Optimist Club of Rochester Gears Up for Fall Charity Event

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Members of the Optimist Club of Rochester have been bringing in the fall season with a bang for nearly 20 years. The club’s annual pumpkin stand has more than 50 varieties of pumpkins as well as funky gourds, colorful mums, corn shock displays and fall home decor.

“The pumpkin stand is by far our largest event and the money stays in the community, and I’m proud of that,” says Vicki Onstott, a 15-year Optimist member.

The stand has always been at various locations within the community. However, last year, the Fulton County Northern Indiana Community Foundation helped the club obtain a grant, which was used to purchase a pavilion. The club finally had a permanent location to call home.

“That was a real turning point for us,” says Teresa Houser, 10-year member.

The club has been supporting the community youth for more than 40 years and has 60-plus members. When a youth organization needs funding, its members approach the club and club members decide how the group can increase its cash flow. Whether it’s picking pumpkins, working at a stand or helping with a pancake breakfast, Onstott says it’s all about giving the kids an opportunity to earn money while contributing to the community.

All year long club members prep for the ever-growing event. Seeds are ordered in January and February, and then planted on Memorial Day weekend. Area farmers George Krom, Wayne Krom and Jim Straeter donate their fields, time and equipment for the pumpkins and gourds to grow. Beehives are kept onsite to pollinate the crops, and corn shocks are planted on a smaller plot in town. Straw bales are donated by Optimist member Jim Fritz.

The Rochester High School key club members can be found hoeing and maintaining the fields, and when it’s time to pick, equipment and volunteers are brought in.

Meanwhile, the Optimist members are busy hunting and gathering fall decor items, recruiting volunteers, holding weekly meetings, managing finances and guiding area youth at fundraising events.

Once the pumpkins are harvested, the fun begins. The stand is open seven days per week and is operated by volunteers and community groups. Guests can visit from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and meet the local Special Olympics club members, or come later in the day and meet any number of local groups being paid by the club to run the stand.

Funds generated are also used to support other organizations in the community, like the Outlet Youth Center, Fulton County Animal Center, Matthew’s Market and others. In addition, the club provides seven $1,000 annual scholarships for high school seniors.

Visitors will also find decorative fall displays available for purchase. Corn shocks, straw bales, mums, and a variety of pumpkins and gourds are arranged in front of businesses and homes to set a fall tone. The club members deliver, set up and remove the displays.

Each year first-grade students take a trip to the fields to select a pumpkin and learn about the planting and harvesting process, and area preschools and day cares also visit the stand.

This year, for the first time, local high school robotics club members will create a catapult for an event featuring pumpkin tosses and distance competitions.

The event wouldn’t be possible without the community’s involvement. From the farmers, volunteers and groups who run the stand, to the lovers of fall decor and the Optimist members who constantly plug away throughout the year behind the scenes, it is truly a full-circle event that takes an entire community.

The pumpkin stand season begins September 15, and continues until products run out. The stand is located at 803 East 9th Street in Rochester.

To learn more about becoming a member, contact Jack Townsend, club president, at 574-835-2597, or attend a weekly meeting at 6:45 a.m. on Mondays at Jarrety’s Place, located at 701 Main Street in Rochester.

For more info, visit facebook.com/OptimistClubRochesterIN.

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