Mary Ann Lieser 0000-00-00 00:00:00
I have known about the Lions since I was a little girl and helped my mom gather up all the unused eyeglasses in our house to take to the local hardware store, where I had the privilege of dropping them through the slot in the top of the cardboard donation box. Since I come from a large family of nearsighted people, there were quite a few pairs, and I imagined each one going to a distant place, to be recycled and worn by African villagers, Indian city-dwellers or Central American farmers. That was the extent of my knowledge of the Lions until recently, when I made the acquaintance of my neighbor, Melvin Jones. Or, rather, of Kenneth Hammontree, a historical impersonator who portrays 28 different characters including Melvin Jones. Hammontree makes Melvin Jones come alive as he tells Jones’ story in the first person, focusing on the transformation of Chicago’s Business Circle into Lions Clubs International. As he has done for each of the characters in his repertoire, Hammontree spent almost a year researching Jones in order to get all his facts lined up and then move beyond the facts to delve more deeply into the personality of the character. In the case of Melvin Jones this involves capturing his energy, charisma and appeal as well as his signature friendly smile. Hammontree acquires the clothing and accoutrements for his characters as well. For Melvin Jones this includes a 1950s suit, shoes and necktie. Hammontree even has a 60-year-old Lions pin, similar to one Jones would have worn. Hammontree began portraying historical characters 40 years ago when he was a junior high history teacher. He surprised his Ohio history students one day by showing up for class as Johnny Appleseed, in costume and character, bringing to life that icon of the American frontier. That day in the classroom was a rousing success and Hammontree began receiving invitations to speak to other schools and community groups. He also began adding new characters, from Mozart to George Washington, from Oskar Schindler to Shawnee chief Tecumseh, and Founding Fathers George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. How does Melvin Jones fit into that illustrious lineup? According to Hammontree, he fits just fine. Hammontree has a set of criteria he considers when choosing new characters to develop for performance. Besides looking for men with whom he shares a passing physical resemblance— for instance he is too short to portray Abraham Lincoln, too thin for Teddy Roosevelt— he looks for men of integrity that young people can look up to and learn from, as well as characters with compelling stories who can be both inspirational and motivational. Melvin Jones, with his outgoing personality, his high values and ideals and his lasting impact on the world, is an ideal subject. Hammontree especially enjoys exploring the parallels between Melvin Jones and America’s Founding Fathers. The vision and ideals Jones used as guiding principles in the formation of the Lion’s Objects and Code of Ethics make a close match with the vision and ideals of Franklin, Jefferson and Madison. “Not many 20th-century men have shared the core beliefs of our Founding Fathers as closely as Melvin Jones did,” Hammontree told me, “and it is fortunate for all of us that those core beliefs—Jones’ sense of duty and responsibility and his emphasis on active service to others—continue to change the world through the thousands of active Lions around the globe today.” “You don’t get very far until you start doing something for somebody else,” was a sentiment shared by all the Founding Fathers, although Jones’ wording, pithy and down-to-earth, more closely echoes Benjamin Franklin. Hammontree has performed Melvin Jones to evening and noon Lions groups and district and state gatherings throughout Ohio. He enjoys seeing Lions make a more solid personal connection with their founder as a result of hearing his story vividly retold in the first person. His most memorable experience as Melvin Jones was meeting an elderly woman who had heard Jones speak at a district gathering 60 years before and who was moved to have that experience recalled to her. I myself was moved to learn more about the man who began the group behind that cardboard donation box I used for my family’s outdated eyeglasses all those years ago. As Melvin Jones knew so well, the more people who are actively involved in any service project, the better. As a child, I was touched by the act of donating the glasses, as were countless others like me, as were all the recipients around the globe. Which is just how Melvin Jones knew it would work.
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
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