Wausau Noon Optimists :: Helping Youth Develop Optimism as a Philosophy of Life!

Written by Lance Leonhard

As residents of Marathon County, we are truly blessed. We live in a community rich with history, natural beauty, and opportunity.

But perhaps our community’s greatest asset — what really makes Marathon County a great place to live, work, play, and raise a family — is something a bit more difficult to measure:

Our community’s devotion to serving others

Marathon County may be vast — We’re not only the LARGEST county in the state of Wisconsin, even larger than the entire state of Rhode Island! — but, our sense of community and our willingness to help those in need is equally MASSIVE.

In Marathon County’s many towns, villages, and cities, we have scores of service organizations devoting TENS OF THOUSANDS OF HOURS PER YEAR to helping others.

Two such organizations — the Wausau Elks Club and the Wausau Rotary Club  — have been in existence for over 100 years! (The Wausau Elks was founded in 1892, and the Rotary Club in 1916.)

Wausau_Noon_Optimist_logoIt would be impossible for me to capture all of the great things that service organizations like these do in our community. So today, I’d like to take a closer look at just some of the work that just one of our local service organizations — the Wausau Noon Optimist Club — accomplishes.

I have been a member of the Wausau Noon Optimist Club for the past 6 years, and I continue to be impressed with the many ways this group works to support more than 5,000 youth in the Greater Wausau Area.

On any given Monday, about 100 Noon Optimist Club members gather for lunch. While the location of the lunch has changed over the years — currently, the group meets at St. Mark’s on Wausau’s west side — the mission has remained the same: serving youth.

The group’s slogan…

“Bringing out the BEST in our Youth, our Club, and our Community”

…is the focus of each meeting, and the group tackles numerous projects throughout the year in service to its mission. Here are just a few:

Educational Projects

  • Essay and Oratorical Contests — Each year, the local club coordinates contests (offering prizes and the opportunity to compete at the district, state, and national level) to students interested in testing either their writing or speaking skills, as can be seen in the video below.
  • Dictionary Project — Each year, the club purchases and provides dictionaries to approximately 900 Wausau School District 3rd graders to help them in their quest for knowledge and success.

Extracurricular Projects

  • Annual Youth Ice Fisheree — This event offers any child the opportunity to enjoy a day of free ice fishing, with all supplies and needs provided (including the drilling of any holes).

Athletic Events — Whether it’s the Tri-Star Basketball Contest, the Boys & Girls Basketball Tournaments, or the Youth Night at the Races, the Noon Optimists emphasize the importance of physical health, teambuilding, and sportsmanship.

Rainbow’s End Day Camp — Perhaps no project better exemplifies the club’s focus on youth than this. The program is a 1-week day camp for children between the ages of 5 and 21 with special needs, offering activities that encourage creativity and seek to build self-confidence. The camp is offered twice each summer.

“Our Club projects touch thousands of youth in our community each year, and in a lot of situations we are filling a gap, giving the kids an experience they may not have a chance to have.”  — Romey Wagner

It should come as no surprise that to accomplish these and numerous other projects — as well as fundraising to assist other service groups, such as Peyton’s Promise — the Noon Optimist Club relies on a large network of member volunteers. In fact:

Our local Wausau Noon Optimist Club is one of the largest Optimist Clubs in the entire country, rising as high as fifth in the U.S.A. last year!

That sure says a lot about the Wausau area’s commitment to local volunteerism.


The group’s broad membership consists of business leaders, entrepreneurs, teachers, law enforcement officers, retirees, and others — and it speaks to the culture of service within this amazing community.

Whether a new member or someone who has been active in the group for decades, there is a clear understanding of the importance of the club’s work:

“Since joining the Wausau Noon Optimists 29 years ago, I’ve seen many changes. We have met in six different places as we’ve grown and we’ve added and deleted projects. But the one thing that hasn’t changed is our commitment to our core focus: the youth of our community. We continue to provide programs and support to youth of all ages, from early childhood through high school, with programs that challenge their bodies and their minds. . . . I’m proud to be a Wausau Noon Optimist.” — Dick Rayborn

Feeling inspired?

Great! The opportunities are endless…

Simply reach out to a service organization in your community, or use the United Way of Marathon County’s online volunteer portal to browse the needs of DOZENS of agencies in Marathon County to find one that’s right for you.

I can’t say enough about what I’ve experienced volunteering with the Wausau Noon Optimists:

  • Making a difference in the lives of youth within our community
  • Getting to know, and build friendships with, amazing people
  • Developing and sustaining an optimistic view of what the future will bring through interactions with people committed to optimism as a way of life

If you want to attend an Optimist Club meeting to see firsthand what it’s all about, email me. I’d be happy to have you as a guest and introduce you around.

If you like the idea of being involved in both local and international service projects, maybe the Rotary Club is a good fit for you. Email Marathon County Administrator Brad Karger, President of The Rotary Club of Wausau. He’d be glad to have you attend one of their noon meetings as his guest.

Whether you…

  • Join the Wausau Noon Optimist Club or one of the many other service organizations in our community,
  • Chose to be active in a school or faith-based organization, or
  • See an opportunity to be a more giving family member, friend, or neighbor

…I encourage you to take time, as we move into this holiday season, to consider what you are grateful for and how you can make a difference for those less fortunate in our community. For as Mahatma Gandhi said:

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Lance Leonard - Marathon County Deputy AdministratorLance Leonhard
Marathon County Deputy Administrator 

Lance Leonhard began his career in Marathon County government in the Office of Corporation Counsel and currently serves as the Marathon County Deputy Administrator. Lance’s career in public service has spanned more than a decade, having worked for the federal government as a law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and for the state of Wisconsin as an Assistant District Attorney. Outside of work, you’re likely to find Lance spending time with his family, traveling, teeing off on a local golf course, or sitting around a campfire with friends.  Email Lance Leonhard.

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