The Optimist Club of Tampa was originally chartered on June 28, 1926. It was the second Optimist Club in Florida, following the Optimist Club of St. Petersburg, which was chartered on March 22, 1924.
The great depression following the stock market crash in 1929 took its toll on many organizations, including our Club, and we ceased operating for a few years thereafter. On October 23, 1935, The Optimist Club of Tampa was rechartered, and has been in continuous operation since that time.
Originally the membership was all male, as was the case for most other civic service clubs. The Club’s by-laws were amended (in the 1960s) to include women. Membership peaked in the late 1950s at about 125 members, but has since declined (as has unfortuately been typical of most civic organizations).
The Club’s Wednesday Noon luncheon meetings were held for 26 years at The Floridan Hotel until The Floridan closed in the early 1960s. Subsequent meeting locations included the Hillsborough Hotel, the Commerce Club, the Holiday Inn Central Hotel, and a few restaurants (all in or near downtown Tampa). Since 1988, the meeting place has been at the Riverwalk Hotel (currently a Sheraton).
Using “Optimist Prams” small boats suitable for learning to sail, which were designed by Optimists in Clearwater, Florida, our Club sponsored a youth sailing club in the 1940s and early 1950s. The sailing club operated from a landside base near Ballast Point. Because we did not have a member close by to oversee the security of the facility, the property and operation of the youth sailing club were eventually turned over to the Tampa Yacht & Country Club.
In the 1950s, the Club provided uniforms for all the teams in a boys’ softball league operated by the Tampa Recreation Department. This program benefitted several hundred boys each year. We also outfitted a Woodworking Shop for the West Tampa Boys & Girls Club, and an Auto Repair shop for another Boys and Girls Club. We have frequently provided financial help to the Boys and Girls Clubs, the YMCA, and other youth-serving organizations, for various activities and occasions.
Prior to 1956, our Club provided a scholarship at the University of Tampa for a worthy and needy student. For many years we participated in the Optimist International Youth Oratorical Contest (for boys and girls under age 16), leading to scholarships for the District winners.
For several years, the Club maintained a 40 acre “Youth Wilderness Camp” (off S.R.580 between Tampa and Oldsmar), making the camp available, without charge, to supervised youth groups so that they could introduce boys and girls to the wonders of nature. The camp had a meeting hall, toilet and shower facilities, sleeping lodges, an athletic field, and nature trails. It was used both for day trips and overnight camping. Occasionally our Club took groups of disadvantaged kids to the camp on day trips, and on some occasions also used the camp for Optimist Club social functions. The camp was closed after the maintenance became an overload on the active members. A high school has now been built on that site.
Helping the Salvation Army with Christmas bell-ringing has been a Club tradition which extends back beyond the memory of any living member of our Club, perhaps as early as 1935.
Since 1973, the Club has held an annual benefit Quarter Horse Show as its primary fund-raising activity, to provide funds for its service projects. The horse show is held at the Florida State Fair Grounds Equestrian Facility, normally in April or early May.