It has been said most people are more afraid of public speaking than death – they’d rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.
You can’t say that about the members of Durango Earlybird Toastmasters, who get up early Friday mornings – thence the name – to practice and polish their speaking skills in front of an audience. They showed what they have been learning as the club celebrated its 60th anniversary Jan. 24 at Christina’s Mexican Grill & Bar.
This seems a good place to include a disclaimer. My father, Charlie Butler, was a member of the group for almost 40 of those 60 years, and he faithfully got up every Friday morning in time to arrive for the 7 a.m. start, Labor Day through Memorial Day.
So, since fathers are notoriously difficult to buy gifts for, every Christmas, one of his gifts included me dragging out of bed to go with him – and I always greatly enjoyed it. You learn so much, there is a lot of laughter, and they finish promptly at 8:30 a.m., just in time to go to work (or school).
My favorite Toastmasters speech of all time was given by charter member Robert Beers, who was a member of the club for more than 50 years. It started like this: “My wife, Irene, wanted new faucets in the kitchen.”
He went on to describe, in hilarious detail, how new faucets led to new sinks, new sinks to new countertops, new countertops to new cupboards, new cupboards to new floors, wait, the old kitchen table doesn’t look as good with the sparkling new environs, et voilà, the Beers family had a new kitchen.
Longtime Toastmasters member Sidney Zink gave a eulogy for Beers, which she also gave at his memorial service at the celebration. Jean Walter, who first joined more than 30 years ago, shared how technology is changing the venerable club, and several people in an impromptu format - known as Table Topics in a regular meeting – shared their most memorable moments at Toastmasters or because of Toastmasters.
Toastmasters International, which boasts 292,000 members in 14,350 clubs based in 122 countries, uses the logo “Where leaders are made.” Walter, Zink and Sheryl Ayers, all longtime members, agree the club, particularly the above mentioned Table Topics, helped them all when either running or serving in office. Table Topics are supposed to last no longer than two minutes, and that happens to be the precise amount of time allowed during a League of Women Voters forum.
Earlybirds was actually founded in March 1953, but the club decided marking the anniversary during the program year of 2013-2014 was close enough. Since 1953, other clubs have come and gone. During the 1950s and 1960s, when women weren’t allowed in Toastmasters, there was a Toastmistress Club in Durango.
A group of local businesspeople founded Wordslingers Toastmasters (great name) in 1982, which was Walter’s first club. When it went defunct, speaker extraordinaire Ruth Greffinius transferred to the Earlybirds Club, and Walter followed soon thereafter.
Apparently my father once told Walter to visit Greffinius for a tutorial on the effective use of the pause. It’s one of Walter’s great regrets she didn’t follow that advice.
Since 2008, there has been another Toastmasters in town. The La Plata County Luminaries meets at noon on the first and third Thursday of the month at the La Plata County Courthouse (for those who are not at their best first thing in the morning).
Earlybirds has moved several times, from the Strater Hotel where it met for many years, to Christina’s when it was at the old Silver Spur Motel (where La Campanella now stands), then to Pickles, Carver Brewing Co., and now, it’s happily settled in at Christina’s.
The club has changed immensely since those early days, with different courses to work on being an effective communicator or an effective leader, or both. Perhaps the greatest change is in the technology. Members are encouraged to use PowerPoint to accompany their presentations and often come in with notes for a speech written on their iPad, or for that matter, in the retro way, on the back of an envelope. (Jasper Welch has mastered both.)
If you’re wondering about the topics of speeches, members may practice a talk they are planning to give somewhere else, or they may research something that interests them.
Walter said she gave two of her favorite speeches during the previous program year: one about the full annular eclipse and how it might have effected Pre-Columbian peoples ranging from the Aztecs to the ancestral Puebloans; and, fittingly, on Dec. 21, 2012, about the Mayan calendar (when the world was supposed to end according to that calendar). Technology brought the two programs to life.
If you’re one of the people I mentioned at the beginning – the ones who dread speaking in public – but you’d like to improve your skill set, I highly recommend Toastmasters. But leave your “uhs” at the door.
Congratulations to all the members past and present.
Enjoying their Aquarius birthdays are Ricci Dawson, Karen Keller, Suzanne Parker, Christine Phillips, Heather Hughes, Lori Walters, Billye Dunkerly, Joseph Grinnan, Melinda Johnson, Rachel McKelvey, Delanie Mize, Jim Micikas, Bev Tomberlin, Marcia Welker, Wesley Campano, Cameron Kelly, Hunter Martin, Gary Russell, Harald Jordan, Bailey Carlson (21!), Jane Carman, Dave Schank, Diane Milner and Peggy Hoffman.
Ladies and gentlemen, you’re reaching the deadline for planning something special for your sweetheart for Valentine’s Day.
One possibility that’s a little embarrassing to receive – I got one of my own smack dab in the middle of the newsroom last year – but oh, so cool is a serenade by one of Durango’s finest barbershop quartets.
They will sing two romantic songs, deliver a red carnation and small box of chocolates anywhere (work, home, event, party) in La Plata County between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. on the big day.
As if that weren’t already sweet music to your ears, some of the money raised goes to the music programs of local elementary and middle schools. The barbershoppers have donated thousands of dollars to help young people learn and appreciate music.
To book your Valentine, call Maxine Peterson at 247-5073 or Jennifer Galloway at 247-4067. What is it they say? Oh, yeah, book early to avoid disappointment.
One person will be sung to for the 25th year in a row. Now that’s a tradition.
Imagine Ann Willard’s surprise when she opened friend and former Durangoan Lance McCulloch’s book The Colors of Blue to find that much of it is set on Tres Piedras Ranch, which her family co-owns with the McCulloch family. As if that weren’t special enough, she’s included in the dedication.
To top it off, it’s a romance, a tad unexpected since McCulloch trained as an engineer – and it’s good, more about a relationship of healing after loss than a grand passion, which makes for a tender read, she said.
The McCulloch family has deep roots in this area as a ranching family who came in the late 1800s.
This will be a week full of roses and chocolate for the anniversaries of Daren and Kim Caldwell and Kurt and Lisa Raymond.