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Where the gift of gab is refined Richard Pena | Sat, Sep 08 2012 12:00 PM

We went over to the Bonita Library’s Community Room the other evening to attend a birthday party banquet.  The occasion was the Sweetwater Valley Toastmasters Club’s 35th anniversary of its founding.

I was the guest of Virginia Cruz, a Bonita resident who has been a member of the club for about 12 years. She presently holds the post of vice president of membership.

I had attended a previous meeting of the organization some years ago. Leo Ledbetter a local resident and long time member of the organization had asked me to attend one of the club’s regular meetings and learn a bit about the unit. Cruz and other members I met the other evening brought me up to date on the objectives and some of the accomplishments of the local club.

The Sweetwater unit of Toastmasters International is numbered 3225, which makes us believe that there are a number of clubs out there, all with the same type of objectives.  From what I learned the main goal of members is education.

My hostess for the evening, Ms. Cruz, for example, related to me that her reason for being an active member was to learn how to speak to other folks, not necessarily public speaking, but those ordinary conversations that most of us take for granted.

In her case English was her second language and like most second languages, learning it was not simple.  A person must spend much time and practice to become proficient in the new idiom.  Cruz told me how she went through this gaining confidence and proficiency en route.

The Sweetwater Club has a storied history. Ted Parsons, a charter member and still active, has supplied us with a narrative that not only gives us the club’s history but also why many members remain active in the club’s activities.
Parsons was a retired naval officer who saw a need for self-improvement.  He wanted to become active in an organization that could not only hone those skills necessary for a full life but also give him some lasting friendships. 

He says that his Toastmaster’s experience has been positive, rewarding and a key part of his life.

Parsons goes on to state that he had no continuing friendship in other organization. True friendship, he believes, came around when he joined the organization more than 30 years ago.  Originally the club was known as the Waterfront Toastmasters because it met in a waterfront building at the 32nd Street Naval Station.  The original members were a mixed lot, managers and some support staff.  Parsons, himself, was a naval officer, a lieutenant attached to a local command.

Moving the club to Bonita was mostly credited to Ledbetter.  He was working at the base at the time and was given an assignment that most of us do not relish. The Waterfront Toastmasters was in dire straits and was in danger of disbanding.  Ledbetter was told to do what he had to do to save the club.  The first thing he did, and probably the most significant, is move the headquarters of the club to the Bonita area and change the name to something local.  Those changes took place and the club, today, is an alive, virile organization with many pluses to its credit.

There are many who owe their successes in other field to what was gleamed at Toastmasters.  Some of the members have achieved successes in fields that embodied communication skills.  Two became school principals and they owe it to the communication skills learned at Toastmasters.  Ola Joseph, who was the keynote speaker the other evening, became in international speaker and is the author of many books.

The current president of the Sweetwater club is Lewis S. Lewis.  Lewis is an author and entrepreneur.  He is the author of “The Art and Science of Success.”  The club meets weekly each Saturday morning at 8:00 at the church in the shopping center on Briarwood in Bonita.  All are invited.

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