excerpt from a publication on the Optimist Club of Byron 50th Anniversary 1950-2000
For over 50 years the Optimist Club of Byron has put into action the philosophy of Optimism in a variety of youth programs and activities. Most of the young people in Byron have participated on one of more activities sponsored by the Club.
Optimism started in Byron in 1950 when 42 local community minded men met on April 11, 1950 at the Hermitage Club with Optimist members from the Downtown London and Lambeth Optimist Clubs to form the Optimist Club of Byron. Those charter members recognized the needs of the village of Byron and set out to meet those needs.
The Club adopted the Optimist motto of "Friend of the Boy" which was later changed to "Friend of Youth". The first Club program was the sponsorship of a girls fastball team. This was before Optimist International officially recognized programs for girls. The Club was a leader then and remains a leader now. Today the Club sponsors several girls fastball teams at both the house league and competitive level.
An early project was a woodworking club in a chicken coup where boys learned the proper use of tools and the fundamentals of woodworking.
In 1989 at the Optimist International Convention in Montreal, the Optimist membership was expanded to include women. Women members were quickly admitted into the Club and the Club became more representative of the community.
The construction of the Optimist Youth Centre on Norman Avenue with nearby tennis courts, a swimming pool and a soccer field was the Club's first major capital program. The Centre was opened in 1957 by Optimist International President Harold Brand. It soon became a focus of the community with regular teen dances. The Centre was subsequently donated to the City of London for $1.00. The park, where the Optimist Youth Centre is situated, has been officially designated as Jorgenson Park in honour of long serving Optimist member and former city councillor Gord Jorgenson.
A major project for the Club was the Byron Optimist Sports Complex on Boler Road, which opened in 1979. This 22 acre site was donated by Bill Willcock, a local developer and a friend of Optimism. With the help of local fundraising and a large Wintario grant, the Complex became the home of three ball diamonds, two soccer fields and a concession booth. This was a much needed facility for the youth of Byron and it has been put to good use. Canada day has been an annual event at the Complex and attracts thousands of people for the displays, entertainment and fireworks.
A Dream Home draw allowed for reconstruction and enlargement of the concession booth and washroom areas. New lighting was arranged for two of the ball diamonds. As well, a new washroom was built at the far side of the Complex. A new garage was constructed and a new tractor purchased.
Thousands of young people, wearing the Byron Optimist green, have played and competed at the Sports Complex. Whether on the ball diamonds, the soccer fields or the hockey rinks, Byron youth have learned the value of good sportsmanship and teamwork.
Over the years the Club has donated preschool play equipment and a theatre stage to Storybook Gardens in Springbank Park. Although not widely known, the Club also donated a miniature horse and a duck.
The Club contributed substantially to the construction of the Optimist Ski Centre for challenged skiers at the London Ski Club. For the past several years, "Challenge Baseball", for young people who are mentally or physically challenged, has been played on Sunday nights at the Complex.
Although the Club has a strong background in youth sports, it has also supported a variety of other programs including most of the programs endorsed by Optimist International.
The local schools have also received special funding for programs outside of the regular school activities. The city-wide Grade by Grade Chess Tournament, which has drawn over one thousand eager chess players each year, has been sponsored by the Club and organized by one of our own members.
The Club has been well supported over the years by members of the community who have purchased hot dogs, raffle tickets, garbage bags and Christmas trees. The community also eagerly bid on items on the Optimist TV Auction. Many London residents look forward to the weekly Optimist Bingo carried over Roger's Cable TV.
The Club also involves the youth of the community in a Safety on Wheels "Bike Rodeo", Easter Egg Hunt, Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership program (HOBY), Youth Appreciation program, Youth in Government program, essay programs, oratorical programs, Junior Golf and Canada Day celebrations. The Byron Optimist Festival of Lights program recognizes residents and businesses who make the extra effort to light up Byron for Christmas. In addition, Club members help at the annual Terry Fox Run, sit on the Board of Western Fair and hold positions or help out at the zone and district levels. For many years the Club has proudly sponsored the 29th Scout Group. New programs are regularly being introduced to meet the changing needs of the community, whether it be a woodworking club or a computer club.
Over the years, the Club has earned many Optimist honours and awards. It requires several banners to display all of the Club's awards. The Optimist Club of Byron has been fortunate with the high calibre of members who have taken on leadership roles within the Club. It has a lineage of dedicated presidents who have admirably served both the Club and the community. Some members have progressed through the Optimist organization serving in different offices. Lieutenant-governors, who are responsible for a zone, have included Bill Tickle, Glenn Marshman, Frank Lee, Jim Green, Tom Hammond, Gord Jorgenson, John Hutton, Tom Dean, Eric Thomson, John Martin, Jim Campbell and Dianne Oliver. Eric Thomson became the first Assistant Governor in our district. Gord Jorgenson and Tom Dean went on further to become District Governors.
Fellowship has long thrived at the Club. At dinner meetings, the fine session usually stirs up some welcomed fellowship. Members also look forward to attending the annual golf tournament. Club excursions have taken members to cheer the Toronto Blue Jays and to ski at Blue Mountain.
The annual Club barbeque, in June at the Sports Complex, is a highlight of the year bringing together many members to share in the meal and the informal games. It is at this meeting, where the Club recognizes the "Optimist of the Year".
Some of our members have been in the Club over 40 years. Their experience and dedication are recognized as two of the pillars of the Optimist Club of Byron.
Over the last fifty years the Optimist Club of Byron has helped to bring Optimism to other communities, some communities close at hand and others a fair distance away. Ten new Optimist Clubs have been built by the Optimist Club of Byron, the most recent being River East, a very active Club in east London.
Over the years the Club has received support from the spouses of Optimist members. In 1953, the Opti-Mrs. Club of Byron was organized under the sponsorship of the Lambeth Opti-Mrs. They have played a major supportive role in the success of the Optimist Club of Byron. The Club salutes the members of the Opti-Mrs. Club for their support and dedication to the Optimist programs in our community.
As the Club enters the new millennium, the Club is embarking on a 5 year capital program for the Sports Complex. After 20 years of high usage and some 300,000 visitors a year, the Complex is certainly deserving of some attention.
With the continued support of the community and with strong leadership and commitment within the Club, the Optimist Club of Byron looks to the future with a renewed sense of purpose determined to make is Optimism come true.