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Ashby and Josie Skinnell have devoted many years of their retirement to helping make Clover a better place for youth through the Clover Optimist Club. “It really makes you feel good to help kids,” said Ashby.
Editor’s note: This is one of an ongoing series of profiles on Clover-area residents and their connection to the community, to mark the 125th anniversary of Clover.
By Jennifer Becknell
CLOVER Ashby and Josie Skinnell have devoted many years of their retirement to helping make Clover a better place for youth through the Clover Optimist Club.
Ashby, 73, a retired U.S. Navy special equipment mechanic, and wife Josie, 68, have devoted countless hours to fundraisers, such as selling concessions at Clover High School games, and many other Optimist programs.
“It really makes you feel good to help kids,” said Ashby.
Added Josie: “It’s our life.”
The couple married in 1960 and Ashby served for 20 years with the U.S. Air Force, including stops in Germany, Spain and Thailand. When he retired, they came to Clover to be closer to his parents. His father, David Skinnell, was an overseer at the Bowling Green Spinning Co. near Clover.
The elder Skinnell also was a member of the Clover Optimist Club, and had encouraged Ashby to join, too. But Ashby didn’t decide to get involved until 1992, a year after his father died.
He marked his first year by serving as president.
The Optimist International movement began in 1911 in New York, where a group of business people organized with the aim of helping delinquent boys. Its mission later changed to be a “friend of boys” and eventually was broadened to the goal of serving all youth.
The Clover group — established in 1955 by a Rock Hill Optimist group — had 21 members at the time Skinnell joined. The members included charter member Leroy Pendleton, the only original member who remains active in the group today.
Skinnell brought in 15 more members that year. He was honored as a distinguished president, an award given to Optimist leaders who launch a new club or bring in 15 or more members.
Skinnell also opened the Clover club up to women and blacks, who had not previously been members. He said the change opened the door for more people to help with the club’s projects.
Once the Skinnells learned what the Optimist Club is about, they were hooked.
The Clover group — honored as the No. 1 club in the state for five years in a row for meeting various goals set by the international Optimist organization — is active in a wide range of projects.
The club has operated football concessions at Clover High School since 1956 to raise money for local schools and youth projects. It also hosts two barbecue fundraisers each year.
It sponsors an essay and oratorical contest, citizenship and scholarship programs and supports Special Olympics and the Boy Scouts of America. It hosts an annual Respect for Law dinner to honor local law officers, pays for a youth to attend Boys State and sponsors youth sports teams.
The group also has several projects to help the needy. It collects toys for the Children’s Attention Home in Rock Hill and collects canned goods for Tender Hearts, God’s Kitchen and the Clover Area Assistance Center.
The group also collects money to fight childhood cancer and offer a video to schools on Internet safety.
“Every day, we are thinking of something that we’re doing with the club,” Josie Skinnell said. “And we just love working with kids. You really have to love working with kids to be an Optimist.”
The couple have served in numerous leadership roles, and an entry wall of their home is covered in plaques from Optimist honors.
Josie served as the first female president of the club in 1993-94, and has served as secretary/treasurer for about 14 years. Ashby served seven times as lieutenant governor, overseeing one of seven Optimist Club zones in South Carolina.
He also has previously served as Optimist governor for South Carolina, overseeing all 28 clubs and 769 members in the state, and is preparing to serve another term as governor in 2013.
Their children have been involved in the group as well. Two of their three daughters are members of the Clover Optimist Club. They also have seven grandchildren and five great grandchildren.
Over the years, the couple have enjoyed hearing back from people whose lives were touched by the Clover Optimist Club – who participated in the essay and oratorical contests or who won a scholarship.
On a few occasions, the couple said, youths have come back to the group and asked for help with a specific need. “We work with all kids,” Ashby said. “And if we’ve got the money to help, then we do it. That’s what we’re there for.”
For more information about the Clover Optimist Club, contact Ashby Skinnell at 803-322-0177 or email email@example.com.