Three-quarters of a century after its chartering in 1946, the Arlington Optimist Club continues to live the theme “Friend of Youth.”
But at its annual Christmas breakfast each December, the club turns its attention to community leaders – elected officials, public-safety chiefs, members of the judiciary – and offers a heartfelt thank-you.
Civic leaders are honored “for all the hard work they do for the county,” said Brian Kellenberger, president of the club and chair of the annual breakfast, during the Dec. 15 event at Washington Golf & Country Club.
From School Board Chair Barbara Kanninen to Clerk of the Circuit Court Paul Ferguson, from Police Chief Andy Penn to a host of current and retired judges, the event brought out a large gathering. Those in attendance enjoyed selections from the Bishop O’Connell High School Madrigals and String Quartet and a buffet breakfast sure to gird them against winter’s chill.
“It’s a wonderful day to be an Optimist, a wonderful day to be an Arlingtonian and a wonderful day to be an American, is it not?” asked Sandy Bushue, who, with Dr. John “J.B.” Whitlow, led the club’s annual sale of Christmas trees.
It took the Optimists just 11 days – a record – to sell out an assortment of 2,100 trees, 400 wreaths, 185 ropes of garland and 160 White House ornaments, Bushue noted.
“We’re very, very grateful to the community,” she said.
The shipments arrived in three tractor-trailers, with volunteers (including students on local sports teams, coaches and parents) helping to unload and set up the displays.
“We could not have done that without our volunteers,” said Bushue, noting that the sale has been conducted at the same place (the parking lot of what is now Wells Fargo Bank in North Arlington) for 75 consecutive years.
“Is that not remarkable?” she asked. The sale “has become an Arlington tradition; we are seeing the third generation of Arlingtonians.”
(The club’s order of trees from Galax, Va., totaled 2,500 this year, but the bugaboo of the modern era – supply-chain issues – cost them the final shipment of 400.)
In remarks to the assemblage, Memorial Baptist Church pastor Drew Hill cautioned those in attendance not to get so wrapped up in the Hallmark-ization of the holidays that they either lose perspective or forget the deeper meaning.
“We set the bar too high,” Hill said. “We think of an idealized Christmas, a Norman Rockwell Christmas. Every gift is the perfect gift and the white meat is not dry.”
Particularly in the COVID era, expectations need to be downsized, Hill said.
“We’re so exhausted from this whole mess. It’s frustrating, isn’t it?” he said.
But Hill reminded the gathering that the very first Christmas was not that dissimilar.
“Nothing went as we might have expected it to go,” he noted.
Many service clubs have faced challenges in the pandemic era, but the Optimist Club is rolling with the punches. It was one of the first such organizations in the area to resume in-person meetings as health conditions allowed.
Being the club’s 75th anniversary, “we’re going to be doing a number of things throughout the [coming] year,” Kellenberger said. The club also has seen a number of new members, and interest from prospective members, helping to arrest a general decline in membership in service clubs across the nation.
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For information on the Arlington Optimist Club, see the Website at www.optimistclubofarlingtonva.org.