After 39 years of civic leadership and service, the Greenwood Optimist Club has ceased to exist. However, the legacy of the Club and its focus on the youth of Warren County will continue through the Greenwood Optimist Scholarship Fund through WKU’s College Heights Foundation.
Established in May 1974, the Greenwood Optimist Club’s primary focus was working with and supporting the area youth. Optimist Clubs nationwide are recognized as the “Friend of Youth.” The Greenwood Optimist Club was known for its work with the Boys and Girls Clubs, the Boy and Girl Scouts, local youth sports teams and many other organizations dedicated to serving area youth.
Past President Larry Vaughn became a member of the Greenwood Optimist Club at its inception. The mission of the organization appealed to him.
“We joined with the ideal that this community had provided a good environment for us and that we could show our appreciation by donating our time,” Vaughn said. “By serving the youth we felt like we were doing that.”
The idea for a scholarship through the College Heights Foundation to benefit local high school graduates was an immediately popular idea because, through the University, the Club could serve all the local schools. Even though the members may have had personal affiliations with certain schools, the Club chose to serve the community as a whole.
“The scholarship fund was established with the help of Dr. Dero Downing and the other great members of the College Heights Foundation family,” Vaughn said.
Created in 1978, the scholarship was primarily funded through the annual country ham breakfast the Club hosted for more than 30 years. In recent years, the event was held at 440 Main Restaurant. The Greenwood Optimist Club was very thankful for the restaurant owner’s support. The WKU Men’s and Women’s Basketball teams were also faithful supporters and attended the breakfast for many years.
“Because a lot of people came out and supported the breakfast we were able to take the proceeds to WKU to benefit the youth,” Vaughn said. “We are very proud of this.”
Andy Lovell, the last official president, joined after he was invited by a friend who was a member. “At the time, I didn’t have children of my own and it was a worthwhile cause,” Lovell said. “I also really enjoyed the camaraderie of the group.”
The money that the Greenwood Optimist Club raised through their various fundraisers always directly benefited the youth of the area. They felt scholarship opportunities were extremely important in a time when the price of a college degree has changed dramatically.
“The cost of continuing your education has gotten a lot more expensive,” Lovell said. “The scholarship is something we could do to help the youth – and that is what the Optimist Club is all about. The scholarship fund allows us to take the money we raised and put it to a use that will have a lasting benefit. What better way to help the youth than to help with their education.”
While the scholarship fund created by the Greenwood Optimist Club will continue to help Warren County students, the Club itself has disbanded. “Over the years our numbers have dwindled,” Lovell said. “I think this has happened to a lot of other civic organizations also. Our membership has gotten older and our interests have changed. I think the Club ran its course. Now we will direct our focus to where it has naturally shifted – our families.”
Lovell, Norm Johnson, Paul Duvall and Vaughn recently presented a $7,747.92 check to Donald Smith, President of the College Heights Foundation, for the Greenwood Optimist Club Scholarship Fund. The money, representing the balance of the organization’s funds, increased the current balance of the account to more than $152,143.
“Many deserving students have already been the beneficiary of their generosity over the past three decades, and I know it is a source of pride for the members,” Smith said. “This scholarship endowment is a fitting legacy for all the positive work the Greenwood Optimist Club has done for the Bowling Green Community. The College Heights Foundation is proud to be good stewards of their trust.”
Vaughn said the scholarship “is one of the things we are most proud of, especially since it will last. The scholarship has an enduring legacy.”
To date, 110 scholarships have been awarded.
Contact: Donald Smith, (270) 745-4597.