It wasn’t long ago that we endured election season. Politicians and pundits weighed in endlessly on what mattered. Well, Lions know a few things about what matters in our communities. We asked six Lions to tell us what matters to them–not on political concerns– but on issues related to being a Lion. Lions may not be able to save the world all by ourselves, but we think Lions can offer some insight on making the world a friendlier and better place. Old and (Should Not be) Forgotten Paul Anderson Stillwater Noon Lions Club, Oklahoma My second-grade teacher told me more than once that if I “didn’t straighten up and fly right” she would call my mom … at home! That was 1953. My mom now resides in an assisted living center near my home in Stillwater. She is occasionally admonished by the staff to “chill” or they will call her son … at home! I do know the entire staff at her facility on a first-name basis. Role reversal of parent and child is interesting, to say the least. My mom has her ways. Despite firmly attached labels and colored signage attached to helium balloons, she still aims the portable phone at the TV. She still talks to the channel changer. Yet I believe she has better luck than I do at home with my overpriced electronic multimedia device, which to my surprise occasionally opens my garage door. The stiff-upper-lip mantra of us “pre-Boomer” sons and daughters passing one another in the hallways of assisted living centers that house our aging parents is: “It could always be worse!” The mother of one such newly commissioned “role reversee” would toss channel changers in the trash along with used tissue when she had finished adjusting her television. For a solution, my friend bolted her channel changer to a table. When that became unworkable, he adjusted the TV to her favorite channel, super-glued the TV controls and explained how to plug and unplug her TV to an electric outlet. Problem solved! Yogi Berra supposedly said, “It’s amazing all the things you can see when you take the time to look.” Many untold stories lie silently and desperately in the hallways of assisted living centers. These untold stories fascinate me. I moderate a “Talk Soup” session for a group of men every Wednesday morning in a local assisted living facility. The men’s ages range from 80 to 100. We discuss current events, but we share old stories. I videotape those stories for family members. My mom once lived in another assisted living facility before we moved her closer to our home. When I visited her, I was always welcomed by a huge man who was also a resident. He spent most of his days in the common living areas greeting people as they arrived. I did not know much about him because sadly I wasn’t looking. I researched his life for his memorial service. He was 89 years old when he died. He was born in West Texas as the ninth child of 11 brothers and sisters. He learned how to break horses and play a guitar equally well. He played football for Baylor University but withdrew from college to volunteer for WWII. He became a wellknown singer and story teller in the Pacific Theater, and in the 1940s he was featured in lead article in Colliers Magazine which called him “The Troubadour of The Pacific.” He won the Bronze Star. After the war he played and sang with Hank Thompson throughout the United States. He returned to Baylor, obtained his teaching degree and taught special needs children for 33 years. He worked as a horse wrangler for 32 seasons at special needs children’s camps in Arizona. He also became a Lion because “We Serve” was more than a slogan for him: it was purpose in life. In the final years of his life he moved to Stillwater. His granddaughter, whom he had raised as a child when she was abandoned by her parents, quietly cared for him. I believe our assisted living and nursing facilities house are now homes for many forgotten men and women who still have a heart for Lionism. We should listen to their stories. They did not stop being Lions because of their present inability to attend meetings. Although their earlier accomplishments are mostly unremembered, they still retain hearts for service. We should be creative enough to design meeting formats and service projects so our former senior, inactive and perhaps forgotten Lions can once again experience the pride of serving others. That’s right–a genuine role reversal! These men and women still have a desire to once again be a part of the greatest organization in the world if in turn we are willing to create innovative methods for them to rejoin us. That might look like a newly created membership status within such facilities. It might look like something different but in a more accessible format. I challenge you to decide in each community. Are you ever too old to become a Lion? I don’t think so. The big man who greeted me in mom’s