Prospects look grim for Brooklyn Optimist Club NORTH COUNTY--Linthicum * Ferndale * Brooklyn Park * Pumphrey

January 18, 1993|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff Writer

The prognosis for an ailing, 40-year-old service club in Brooklyn Park is grim. Without new blood, the Optimist Club of Brooklyn has only a few weeks to live.

"We've got tired blood," said Gus Lundquist, 66, the group's president and a retired Brooklyn Park High School social studies teacher. "Rigor mortis is setting in. The people are past the point where they've got the energy."

If no prospective members contact the Optimists or come to a meeting Jan. 27 at the Club 4100 in Brooklyn Park, the club likely will disband and relinquish its charter.

Guided by its motto, "Friend of the Youth," the club has sponsored Little League teams, oratorical contests and bicycle safety campaigns.

But in a time of widespread violence and drug abuse, when children might benefit most from community guidance, the Optimist's roster has dwindled from a peak 70 members to just 12 who remain active today, leaders say.

Most of them are in their 50s and 60s and say they need help to keep the club going. But efforts over the past year or so to recruit new members, especially younger ones, have been unsuccessful.

When they talk about the club's demise, members blame the troubled economy, unstable family structures and the flight of businesses from neighborhoods to malls and strip shopping centers.

In an area with many single-parent families and parents holding down two jobs to make ends meet, "People feel they can't contribute," said Dick Hartlove, a former club president. "They don't realize that a contribution of time is just as valuable."

Children from those families -- as well as from those that aren't struggling -- could benefit from youth activities, Mr. Lundquist said.

"We offer encouragement and pats on the back, financial support and leadership that allows young people to develop on their own, because they know they're not alone," he said.

Founding member George J. Gonce, 65, owner of a Brooklyn Park funeral home, recalled that a pastor recruited 35 local businessmen in 1952 to form the Brooklyn chapter, which serves both Brooklyn and Brooklyn Park. The group had its first meeting at Friendship Airport, now Baltimore-Washington International, as it was being completed.

Like today, children were faced with the problems of delinquency, alcohol abuse and school vandalism.

"It was perceived there was a need for this type of service club in Brooklyn to deal with the youth and disadvantaged youth," Mr. Gonce said.

The same need remains 40 years later, members said.

"We feel that the neighborhood needs it, the youth of the neighborhood need it," Mr. Hartlove said. "Something has to be done to help these children."

Anyone interested in joining the Optimists can call the Club 4100 at 789-4100 or Mr. Lundquist at 859-3196.

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