GENESIS OF THE PLATTEVILLE OPTIMIST CLUB
Submitted by: Ken Kamps, May 24, 2018
The initial meeting to form the club was held at the UWP Student Center on Saturday, September 9, 1967 when Walt Hannan, an engineering professor and director of campus planning, agreed to meet with Matty Matthews, a member of the West Madison Optimist Club hereinafter referred to as WMOC. Matty was a Platteville native whose father still lived in Platteville. Along with Matty were his fellow club members: George Blackman, also a Platteville native, Buford Hernon, WMOC club president, Howard Hershleder, Zone Lieutenant Governor and Norm Kennedy. The purpose of this meeting was to briefly explain the mission of Optimist International and of local Optimist clubs. Since Walt was a past president of the local, very active Jaycee chapter and was civic minded, the information apparently appealed to him.
Walt proceeded to help the men develop a list of prospective members with names, phone numbers, resident and business addresses. A special effort was made to avoid contacting members of other service clubs such as Kiwanis or Rotary. Many on the list were Jaycee ‘exhausted roosters’ (over 35 years of age). Several members of the original list can be found among our charter members. These prospects were contacted in person and a follow-up phone call. More enthusiastic prospects were encouraged to reach out to friends and acquaintances and invite them to organizational meetings. Thus, the WMOC members early on sought to have the club built from ‘within’ the community while they assisted and guided from somewhat behind the scene.
Over time as interest grew, WMOC members added Platteville names to their weekly newsletter ‘The Eye-Opener’ which was mailed to the new prospects. During that September of 1967 WMOC club members, including Matty and George, spent a total of 40 man-hours during weekly visits in informal meetings and personally visiting prospects. They also shared project and meeting program ideas. After each visit they wrote up a summary report for their file and for Optimist International. After we chartered, Matty presented us with the detailed file of all their work. This file provided me with the material for this article.
By October 19, 1967, nineteen new members had submitted checks for the $20.00 required membership fee. Checks were held in escrow until the required 35 had paid. The group was meeting informally at Steve (Blatzas) Pizza Restaurant for coffee and donuts. Somewhere along the way, Friday’s at 7:30 AM was chosen as a good meeting time. By November 7, weekly meetings were scheduled in the Platte Room at the UWP Student Center with meals for ‘heavy’ eaters and ‘light’ eaters. Weekly visits from WMOC members continued through November and December. (Sometime in the ‘80s, the meeting time was changed to 7:00 AM).
January 5, 1968 was a day with a temperature of minus 7 degrees so no one drove down from Madison. However, it should be noted that those Madison men were here in Platteville, on time, every week in spite of the early meeting time. They were not deterred by rain, snow or fog. During January, at least two WMOC members were here weekly and spent a total of 16 man-hours. During February, weekly visits were made, investing 28 man-hours and in March they were here weekly for a total of 66 man-hours.
During the first three weeks in April a total of 20 hours were invested by the sponsoring club. By April 24, 1968 (two days before the scheduled organizational meeting) 32 men had submitted their $20.00 commitment, 3 short of the required 35 needed to charter. The last three were signed up within the next two days. At this time the club’s By-Laws were established. Also, a slate of officers was selected (which can be read in the charter meeting program). With everything in place, the organizational meeting was held at 7:00 PM on Friday, April 26 at the Country Club. The official Optimist International paperwork was completed and submitted to OI. With 35 members at $20.00, we were able to submit the $300.00 necessary to affiliate and still have a club treasury balance of $400.00.
The subsequent Charter Presentation Meeting was scheduled for Saturday, June 8, 1968 at the Country Club. There were enough WMOC members and spouses who attended to require them to charter two buses to help us celebrate. Typically, a new club is presented with gifts such as a bell, gavel and banner. This is where ours likely came from.
Between September 9, 1967 and May 10, 1968, the sponsors had made 23 trips to Platteville and had invested a total of 202 man-hours. In addition, they made countless long-distance phone calls and wrote many follow-up letters. They never discussed any type of remuneration for their effort. This obviously speaks to their deep dedication and belief in the spirit of Optimist-- “Friends of Youth”. The WMOC built more than a dozen clubs in southern Wisconsin including Sauk City and Monroe.
By the fall of 1970 we were able to figure out why 35 members were required to charter a club. Many of our charter members did not renew; some had moved away. By then we were meeting at Bertha Johns on West Main Street with 10-12 members in attendance (with still over 20 paid registered members). This was in spite of the fact that Bertha cooked a full breakfast from scratch every week. It should be noted that the WMOC had not abandoned us. From the time of our charter the Madison club kept an eye on us and visited us occasionally, intensifying their visits when they sensed trouble. During the ‘70s we grew healthy and began to find our way. Our first year as an Honor Club was after the ’76-’77 year during which time George Louthain was our president.
And as they say, “the rest is history”.
Postscript: In about 2000 Ken Kamps and Dick Liddle paid a visit to the WMOC. Although there were a few ‘younger’ members, most appeared to be in their ‘80s and ‘90s. Sadly now, the club no longer exists.