former assisted living center was known simply as “Red.” But he was so much more. I wish I would have seen more when I looked. I wish when I looked at him I had seen the “Texas Troubadour of the Pacific.” He was a role model for his family. He was so very special to those he encouraged and inspired during his lifetime. But in the final stages of his life, sadly unremembered, he lived quietly and anonymously in a nursing facility. At his memorial service, four rows of family members sat in an otherwise empty funeral chapel. They tearfully clapped in cadence to an old 1945 recording of his favorite Hank Williams song “Jambalaya.” To every unsuspecting person he greeted, he was simply the big man known as “Red.” But the real Albert L. “Red” Cheek was a spirited and generous troubadour with the heart of a Lion. Past Council Chair Anderson, an ordained minister, serves as a chaplain for Image Healthcare Services in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He and his wife, Linda, have two adult sons. ‘Donate, Donate, Donate!’ Diana M. Pinto Cape Coral Lions Club, Florida I trip over things all the time. I should have been more careful, especially now that I’m 71. But last June as I moved a portable podium from my shed I stumbled on the doorway track. The next thing I knew I was laying on the ground with blood pooling around me. I wasn’t sure what had happened to me, but my throbbing left eye felt like it was dangling from its socket. Like in a movie, I screamed, “Help, help.” Bolts of pain surged through my face. In the distance I saw my elderly neighbor, John, on his golf cart getting his mail. I screamed louder. He saw me, hopped out of his cart and hurried toward the unit of the nearest neighbor, Marie, like his pants were on fire. Despite my pain I almost started laughing. Jeanne, another neighbor, happened to be driving by. Marie shouted at her, “Get to Pinto’s. She’s down.” The emergency room doctor studied my face and told me I would lose the eye. My gosh! I am a widow with four children, 12 grandchildren and a great-grandchild. I know life and what it can bring. But this floored me. I saw Dr. Paul Raskauskas, who had been monitoring my dry macular degeneration. He referred me to Dr. Nadia Kazim, who scheduled me for surgery to remove my mangled eye. My Lions’ friends, Past District Governor Paul Nash and his wife, Lion Rae, of the North Fort Myers Noon Club, kindly went with me to see Kazim. Paul fixed his eyes on me and asked, “What do you think about donating your eye?” Being a Lion, I should have been more aware of this possibility but I wasn’t. I asked some questions and briefly mulled it over. Yes, why not? My friends called the Tampa Eye Institute of Research and Development. Someone from the center would be there the day of surgery to pick up my eye. They told me it was their first “live eye” donation in about 20 years. My prosthetic eye is made from coral (ironic, of course, given the name of my club). I can drive, read and otherwise do what I have done before. At times I feel unbalanced. But I am grateful. I’ve moved past the “pity party” stage I had wallowed in. I broke my eye. It couldn’t be fixed. I’ve put on my big girl pants and gotten on with life. Thankfully, my appearance is normal. People who see me a lot and know me well ask, “What eye did you lose?” I’ve gained a new perspective. I can’t believe the number of people who find out about my loss and say, “I have one, too.” Prosthetic eyes are much more common than I realized. My heart swells when I think of the friends and family who supported me during my ordeal. I can’t name them all but there are the Nashes, who opened their home to me, and my loving daughter, Diana Sarah Nelson, who made sure I took my medications on time and drove me to my many appointments. The doctors, such as Gregory T. Anerino, an anaplastologist, have been terrific, too. Here’s what’s neat: my eye is in California for research on macular degeneration. If they make progress, I will raise my hands as high as I can and let out a whoop. But I’ll do some shouting now anyway. I’d like to scream this from the top of rooftops: if your eye is injured and damaged beyond repair, donate it, donate it, donate it. You never know what researchers may discover to cure an eye disease thanks to a “live eye” donation. Past District Governor Pinto, who lives in a retirement community, spends a lot of time with her large family. My Lions Lifeline Debbie Whittlesey Lebanon Host Lions Club, Missouri As a young woman I dreamt of falling in love, getting married and living happily ever after. I did fall in love and got married, but it was that last part where things went terribly awry. Years ago when I was dating and then engaged I considered his extreme jealousy, possessiveness and isolation from my family and friends flattery. I