Over the Hill

A toast to the Toastmasters

Phil Dirkx
Phil Dirkx

The Toastmasters Club launched my career, and it’s about time I acknowledged that. “What career?” you may ask. That question is justified. I’m just a small-town news guy who made a career out of telling North County people, particularly Paso Roblans, what they’re doing.

It’s been a satisfying career and at times even exciting, what with fires, floods, gun battles and people being rescued from the raging (believe it or not) Salinas River.

During the Korean War, Mamie and I learned to like Paso Robles. I was a soldier at Camp Roberts. She was a telephone operator who was transferred from Hanford to help handle the wartime increase in telephone traffic. We were married in 1953 at Camp Roberts.

We then lived about eight years in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I worked for Beneficial Finance Co. In November 1961 Beneficial transferred me to Paso Robles to open a new office. I soon joined the Paso Robles Toastmasters Club. I’d heard that Toastmasters members help each other learn how to speak effectively in public.

The population of Paso Robles was then about 6,700. The local newspaper usually reported the activities of all the town’s many local organizations. If you won a local or regional Toastmasters’ speech contest, your achievement appeared in the paper.

Paso Robles Toastmasters Club members also served as the parade announcers on Pioneer Day. And we gave public talks about such things as a proposed school tax increase and a proposed distribution system for Nacimiento Lake water.

Mamie worked at the Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce office. Ray Bryant, who owned KPRL Radio in Paso Robles, was a Chamber board member. In 1967 he asked Mamie if she thought I’d like to work for him. She told him to ask me.

Ray Bryant was certainly also responsible for launching my career. At that time I knew nothing about radio broadcasting, but he hired me as KPRL’s news director. Then in 1980 I went to work for the Telegram-Tribune. I still write this weekly column for The Tribune.

I resigned from Toastmasters when I went to work at KPRL, but in 1994 I rejoined. This time it was the Speakeasy Toastmasters, which meets in Templeton. About a year ago I reluctantly resigned again.

Most people have deep-seated fears of the three “S”s: spiders, snakes and public speaking. One way to tame the public-speaking fear is to practice speaking before a friendly, supportive group. That’s what a Toastmasters Club provides.

You can learn more about Toastmasters and the club nearest you at www.toastmasters.org. I recommend it.