Marsha Chartrand

Civic Club with its long and proud history, faces disbanding

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Hannah Bradshaw received the May 2017 Student of the Month Award, one of several programs that has traditionally been sponsored by the Manchester Civic Club. File photo courtesy of Manchester High School.

More than 70 years ago, in 1946, the Manchester Exchange Club was formed.

This group of local businessmen and other prominent citizens of Manchester was started to promote civic activities that would benefit the youth of the community. So named because Main Street’s business district was formerly known as Exchange Place, in 1955, the Exchange Club adopted a new and more modern name, the Civic Club, headed up by President Lawrence DeVerna.

For the next few years, while heading up various projects–most notably the Manchester Chicken Broil, which was initiated by the Exchange Club membership in 1954–the group researched a number of national organizations with which they could affiliate, and by 1959 had chosen to become part of Optimist International, which held to the motto, “Friend of Youth.”

The Manchester Optimist Club has had a long and storied history with the community and its children. Most business owners over the years became members of the club and at its peak the club listed about 70 members, who gathered twice monthly for dinner meetings held at Emanuel United Church of Christ, in addition to their programs. Besides their work with the Chicken Broil, the Optimists have honored nearly 500 Students of the Month for citizenship and leadership qualities over the past 50 years, sponsored the Steer Club for the Manchester Community Fair, hosted an annual Christmas party for children in need, acted as the prime ticket-takers at football games, donated to Scouting programs, sponsored speech and writing contests through Optimist International, and a participated in a variety of other smaller projects–all of which benefited the young people of Manchester in one way or another.

In 2009, with a declining membership and the rising costs of being connected to the Optimist Club’s wider organization, it was decided to go back to the group’s “roots” and once again become a locally-based organization. Manchester once again had a “Civic Club,” although it continued its focus on bringing out the best in the youth of Manchester.

Since that time, the membership has aged further; new faces have stopped seeking out the Civic Club as more people work outside of Manchester and families have more activities with which to occupy their time. Volunteer organizations, not only in this community, but across the nation, are finding, like the Civic Club, that young parents do not have the time or the desire to join clubs.

“Times are changing,” sums up club Secretary and Historian, John Korican. “Quite a few of our members go to Florida in the wintertime; our meeting attendance takes a big drop … our next meeting will be November 13 and we know that the club will probably have to disband.

“We will definitely have two more meetings; this has been the 50th year of Student of the Month, and once we honor two more students that will make 500. We want to do that. And after that we are looking to see how some of our projects can continue with someone else.”

Several organizations are under consideration to continue the Student of the Month program, which started in 1967.

“Mike Kirk was the first student honored,” Korican notes. “It has taken several different directions over the years. When we first started, it could be any student from 7th grade through high school. Then it became a program for high school only–we honored one freshman, two sophomores, three juniors, and the rest seniors. Later, it morphed into only juniors and seniors and finally, just members of the senior class.”

Korican added that the focus on seniors was part of the growing need in the 1990s for students to have extracurricular activities and honors to put on college applications. The Student of the Month was based on leadership and citizenship, as well as academic achievement.

“The last several years the school has really taken charge of determining the nominees,” he said. “At times, students needed to apply and there was an elimination process; other times, they were nominated by a teacher or administrator.”

No matter who takes on the program, Korican and his fellow Civic Club members believe that it is essential to see it continue in the future. Proposals from interested organizations are coming in, he said, and will be considered by the membership at the November meeting.

The Steer Club is another effort that the Civic Club has supported for 50 years or more. “The Steer Club is a huge part of the fair,” Korican explained. “Parents more or less run things nowadays, but we have always provided financial support to the kids who are part of the club.”

While a huge number of Civic Club members are still helping out at the Chicken Broil, that has taken on a life of its own and is currently a separate volunteer organization. Likewise, when it comes to taking tickets at football games, a large number of volunteers happen to be part of the Civic Club–but the parents, players, and Athletic Boosters organization have cast a wider net for help and have absorbed that responsibility.

“We were a very active club for many years as the Optimists,” Korican recalls. “We were also a big part of the statewide organization–Ted Tapping, John Hinkley, Monty Okey, and myself all served as Lieutenant Governors for the Michigan Optimists.”

Back in the day, the group hosted many of the Optimist programs, such as the Essay and Oratorical contests, said Korican. But with the changes in school academic requirements, it’s been harder to get those programs implemented in the classroom curriculum. So as these programs went by the wayside, the Civic Club kept with its local projects and dropped official affiliation with Optimist International, while remaining true to its ideals.

Now, the club is looking for fellow organizations to take their place with the youth of Manchester.

“It will be tough to let it go,” Korican concluded.



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