By Diane Welch
Optimist International is dedicated to “Bringing Out the Best in Kids,” according to its website.
Members devote volunteer hours to conduct positive service projects on a community level that provide a helping hand to youth. With their positive attitude and contagious enthusiasm, Optimist Club members empower young people to be the best that they can be.
Warren Raps has been an active supporter of the Optimist Club since July 2, 1972. He remembers that date well. It represented the start of 39 years of continued service.
He is currently a member of the Del Mar-Solana Beach Optimist Club, but in his past service he held leadership positions as president, vice president and sergeant-at-arms with the now defunct original Encinitas Optimist Club. “Our members just got too old,” he said, “And we couldn’t attract new members to help the youth in our community.”
That original club was founded in 1955, and served to build a foundation for future clubs to follow, said Raps. Fundraisers during the ‘70s and ‘80s were hands-on and included selling pumpkins during Halloween time. “We’d load up a flatbed truck that belonged to one of the firemen and sell the pumpkins at shopping centers around Encinitas,” Raps recalled. They also sold raffle tickets for a turkey drive during Thanksgiving.
There was a wide variety of members, which included lawyers, insurance agents, sheriff’s deputies, construction people, farmers and firemen. Members pitched in to help build the Ecke Little League field, the Diegueno Little League field, and the running track at Ocean Knolls Elementary School. Raps recalled when they went to get the permits to start the work on the Ecke field that they needed an agriculture permit. “We were asked what we were raising. I said, ‘We are raising children.’”
Back in the ‘70s the club met on a Saturday morning at Colony Kitchen, a long-gone restaurant where the Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas now stands. One of the last venues was Brett’s Barbeque where members met at lunchtime.
The club’s major role was sole sponsorship of the Encinitas Little League Baseball program. “We provided everything from the uniforms to the maintenance of the fields. And the wives and mothers worked in the snack stand to help raise funds,” Raps said.
As the years passed, however, the league chose to take over this role themselves. “They thought that we were making too much money, but they soon found out that we were supporting it through other fundraisers,” said Raps, adding that the club nevertheless still continued to help out with maintenance of the fields.
Raps, who never married, has always been a supporter of local youth. “Way back when, there was a club that I belonged to called the ‘Kings Men of Solana Beach Car Club.’ We decided to sponsor Little League and then we supported the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. That’s how I first got involved,” he recalled. Raps still has a passion for cars and has restored a 1917 Ford Model T which he showcases in local classic car shows and parades.