Optimists bring Law Day to PRMS
Prairie River Middle School students were exposed to many facets of the legal system and government during Law Day Friday, organized and sponsored by the Merrill Optimist Club.
Tom Burg, a retired FBI agent and Optimist member who co-chairs the event, said Law Day gives students a better realization of all aspects of the law while also introducing them to potential career paths. Burg, for example, got to personally introduce a student who had expressed an interest in becoming an FBI agent to current agents at the Law Day event.
Those participating in Law Day included the U.S. Marshal’s office, state and federal lawmakers, Lincoln County’s criminal justice officials, numerous federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, court and correctional agencies, and related agencies such as the Lincoln County Bar Association, Teen Court and Crime Stoppers.
The Optimist Club offers the Law Day once every three years, with this being their sixth since 2000. Every year, they have brought in a high-profile keynote speaker to address the students. Past speakers included State Supreme Court Justices Shirley Abrahamson and Ann Walsh Bradley and then-Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager. This year’s keynote speaker was retired U.S. Congressman David Obey, who was re-elected 20 times to the House or Representatives.
Obey related that he was a terrible student in middle school until he was introduced to politics by a teacher who forced him to participate in a debate.
“By the time I was in ninth grade, I was straightened up and flying right,” Obey said.
Despite what young students may think, the government impacts their daily lives in a number of ways, Obey said, from providing the roads they travel to get to school to making sure they have clean drinking water. He urged students to read and understand the choices that face our government.
“You don’t need to know everything about the issues facing the government, but you need to know enough to make informed decisions and to insist that the government make the right decisions,” he said.
He added that government needs to make the choices that are right for the country, not necessarily each individual.
“Sometimes the needs of others are more important than your own needs,” he said. “You need to be willing to think in terms of we, not just me.”
Following Obey’s address, students went into the fieldhouse and had the opportunity to interact with all participants by visiting numerous stations. Several law enforcement vehicles and other equipment were also on display.
PRMS Principal Gerald Beyer said Law Day is designed to give students an understanding of how government works. Each student receives a questionnaire with 29 questions. To find the answers, they needed to talk to someone from each of the agencies represented.
“They need to see how government all works collectively at all levels,” Beyer said.
The “Respect for Law” plank of the Optimist platform dates back to 1965. Since that time, it has been an integral part of the Optimist Club mission.