mistook all of this “attention” to be his great love for me. It wasn’t long after we were married that his explosive temper emerged. At first his anger was directed at objects that were important to me. He smashed a vase from my big brother, shredded a new outfit, broke the dishes and punched a hole in the wall. He was always sorry and promised it would never happen again. But it always did and gradually grew worse. It evolved into a shove or push. He blocked the doorway, threw me down and kicked me while I was asleep. The constant name calling and criticisms made me feel worthless and unintelligent. My self-esteem vanished. Fear was a huge part of my life. I felt alone, ashamed and embarrassed that this was happening to me. Finally after a trip to the hospital after a beating I learned about a place in town called COPE, a resource center and shelter for battered women. I contacted them and they helped me make a plan. COPE went to court with me so I would not be afraid and helped me get an order of protection. I have had to have several issued over the past nine years, but I no longer live in fear. Eight years ago I began looking for ways to give back to my community. I read about the Lebanon Host Lions Club in a brochure from the local Chamber office. I read how they supported children needing glasses, the schools, the library with large print and audio books, parks and much more. But what really stood out was they supported COPE. I knew then that this Lions club was the perfect club for me. Since becoming a Lion my life has been augmented with amazing friends, awesome social gatherings, quality leadership training and exciting travels. I became the first female president in my club’s 75-year history. I became district governor in 2010-11 and trained under the late Past International Director Harold “Ott” Otter. Near the end of my term, Joplin was hit by a devastating EF-5 tornado. I was so scared! But I remembered what Ott had said: “As governor when the challenges come your way you can choose to sit or you can choose to lead.” I chose to lead. I am so very proud of what we have been able to accomplish together and continue to accomplish in Joplin. You see, the girl that lived in fear, self-doubt and insecurity not so long ago has transformed. Since becoming a Lion I have been encouraged and made to feel like there is nothing in this world I cannot accomplish. Not only do Lions serve those in need but they also serve their members and enhance their lives. I will never be able to repay the Lions for all they have given me. After my divorce I thought my world was ending and my dream of happily ever after was gone forever. What I found out was that this was really the new beginning to my life, not the end. Thanks to the fabulous Lions Clubs International, I am now confident and happy and able to make life better for so many others through service. I love my new beginning and I love being a Lion! Life is good. Past District Governor Whittlesey is vice president of Central Money Services, Inc. in Lebanon, Missouri. She has three grown daughters and four grandchildren. She recently was one of 11 Lions honored by the White House as a Champion of Change. A Family That Roars Dr. Robert Massof Baltimore Brooklyn Lions Club, Maryland In 1985 I was a junior faculty member trying to make my mark at the Wilmer Eye Institute of the Johns Hopkins Medical School in Maryland. My research focused on visual impairments caused by inherited eye diseases. The institute director was Dr. Arnall Patz, a world-famous ophthalmologist yet generous, modest and humble. In the 1950s he had proved that high levels of oxygen given to premature newborns in hospitals caused blindness. Helen Keller personally presented the Lasker Award, the highest honor in American medicine, to Dr. Patz for his landmark discovery that saved countless newborns from blindness. Dr. Patz always had strong empathy with his patients, most of whom had irreversible visual impairments by the time they were referred to him. He was saddened and frustrated that he could do little to help them return to active, independent lives. Consequently, Dr. Patz made it his mission to create a vision rehabilitation center at the Wilmer Institute dedicated to conducting much needed research and developing effective clinical services for patients with chronic disabling visual impairments, a condition more commonly called low vision. My research on visual impairments was oriented toward understanding the eye diseases that caused them rather than their effects on daily living. Nevertheless, my research came closer than other types of research at the Wilmer Institute to addressing the problems of low vision. So Dr. Patz tried to persuade me to redirect my interest in visual impairment research and devote my career to finding ways to help people