The Pine Bluff Optimist Club marked its 60th anniversary Wednesday with a lunchtime gathering that celebrated members past and present.

The Pine Bluff Optimist Club marked its 60th anniversary Wednesday with a lunchtime gathering that celebrated members past and present.

“We really put most of our emphasis on youth,” said Gordon Seaton, who has been a member since the ’80s. “And that remains true today.”

Today, the club’s biggest program is the scholarship banquet it hosts each spring, awarding college scholarships to students from all area schools, said Robin Cline, the club’s secretary.

“What we’re all about is bringing out the best in kids,” Cline said. “Anywhere we can support kids, that’s where we put our efforts.”

The club also sponsors a local baseball team, junior golf league and the Boys State and Girls State programs, as well as contributing to the efforts of Optimist International. They recently began a chapter of Junior Optimist Octagon International club for young people.

At the 60th anniversary celebration on Wednesday at the Pine Bluff County Club, club member Lisa Kimbrell was recognized with a plaque from her fellow club members for being one of the first women to join the club and its first female president.

“The Optimists have always been near and dear to my heart,” Kimbrell said, expressing surprise at being singled out for special recognition. “We’ve seen a lot of change through the years, but I think we’re going to be all right.”

Kimbrell also read aloud a list of past presidents and the group recognized their contributions.

Kevin Archer, who joined the club in 1989, recalled scenes from when the Optimists used to sell Christmas trees in November and December as their main fundraiser of the year.

“Some of my fondest memories are of trying to shove an 8-foot tall Christmas tree into the back of a Honda Civic,” Archer said.

Newt McCullough, who started helping out with Optimist programs in the ’60s, recalled a year when the club made $15,000 for youth programs through its Christmas tree sale.

Both McCullough and Seaton said one of their favorite things about the club in those days was the tree sale. The trees would come in on train boxcars from Canada, and everyone would pitch in to unload them and haul them to the sale sites — come cold weather, snow or ice.

“You didn’t look at it like work,” Seaton said. “It was fun.”

McCullough said the tree sale combined some of the best and most important things about what the Optimists do.

“It’s a great club for the comradeship, and then secondly, it’s good for the charities that it helps support and the young people who benefit.”

Several members also expressed fond memories from when the club had its headquarters in the historic DuBocage House on West Fourth Avenue.

The last Christmas tree sale was in 1994, Archer said, the same year the club moved out of and sold the DuBocage House.

The Optimist Club has 31 members and meets Wednesdays at noon at the Pine Bluff Country Club. Its current president is David Morgan.

Whereas the club used have a majority male membership, today it’s mostly women, and Cline said they would love to add a few more men to the group, although everyone is welcome.

“We want more people in general to join our club and help make a difference in the lives of kids,” Cline said.