Club is most meritorious. It ought to be recognized.
“That’s why the club’s members will be surprised to read about themselves in an editorial. (News Messenger, September 27, 1951, p.4)