with low vision. That advice gave me pause. Although I had the greatest admiration and respect for Dr. Patz, the stakes were high for a young faculty member to accept such a challenge. Securing peer-recognition and research grants are crucial to career development in academic medicine, if not outright survival. Very few people in the world were doing health care-related research on low vision and there were no obvious sources of low vision research funding. I felt I was being asked to look academic death in the face. Then Dr. Patz told me an inspiring story. When he was trying to obtain funding for a clinical study to test his idea that the oxygen led to the blindness, the funding agency returned his grant application. Written across the cover page in large red letters was REJECTED – DO NOT FUND. PROPOSED RESEARCH IS UNETHICAL. Shocked and disappointed but undeterred, he persuaded his family to fund the initial study. This crucial pilot study was successful, and the rest is history. The message for me was that to build a low vision rehabilitation center, I would need the support of family. Dr. Patz already had a family in mind: a family that roars. Personally inspired by Helen Keller at the Lasker Award ceremony more than 30 years earlier, he invited the Lions of Multiple District 22 to partner with the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute to tackle the largely ignored problem of low vision. The 8,000 Lions of MD 22 responded enthusiastically by adopting us into their family. They created and funded the Lions Vision Research and Rehabilitation Center at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute, which serves low vision patients throughout Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia. This close and successful partnership has continued for more than 20 years with many accomplishments. The Lions’ love for Dr. Patz is enshrined in the Arnall Patz Fellowship, an honor that can be bestowed by Lions on others with a $2,500 contribution to the MD 22 Lions Vision Research Foundation. Time has passed quickly. I am no longer a young researcher. But much has changed for the better. Low vision rehabilitation has become an important part of health care. When asked what matters to me professionally, I say it is the strong working partnership we at the Wilmer Eye Institute have with the MD 22 Lions and being a member of the Lions family myself. Massof is a professor of ophthalmology and neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and director of the Lions Vision Research and Rehabilitation Center at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute. He recently was one of 11 Lions honored by the White House as a Champion of Change. Every Day is a Day for Service Santos Alvarez* Tucson North Tucson Lions Club, Arizona What matters to me is being useful. Every day I volunteer. During the week I scrub graffiti off street light poles and paint over the markings on walls and bridges in my neighborhood. I raise money on White Cane Days by standing for seven hours at grocery stores. Sometimes I do this three days in a row–Friday, Saturday and Sunday. On Sundays I usher at my church and keep their lawn nice and neat. In the spring I put on my Easter Bunny costume and see kids at the hospital. That cheers them up. I think I can help others because I know what it’s like to be poor. I grew up in Mexico. It was me, four brothers, my mom and dad in a single-room adobe house. It was really small with a dirt floor. My dad was a barber. There’s not a lot of money in that. The other kids in school may not have had much. But they had more than me, and they teased and bullied me. When you are poor in Mexico, school is not something you do for a long time. I made it through fourth grade. My sister-in-law encouraged me to come to the United States. I came here when I was 17. In the 1960s I moved to Nogales in Arizona and worked with glass. I was good with glass. I cut it, polished it and put it in cars and houses. I finished up grade school by taking classes and learned English at night from Mr. Baker, a volunteer professor. I’m 73 and retired. So I have a lot of time. Last year I worked 500 hours removing graffiti. It’s my neighborhood, and I want it to look good. I work with the city on this. For stop signs, I have to cover the letters with masking tape, and then I spray paint it. It takes two hours to clean a sign. For walls I have to use sandpaper. It gets you tired. But it’s worth it when you see a clean wall. When I collect money for Lions at the store I get to talk to everyone. “How are you today?” “That’s a nice dress!” “Where do you go to school?” I know lots of people. I tell everyone about Lions. We help out on disasters. We help the blind get around. Someone has to let people know who we are. Two years ago I was driving to Mexico