EMC Folk Band Celebrated Album’s 40th Anniversary

February 24th, 2011

It started on Maplewood 3rd West, when hallmates Dwight Roth ’69 and Arlin “Rich” Yoder ’70 began teaching themselves to sing and play the guitar. Soon there was a third – John Longacre ’70 – and then two more: Ruth White ’70 and Rosey Ross ’71.

The five friends began practicing in EMC’s Northlawn basement, playing folk, gospel and other popular songs. The called themselves The Optimists; by the late ‘60s, they were performing for whoever would take the time to listen.

“It just kind of took off,” said Ross, who sang and played tambourine with the group. “We did a lot of programs.”

During their short career together at EMC, The Optimists performed for youth groups and churches in Virginia and Pennsylvania, at talent shows, and even at a Virginia state penitentiary, behind locked gates and under guard.

In 1969, the group recorded its first album, “Through Any Storm,” at Ridgeway Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg. The following year was a big one: Dwight and Ruth married each other, The Optimists recorded their second and final album, “The Song We Sing,” in the EMHS auditorium, and, upon Rich, John and Ruth’s graduation from EMC, the group dissolved as members went their separate ways after college.

“We had a good time,” said Dwight, who now lives with Ruth in Rocky Mount, N.C. “For me, [it] was probably one of the highlights of going to EMC.”

The five friends have kept in close touch ever since, reuniting periodically to sing old songs and spend more time together. In the summer of 2009, on the 40th anniversary of their first recording, The Optimists got together in New Holland, Pa., where Rich and his wife, Rachel, live, for a weekend of singing and enjoying the bond between them that hasn’t faded a bit in four decades.

“We developed a really good friendship,” said Rosey, now a family nurse practitioner at a rural health clinic in Fairview, Mich. “When we get back together again, it seems like just last week that we had been together [before].”

— Andrew Jenner ’04