Breakfast Optimist Club of Belen disbands after 34 years

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While optimists are usually happy, go-lucky types of folk, it was a sad week for a few who shed tears as they said goodbye.

The Breakfast Optimist Club of Belen held its last meeting Tuesday after announcing they were disbanding the chapter after more than 30 years of service.

Clara Garcia-News-Bulletin photo: The Breakfast Optimist Club of Belen has disbanded after 34 years of service. The last remaining active members held their last meeting on Tuesday. Pictured, from left, are Patsy Torres, Cindy Clark, treasurer; Sallie Rizzo, secretary; Jack Fink, president; Cortez Kibble and Dave Klukas.

Like other service organizations around the country, the remaining members of the local Optimist Club attribute the end of the chapter to too few members participating in the group, which advocates and encourages optimism in the youth of the community.

“We just didn’t have enough people to do the projects we have,” said longtime member Patsy Torres. “It takes a lot of manpower and we just don’t have enough people to do it. The younger generation don’t have the time or chance to be in a service organization that will help the community.”

During their last meeting at Rutilios in Belen, the last six active members did what they do best — donating to the community. The Breakfast Optimist Club of Belen donated a total of $6,000 — the last of their remaining funds — to six local organizations that focuses on helping children.

The groups, Belen School Program, Boys and Girls Club of Valencia County, the Valencia County Literacy Council, Special Olympics of Valencia County, the University of New Mexico Children’s Pediatric Oncology and the Valencia Campus Scholarship Fund for Children’s Programs will each receive a $1,000 donation.

Since April 1978, the Breakfast Optimist Club of Belen has been meeting every week, organizing community events, such as the annual Breakfast with Santa and Fishing Jamboree, honoring students each month, coordinating essay and oratorical contests, recognizing local law enforcement officers and much more.

Cortez Kibble, the longest serving active member of the club and past president, said he’s been involved in the Breakfast Optimist Club of Belen longer than any other organization, other than his church.

“I’ve never enjoyed such a collegial, cheerful, pleasant relationship as I have with the members of the Breakfast Optimist Club of Belen,” said Kibble, who has served for 31 years. “The expressions of appreciation … are more than anyone could ever ask for.

“I want to express my appreciation and gratitude to them for their collaboration in enabling us to be as successful as we were in trying to contribute to the betterment to the youth of the community and to the community as well. As long as I’m living, I’m going to stay in touch.”

Torres, chairwoman of the essay and oratorical contest, student of the month awards and club historian, joined the organization 14 years ago.

“I’ve really enjoyed the program because it did a lot of things for the youth,” Torres said. “I was able to get involved with the schools, and that was fun.”

For Torres, her reason for joining was because she knew all the good the Optimist Club did. Her children were all involved in the organization’s Tri-Star Hoop Shoot contests when they were young, several had competed in the oratorical contest and her daughter, Yvonne, participated in and won the Junior Miss program, which the club had sponsored for many years.

But in the end, Torres said she’s going to miss the students, the teachers and hearing how well their lives turned out.

“That’s what I’m going to miss the most,” she said. “That was really more my thing.

“I definitely will miss the fellow members. We kind of like became a family in a way,” she said. “You become friends, and are involved in their lives in a sense. It was just fun. It didn’t bother us to get up that early in the morning to meet. It was a club, but it was about camaraderie.”

Sallie Rizzo, a 17-year-member, secretary and past governor, said while she’s sad to see the chapter disband, she’s optimistic about the future. She has joined the Sunport Optimist Club in Albuquerque and vows to continue the mission of the organization.

“We’ve aged to the point that we, as a club, just couldn’t do it anymore,” Rizzo said of the Belen chapter. “Basically, we just burned out. When I joined in 1995, there were 58 active members. It’s sad, because it’s an end of an era.”

The history of the Optimist organization in Valencia County is a long and positive one. At one point, there were three different chapters in the Middle Rio Grande Valley — a Breakfast Optimist Club, a Noon Optimist Club and an Evening Optimist Club.

Rizzo said the club was originally formed in Los Lunas, but because most of its members lived in Belen, it relocated to the Hub City. When they moved, they initially held their breakfast meetings at the country club, then moved to Patty’s Corner, then Don Andres and finally at Rutilios.

The goal of the local club has always been to give recognition to outstanding students who were doing well, academically in school, and was also contributing to the community at large, Kibble said.

And now that the club is no longer, the members say they will always be proud of the work that they have done, and while they’ll miss one another, they know what they’ve accomplished in nearly four decades can be seen in the achievements of the youth they’ve encouraged.

“We won’t be directly involved in helping the youth of the community or other activities encouraging or promoting worthwhile activities in the community,” Kibble said. “But at the same time, I will do all I can do personally to continue to encourage these types of activities.

“All over America today, there is a decrease of individual spirit in support in the kinds of activities that the Optimists, Kiwanis, Rotarians, Lions clubs do,” he said. “In a way it’s a sad day for America that we don’t have support and encouragement for the continuing of these types of organizations. After all, the young people are our (leaders) of tomorrow. It will be, in a way, a kind of shame that if we can’t continue more support for the betterment of our respective communities.”


-- Email the author at cgarcia@news-bulletin.com.