The Highlander Boys

By Jerry D. Haight

The Highlander Boys of Denver was a non-sectarian organization having the purpose of developing boys into loyal citizens through a four point program dealing with the mental, spiritual, social and physical aspects of a boy’s life. Today, the concept would be labeled as mentoring. The group was founded in 1916  by George W. Olinger, a businessman, humanitarian, philanthropist, visionary, a man of high energy and a love of guiding boys into manhood. At first, the club was financed entirely by Mr. Olinger and by 1928 had more than 1,200 boys actively participating and more than 11,000 alumni. Then until 1976 the group operated under the auspices of the Highlander Boys Foundation, with trustees and a director. Denver residents became so enthusiastic about the Olinger Highlander Boys program that many parents placed their sons on a long waiting list.  It was not unusual for parents to register an application for their boys as young as five years old even though four or five years would pass before their boy would be nine and eligible. It is estimated more than 100,000 boys in the Denver metro area proudly called themselves Highlander Boys, carrying the memories of the Highlander experience into all walks of adult life. I am proud to say I am one of these.

Before founding the Highlanders, Mr. Olinger organized a baseball team in the Highland neighborhood, buying bats, balls, gloves and even uniforms. He believed that every boy would strive harder to be a winner if he was wearing a uniform. He was encouraged by the success of his first team and soon organized another and another until the Olinger boys ball teams popped up frequently in the Denver area and always seemed to rise to the tops among boys teams.

Not satisfied with the limitations of his baseball teams, this gentle man had another idea that would allow him to serve even more boys and started the Highlander Boys of Denver with fifty boys originally joining his new venture.   He imprinted six Precepts into the mind and soul of each boy and each could recite them one by one shaking the very walls as hundreds of boys yelled them in unison before each and every meeting;   “Be Kind”, “Live Pure”, “Speak Truth”, “Right Wrong”, “Defend the Weak” and “Play the Game Square”. The “Aims” of the organization were likewise drilled into each member and were simply, “Be Prompt”, “Obey Orders”, “Be Neat”, “Avoid Slang”, “Be Polite” and lastly, “Be Positive”. There was no other dogma preached by the organization, but the examples set by it’s leaders established their mark in every boy setting foot into the sphere of the Highlanders.  George would say “good oil will rise to the surface regardless of what waters you put it in.” Indeed, like good oil, Highlander Boys made their mark wherever they went and alumni excelled  at institutions like Denver  and Colorado University, West Point; they would  take leadership roles in the military and in industry. Very few George’s Boys ever ran afoul of the law.

The band and parade competitions were known to exempt the boys from grading because they always won, even against organizations like the VFW.   

 A reporter came into his office and asked the obvious about how it all came about.  George told him when he was about nine years old he met a North Denver businessman who knew how to talk to a boy and to listen to a boy’s troubles.  George lived in North Denver and went often to his business friend who frequently asked him what he wanted to do with his life. Once, when he had tried to answer that question his friend said, “If you can build a good life and live up to right principles it will be far more important than building a big business.”  He paused and then added “any man who expects to live successfully should lay aside one tenth of his earnings to lift some other person who cannot lift himself, and when one is able to lift another, he must be standing on high ground himself”.

 Mr. Olinger knew hundreds of his boys personally. Every boy was unique to him and was invited to visit his office whenever he needed a friend or someone to talk with.  Each boy received a birthday card every year and often a personal letter of encouragement to alleviate problems that came to the man’s attention.  In a letter addressed to “My dear Jerry;” the last paragraph reads "I want you to feel always that the threshold of both my heart and my home will always be open to you, and whether by word or deed I can serve you, it is yours for the asking.  Always your friend, George W. Olinger.” 

A prominent Denver citizen, who was in a plane bound for Los Angeles was sitting beside a serviceman who soon learned he was from Denver.  The serviceman asked his companion if he had ever known George Olinger.  “Indeed I do.” he responded.  “He is a good friend of mine.”  “Well,” said the serviceman, “when I was overseas one of the fellows in my regiment received letters regularly from Mr. Olinger, and he shared them with us. Now, Denver means to me Mr. Olinger.”  Groups of Highlanders were often asked to visit orphanages in the city, thus helping the boys to see a different kind of living, He also suggested that they could bring happiness for the orphans by taking a simple gift for each child, One day, Mr. Olinger observed a Highlander wiping his eyes. With a hand on the boys shoulder, he asked what he could do to help. The lad said that he had no money to buy something for the child that he was to visit.  “Well, that’s not so bad” he said, “I can telephone the grocer down the block and see if he can use a boy to do odd jobs.” His highlander came to life like a squirrel and scampered down the street to the store even without a telephone introduction.  When he came back, much later, he had a small box of candy for his orphan and a couple of nickels in his pocket, and best of all he had a job after school hours. 

George W. Olinger, was a businessman, humanitarian, philanthropist, visionary, a man of high energy and a love of guiding boys into manhood. He was the guiding principal to thousands, molding boys into men. He was also one of my heroes.