As we face the worrisome stock market climate of 1991, it perhaps is a good time to speak with a true believer. A true believer is one who has stuck with Wall Street through thick and thin, through recessions and military conflicts, through scandals and bear markets.

What makes such an individual a true believer isn't intestinal fortitude as much as it is that he or she has managed to consistently make money despite all the turmoil. Such folks are in it for the long haul, not jumping in and out on the turn of economic or political events."When I started investing in the 1940s, the "Red scare" was on in earnest and people said investing in the stock market was a big mistake because its time in history was past," recalls Thomas O'Hara, chairman of the National Association of Investment Corp., which has sponsored investment clubs throughout the country for half a century.

"Every three or four years there's a major calamity of some sort or other, and the current worries about the banks going bad and our country going to war fits right into this ongoing cycle."

Well over 100,000 people hold memberships in the NAIC, and many of the newer ones have been on a white-knuckle flight with the recent quirky market.

"Our members are currently in two groups, those with investment experience who look at this market as a buying opportunity, and newer people who are scared to death and feel they made a big mistake by buying stocks," noted O'Hara. "We tell them that you're not buying the entire stock market, but an individual stock which is now being offered at a better price than it was eight months ago."

Investment clubs, whether members of the NAIC or not, pool money for stock purchases. They become more formalized as members set regular meetings and require a monthly membership contribution to the pot. Club members research potential stock picks, then put to a vote what purchases will be made. Some clubs use advisers, while others go it alone. Most read and follow investment reports with the goal to learn, not necessarily to strike it rich.

"Don't be afraid," true believer O'Hara is currently telling prospective NAIC members. "At 75 years of age, I'm still investing for when I'm 95 years of age."

About 80,000 of the members also participate in the NAIC's low-cost investment plan, in which 70 different companies permit them to buy one share of their stock at no commission charge. They can then continue to invest as little as $10 to $50 a month to buy more shares.

"While people tend to prefer mutual funds these days and stay away from direct ownership of stocks, I really feel that you can make considerably more money if you learn to do it yourself," said O'Hara. "Half of our members equal or exceed the Standard & Poor's 500 each year, which is better than the pros do."

Some of the steady stock performers that the NAIC has recently recommended for study by its members include: Sara Lee Corp., the Chicago-based food company, which has increased its sales and profits; Westinghouse Electric, which has diversified within its industry but built strong long-term goals as well; Zurn Industries, an environmental company that has completed a restructuring of its businesses; Guardsman Products, in coatings for manufacturers and furniture polish for consumers; Teleflex Inc., in automotive and medical testing controls; and Becton, Dickinson, in health-care products.

The NAIC investment goal is to buy companies so long as there are prospects for them to be worth twice as much in five years. O'Hara believes that can still happen in the current stock market, even though he's not enough of a Pollyanna to believe that the next 12 months will be stellar in performance.

"Look at history and you'll see that stock prices reach new highs and then slow down for a year or so," said O'Hara. "If you buy a good company at a good price, you'll get your money back and will find more opportunities to buy even more of its shares."

Membership in the National Association of Investment Corp. is $32 annually for an individual membership, or $30 for a club membership plus $9 per member of the club.