On Feb. 17, 1953, a joint effort between the Fremont and Omaha Optimist Clubs formed what would become the Columbus chapter of the organization at the Evans Hotel, where Park Plaza is now. At the time, they had no way of knowing how long the group would survive.
Later that year, on June 6, 52 charter members formed the Columbus chapter for the first time officially at a charter party at the Wayside Country Club. Those 52 original members, Board Chairman Dale Rosendahl said, would have been encouraged by their employers to be involved in a social club like the Optimists.
"In the past, when this started, these kind of service clubs were a social entity too and there was a lot more social done than we do today," Rosendahl said. "The other thing that is missing today that we should have more of is in the past, businesses encouraged or even paid employees to be in service clubs for networking and good use of time, interacting with people in the community."
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Every week thereafter, the group met at the Evans Hotel and, as was a struggle of any social club at the time, fundraising became an early topic of discussion. According to historical records compiled by the late Jerry Kneifel in 1974, they started selling Christmas trees for their first event, simply named "bike safety."
Since then, the group has gained and lost many members, and held a great host of events, including Easter egg hunts, oratorical contests, archery contests, road rallies, "Respect for Law" law enforcement appreciation events, Arbor Day tree donations, Youth Appreciation Weeks and more.
Youth, Secretary Katie Loveless said, is their focus in all they do. Partnering with youth to help youth and serve youth, the group stays true to its original motto: "Friend of the Boy," boy being a figure of speech referring to children.
"Our focus is youth. That's what we're here for. We try to do our projects around youth, some of the different things are youth appreciation where schools nominate a student every year to be recognized, we do scholarships, Punt, Pass and Kick, we're looking at a Pitch, Hit and Run, we donate to childhood cancer, the Respect for Law event, we do a lot of flat-out donations," Loveless said.
The group was quite large at one point, Rosendahl said, but as time went on, groups branched into different time frames and with smaller numbers, many withered away.
"Now, most clubs are dealing with 20-25 members. At that time, Columbus was well over 100 and some guys worked at Lindsay Manufacturing and places like that, they started a second club that would meet in the morning before work," Rosendahl said.
All chapters, Rosendahl said, contribute to the international but have a lot of individual freedoms.
"Each community, organization or chapter is independently run in their local organization so we decide how we want to do things," Rosendahl said. "We support the international effort with some contributions back that way and vice versa."
Loveless added that in addition to the group's events, fundraisers and scholarships, they occasionally just make flat-out donations to causes, such as a child who has cancer, in their service to youth. These donations, Rosendahl said, can see support from the international group as well.
"If we contribute to someone with childhood cancer, for instance, or someone takes in a child for cancer, we can come up with funds, the national organization will match some of it," Rosendahl said.
While none of the active members were around for the group's foundation, many have been members for over 30 years, and hope to continue long into the future. Right now, the group is trying to set up a parent-child golf activity for golf season, to complement their existing Optimist Cup, according to Vice Chair Ron Schilling.
"We already have the Optimist Cup golf project where kids play for prizes we supply," Schilling said. "As far as this year, what we're looking at is to have a parent-child golf tournament at the beginning of the season so we can help promote the learning program (at Van Berg Golf Course)."