The group behind this longstanding gesture — the Optimist Club of Point Loma — is the same group that has been dedicated to supporting a large number of Point Loma and Ocean Beach-based youth programs for nearly 60 years.
“Every dime that we make goes entirely toward supporting youth activities,” said Barry Rogers, Optimist member and chairman of the nonprofit’s Friends of the Flag program. “We entertain requests from any youth activity in the area, and we’re pretty flexible about where we donate our money. If it’s somebody in need and it’s a worthy cause in our area, we usually support them.”
Over the years, a number of community organizations, sports teams, scholarships and projects, ranging from the Peninsula Pony League, Point Loma High School (PLHS) booster and sports clubs, much-needed equipment for local classrooms and the YMCA’s Capital Campaign fund have all received contributions from the Point Loma Optimists to keep youth programs alive in the Peninsula.
As part of its effort to engage local youth, while also carrying on a longstanding tradition, a fun-loving group of Point Loma Optimists with patriotism in their blood and a soft spot for youth advocacy in their hearts recently formed Friends of the Flag, the fundraising arm for the nonprofit’s weekly flag program.
With assistance from Boy Scout Troop 500, the Optimists install 168 American flags along the sidewalk every Sunday and national holiday — just as they have done for nearly half a century.
“A man named Bill Rippee, along with Paul Markel, Gene DeFalco and Leonard Bonham, wanted to do this as a patriotic gesture,” said Friends of the Flag member Ron Lauderbach. “It started in somebody’s Ford station wagon, and they were just grabbing these flags from the back of a truck.”
Now, a duo of able-bodied Optimist members rotates flag duties each week. One drives, while the other sits in the custom-made truck bed amid the shine of flashing safety lights, carefully inserting each flagpole into a pre-drilled, steel-lined hole on the sidewalk.
“It takes two guys. They go and meet at the flag truck just off Harbor Drive at Wally parking lot, then they basically take the tarp off, grab the truck and go out to put the flags in at seven in the morning,” said fellow Friends of the Flag member Tom Lewis. “We’ve also put up the flags when they’ve had funerals at the Rock Church for military and fallen police officers when they go down Rosecrans.”
Despite the simplicity of the well-worn ritual, funding for the program is a bit more complex with expenses amounting to upwards of $5,000 each year for insurance, maintenance of suitable flags and poles, and upkeep of the vehicle and pre-drilled holes.
“The program costs money to operate. We’ve funded it ourselves for the last 50 years, but now we need the community to help,” said Lauderbach. “Our group is smaller, and we don’t want to invade into the youth budget to do this.”
For the past three months or so, Lauderbach and fellow board member Alan Holmes have hit the streets to seek out business and family sponsors for the program.
“We’re walking up and down Rosecrans Street talking to all the merchants and inviting them to be financial sponsors with us in the program,” said Holmes.
One of the program’s main sponsors, Point Loma Nazarene University, contributed a generous amount for the program to continue without the need for the Optimists to divert funds from its youth programs.
“They were really the ones that kicked this thing off and got everybody excited about the fact that we’re doing this,” said Rogers. “We’ve got a real good thing here, and we’re just trying to get everyone more involved. People have enjoyed those flags for many years and still do, but there is a good deal of people out there who have no idea who puts them out there.”
A few local merchant donors who appreciate the group’s efforts have contributed to the cause, earning a large Friends of the Flag decal for donations of $100 or more or a smaller decal for donations of $50 or more to display at their businesses.
“If they like what we’re doing — and virtually everyone does — we’d like their support,” said Rogers. “And if you see a decal on a business, know they donated and patronize their business to say ‘Thank you.’”
He said supporting youth programs like the Boy Scouts is the essence of what the organization is about, and it hopes to continue bolstering local youth through its many charitable programs, such as its annual scholarship program for graduating PLHS seniors, oratorical and essay contests, summer youth sailing programs and student recognition services.
“And if you want to get a little wind in your hair on a Sunday morning, come on out and ride along with us,” said Holmes.
Anyone interested in membership to The Optimist Club of Point Loma or supporting Friends of the Flag can visit ,a href="http://www.pointlomaoptimist.org">www.pointlomaoptimist.org or call Ron Lauderbach at (619) 846-0095. All donations are tax deductible.
Showing respect for the flag
To keep our nation’s emblem from being displayed when tattered, torn or weathered, the Friends of the Flag often replace old flags for new ones — up to two or three per month. In keeping with the standards of respect for the American flag, the group — along with the help of the Boy Scout Troop 500, which conducts a formal retirement ceremony for tattered flags — adhere to specific guidelines each time the flag is raised, lowered or in need of replacement.
Here are a few of the rules of flag etiquette:
• When a flag is lowered, no part of it should touch the ground or any other object.
• To store the flag, it would be folded neatly and ceremoniously.
• When a flag is worn, it is no longer fit to serve as a symbol of our country. It should be destroyed by burning in a dignified manner.
• Ordinarily, it should be displayed only between sunrise and sunset. It should be illuminated if displayed at night.
– Flag etiquette sourced from usflag.org.