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Rochester Optimist club hosts district convention

August 10, 2018

Every glass at the Kahler Apache will be half full this weekend, because the Optimists are coming to town.

There aren’t just any optimists, either. More than a hundred members of Optimist International, a worldwide nonprofit service organization, will gather in Rochester for their annual convention. They’ll come from clubs all over the Dakota-Minnesota-Manitoba district of the organization, and Rochester’s own Optimist club will be playing host.

Kevin Hammell, district governor for the year, is at least partly responsible for that. In addition to his duties of training and supporting clubs throughout the district, he also gets to choose where the year’s convention will be held. For him, choosing Rochester was a no-brainer.

“At the convention what we’re trying to do is inspire, motivate, train and just celebrate the year,” Hammell said. He’s been a member of the Rochester Optimist club since 2002 and says bringing the convention home will encourage more members of his club to attend and find new ways to get involved.

This year is only the third time the district convention has come to Rochester, with the last visit in 2005. The club has been preparing for the convention for almost a year. It began on Thursday and will end with a banquet, music and dancing on Saturday at the Kahler Apache.

John Dockerty, Rochester Optimist of 41 years, is excited to have the convention here. In addition to networking opportunities and club-building breakout sessions, he looks forward to the convention’s speakers, who will be talking about lifelong brain health. Dr. David Jones, a Mayo Clinic neurologist, will give the keynote address on Friday, and Dockerty says the topic resonates will with local Optimists.

“We don’t have a whole lot of 24-year-olds anymore,” he said of the Rochester club. “We’ve got more 64-year-olds or 70-year-olds, so it’s getting more important to look at how to keep your brain healthy because we’ve all know people who had Alzheimers or dementia. A lot of times conventions are just fun and games. We’re going to have fun and games and some serious stuff, too.”

Although the Rochester Optimists have only hosted the convention a couple times since the club chartered in 1977, they’ve been active in the Rochester community for every one of those 41 years. With roughly 35-40 members from Rochester and the surrounding area, the club sponsors and organizes a variety of activities and events for area youth throughout the year.

These include a hunter safety program, youth spelling bee and science fair as well as numerous other fundraising and volunteering projects. Rochester’s Optimists also helped start the Octagon club at Century High School, a youth Optimist club which regularly has between 40 and 85 student members.

But where most of Rochester may recognize the Optimist club from is their Frozen Goose Race, which has been held for over 20 years and is now part of Rochester’s WinterFest. Proceeds from that race as well as other funds raised by the club are donated to Mayo Clinic and Brighter Tomorrows to fund childhood cancer research.

One of Rochester’s original Optimists, Dockerty has always been active in the club’s activities and fully embraces the Optimist mindset.

“The glass is always full to me,” he said. “You can’t walk too far without passing an Optimist creed in my house. I walk the walk as well as talk the talk.”

These creeds, which Dockerty says were first written in 1920 when the Optimist organization originally formed, define the club’s mission to spread positivity and support youth through service. Although everyone approaches that mission in different ways, Dockerty says it’s the club’s goal “to inject optimism into everybody’s life here in Rochester and the Rochester area.”

Hammell agreed, adding that “the purpose of the Optimist club is to result in positive vision and bring out the best in our youth, our community and ourselves.”

He encourages those interested in joining the club or learning more about Optimist activities and projects in Rochester to attend a meeting.

The Rochester Optimist club meets at 7 a.m. on three Fridays a month at Rooster’s Too! (4576 Main Ave SE, Rochester). The club also meets at 5:30 p.m. on the first Thursday of every month at Bowlocity (2810 N Broadway Ave, Rochester) for a supper meeting.

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