December 21, 2009
BY Bob Watson of the New Tribune
The tree sales ended Sunday.
But Jefferson City's Optimists will be back next Thanksgiving - and, even more importantly - their real work continues throughout the year because of the money raised through the tree sales.
“Being an Optimist Club, all the money that we raise must go back to the young people in the community,” said Ralph Biele, a retired Highway Patrol officer who's headed the club's Christmas Tree sales operation for the last 15 or 16 years.
“And one of the reasons we sell so many trees here is because people know that the money we make is going to stay in the community.”
That money is used for a variety of programs, including providing a dictionary for every fourthgrade student, supporting law enforcements' DARE programs, the Cub Scouts' annual Pinewood Derby finals, financial support to high schools' Project Graduations, scholarships for at least one student each to attend Boys State and Girls State, an annual bicycle safety program and the Sports Complex at Ellis-Porter/Riverside Park.
“The newest project we have,” Biele said, “is to make the North Jefferson City Park a place where a family can go, where there's something to do besides sit down and eat.”
Optimist International was founded in 1919. Jefferson City's first club formed in 1946.
They've been selling Christmas trees on the corner of Broadway and West Dunklin streets for more than 50 years. “I buy the trees,” Biele said. “Everybody else works harder than I do.”
Sales were a little slower this year, Biele said. Any leftovers are donated to the Salvation Army and Samaritan Center for distribution to some of their clients.
Biele joined the Highway Patrol in 1964, and said some of his life's best memories are from “the time I spent on the road as a young trooper.”
His worst memories, though, also come from those days, and from the decade he spent as the patrol's public information officer - because of fatal accidents and the murders of several troopers.
“Seeing young people killed,” he said, “I'll never forget those things.”
But he thinks they also led him to his continuing interest in children.
He remains active in Special Olympics and Boys State.
“I think the thing I found out was, life was very good to me,” he said. “I really, truly believe that you've got to give something back.”
He also enjoys the work and meeting the people.
“I can go to Boys State and spend a week up there with 950 or 1,000 of the finest young men in the state of Missouri, and I can come home thinking, 'Don't worry, we're in pretty good shape - we've got some good kids in this world for our future.'”
His interest in Special Olympics actually got him to join the Optimists, Biele recalled. “I was involved in starting the Law Enforcement Run for Special Olympics,” he said.
After several years asking the Optimists for a donation, they said: “Don't you think it's about time you joined up and started helping us out?”
Thirty years ago, Jefferson City had four Optimists Clubs. But today, there's only one.
They meet from 6-7 p.m. Mondays at Hy-Vee's upstairs meeting room.
Biele wants people to remember most that the Optimists “are a service organization, dedicated to the young people in this community ... so that Jefferson City is a nicer place for our young people to live.”
Link to Original Article