for my club. We were giving people $1,000 for a new medical clinic. I got hit by a semi-truck. I’ve had problems getting the money from my insurance company. So I still don’t have a car. I’m saving up for one. It’s OK. I walk or take the bus. I had to take three different buses to get to our Lions meeting. It took me three hours. It’s a little easier now because a Lion gave me a bicycle. If it’s not too far, I bike. I really like being a Lion. I think there must be about 40 plaques and awards I got in my home. It’s a nice display. But it’s not about what others think. God put me on this planet for a reason. I want to be useful. A widower, Santos and his late wife raised four sons. *As told to Jay Copp Love Those Leos Tucker Casanova Virginia Beach Aragona Pembrok Lions Club, Virginia Why Leos? Why indeed? We’ve seen the future of Lions, and we’re worried about our aging membership. It’s worrisome but not hopeless. I’m reminded of a song from back when music was pressed into grooved vinyl. I’ll spare you all my tone deaf performance, but the first two lines went like this: “I believe that children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way.” Seems a little clichéd doesn’t it? If you’re as cynical as I can be you might even call it trite, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. The next generation of Leos are here now, and it’s up to us to make sure they’re going be here to have this conversation when we’re all gone. The truth is all things pass. That’s the unstoppable constant of the universe, but is that so bad? It doesn’t have to be. The Lions’ story has always been a generational one, rife with legacies and heritage. It’s this era’s duty to mentor the incoming Lions, just as the previous generations mentored us. Understand that this is a street that runs two ways. If I look at any room full of Lions what do I see? Solutions. Professionals. Decades of experience and the willingness to share that knowledge. Unfortunately, people my age and younger have been misled by the promise of “social networking” and they lack the talent of “real networking.” Don’t get me wrong, Facebook and its kin have a place, an important one. What young people may not understand is nothing is as effective as actual interaction. You can’t Google “success.” Well, you can but all you’ll get is definitions, maybe some stories, or guides, not real knowledge. The ins and outs of building a career don’t come in an email, or a text, and certainly never come in under 140 characters. There is real value, value beyond dollars, in what we have to share with our successors. If we teach them these skills they will have a wonderful advantage over their peers. We can’t give them an easier path; nothing of worth ever came easy. What they’ll get is greater mileage out of their efforts. We’ll give them the tools not just to be great Lions but great people–trendsetters, entrepreneurs, captains of industry. What do we get in return? Dynamic youthful energy. Stamina. When was the last time you’ve seen a broom sale going door to door? I didn’t even know that had been done until a customer mentioned it in passing. I heard the other day some clubs are selling Christmas trees to their third generation of customers. That’s something of which to be sincerely proud. But who’s doing the selling? That first generation of Lions. Highly motivated people selling to the grandchildren of the men and women whom they first served decades before. Other than strong backs, what else can they offer us? Well what about relevance? Non-Lions often don’t know what we do. That two-way street I mentioned? I may have sounded dismissive when I spoke of Facebook, but that’s the future. It may be the key to answering the question, “What’s the worlds greatest secret?” And who holds that key? The young. That’s absolutely terrifying. Sometimes that’s the way the truth is–completely, utterly, frightening. Why are we afraid? Because new technology is, by definition, alien. How many people have a younger relative they call when they have a computer issue? Most of the time how long does it take to fix? Five minutes? Less? Why couldn’t we just do it ourselves? Fear. Because it’s unfamiliar. We’re scared something will be broken or lost or erased. It paralyzes us, forces us into inaction. That fear will vanish with the understanding shared with us by our young Lions. Just as we’ll spend our time showing them the right way of doing things, they’ll show us the newway. Let them teach us as we have taught them. They won’t just be our future but the means to establish our legacy and make it last forever. Casanova is the hospital and community education coordinator for the Lions Medical Eye Bank of Eastern Virginia in Norfolk. He and his wife, Tanya, have two young children.
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