Marshall Optimists consider competing projects in late '50s

A 2020 view of the Oak Haven Rest Home building dedicated on May 3, 1956.

The Noon Optimist Club of Marshall met online Wedessdatm July 29 with President Le Ila Dixon sharing the response of George Ahearn to the COVID-19 breakdown in supply chains and customers.

Crops are being destroyed or left to rot in rural Washington. Ahearn posted a Facebook request to borrow a truck/trailer to haul around 2,000 pounds of restaurant-grade onions and potatoes. The result: four trucks and two trailers haul 9.3 tons of eastern-grown crops to feed hungry people in the west of the state. East West Food Rescue is born and has saved over 2.4 million pounds of food while also amassing enough funds to help cover farmers’ losses. Ahearn, Dixon points out, illustrates our creedal statement: “To look on the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.”

The nominating committee reports Ned Calvert for president, Eric Wilburn for vice president, Melizza Al-Ahmadi for Secretary and Michele Fuller for treasurer. Members are invited to add to the list before we vote. Sponsoring The Mini Monet Art Show with the Marshall Regional Arts Council is unanimously approved. Details to follow.

It was exciting to have Ben Dickson join us for the Zoom meeting. Richard Magrill expressed his appreciation to Optimists John Fortune, Julie Brock and Michele Fuller for their help in collecting historic pictures and documents and shares another story of early Optimists:

A couple of weeks ago, his sister, Rose Mary Magrill, who is at work with Pat Odom and John Fortune on a history of Karnack, took time to play photographer for the Optimist history and headed west on Texas 154 toward Nesbitt.

The goal was a building they thought housed an addiction treatment business called Oak Haven Recovery Center. It had closed and a small sign on the front door redirected those in need. But they were not there for addiction services — but instead to photograph the building proudly opened to the public of Harrison County on May 3, 1956 as the Oak Haven Rest Home. Its recent occupants were nowhere in site, but the 24-room facility shimmered in the afternoon sun as it had that 1956 dedication day, its four classic columns proudly supporting a fan-lighted gable.

Marshall was in the midst of realizing post-war ambitions and more are contemplated. Oak Haven that spring is the first home for elder care “in” Marshall, if a building “located six miles northwest on the Harleton Road” can be considered “in” the city. It is a proud achievement of the Marshall Lions, who have worked for years and broadly enlisted the community in its construction.

In March, its operation is entrusted to a board made up of representatives of service clubs and civic organizations. The Lions report spending $47,457 and contractor Jesse Ford values the Home at approximately $100,000. With the site and furnishings, the value goes up to $150,000 ($1.437 million in today’s dollars). Johnny Schonhardt tells the board that “the home should have plenty of good water with a 265 foot deep well and an 8,000 gallon water tank donated by the Texas & Pacific Railway Co.”

For the Optimists, with their focus on the youth of the community, the home represents a dilemma when they are asked to furnish one of its 24 rooms. The club votes to delay “a decision for one week on whether to furnish a room at the Home now being completed by the Lions Club.” The reason for the delay is that plans to purchase the old ETBC gym, as soon as a new one is constructed, are being studied “and that project will take all the funds that the club can make available.” The next week the club votes a small contribution but concludes that an old-folks-home is just too far away from its stated goals of aiding the youth of the community.

Of course that action does not keep individual Optimists from supporting Oak Haven and many serve on its board over the years, Louis A. Williams and William Rustenhaven Jr. being two who distinguish themselves as presidents.

What the Optimists have long-dreamed of is a gym, now termed a Boys Club, which will make it possible for the youth of the city to have a place for sports events, reading, study or other activities under the direction of a full-time counselor. In other words, they want to provide the kind of services made possible by today’s Boys & Girls Club of the Big Pines. The Optimists estimate their vision will cost $40,000, actually not much less than Oak Haven itself.

But their dreams are not the only ones fermenting in Marshall, and a group has organized to build a youth center which will ultimately be realized as the Corral Club on Bomar Street. Of the Optimist dream, President Lonnie Sheppard says, “We feel that there is a reasonable chance that we can obtain the building and have the [boys] club in operation in the foreseeable future.” And he is careful to point out that the Optimists’ project will not be a substitute for the youth center currently being planned for Marshall, but that it will work in conjunction with it in providing additional activities for youth of the city.

Ultimately, in late 1950s Marshall, it is the Corral Club that wins out in the competition for hearts, minds and checkbooks. And the Optimists join in the Corral Club effort, pledging one-half of their Christmas tree sales income to its realization.

On January 5, 1960, Optimist President Joe Hirsch presents to Louis W. Kariel Jr. a check for $507.35, representing the Corral Club’s part of the 1959 Christmas Tree sales. (Old amounts sound small sixty years later: $507.35 in 1958 is equal in purchasing power to $4,548.22 in 2020.) Kariel reports that the Corral Club’s brick building on Bomar has approximately 6,500 square feet with rooms for television, pool, dancing, ping pong, snack bar, kitchen, lounge and town hall with a patio outside. Its total cost is $67,000 (more than $600,000 in 2020 terms).

All in all, the Optimists contribute $1,561 toward the Corral Club ($13,500 in 2020). It, like Oak Haven, is completed debt-free by a motivated community. Of course, pool, dancing and ping pong do not meet the Optimists’ concern for sports, study and counseling. However, the much later success of the Boys and Girls Club of the Big Pines shows the value of the early Optimists’ long-delayed vision.

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