Brooklyn Park's Pessimists ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

July 23, 1993

Optimism is a philosophical tenet that holds that life is worth living -- and that while the world may have some imperfections, they can be removed if everyone just pulls together.

This was the belief that spawned the worldwide Optimist Club movement during the Great Depression of the 1930s. As economic turbulence threatened the stability of American society, small businessmen and civic activists formed a nationwide network of clubs to sponsor a variety of activities for less-privileged boys. They raised money for summer camps, baseball leagues, annual awards and scholarships.

When some 150 people recently gathered for an Optimist Club crab feast in Brooklyn Park, they heard a less-than-optimistic forecast for the future of their 40-year-old local club. Unless the group can be revived with new blood, it may have to disband and relinquish its charter.

"We have to have people to survive," lamented a long-time club member, referring to the membership which has declined from 70 to eight. "We have the older gang to set up the programs. We just need the youth to implement them."

Although members blame their woes on the troubled economy, unstable family structures and the flight of small businesses from neighborhoods to malls and strip shopping centers, that is only part of the story.

In the past, Optimist clubs were training grounds for numbers of civic activists who later sought elective office. Del. Theodore J. Sophocleus and former Baltimore County Councilman Norman W. Lauenstein are just two examples. More recently, however, many aspiring politicians have been in such a hurry to make a name for themselves they seemingly no longer have time for community grounding.

"You just can't get people to be active today," said a past president and long-time member of the Brooklyn Park club. "All the parents are working now, and kids just want to sit in front of the television."

No one in Brooklyn Park -- or in other parts of Anne Arundel County -- can claim that the reasons for organizations such as the Optimist Club have vanished.

They need everyone's support. They cannot be permitted to languish and die.

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