The Race is On Jason Huette says his La Grange Evening, Texas, Lions Club was searching for a project that would involve younger members and also showcase the community’s natural resources. A river does indeed run through it—the Colorado River, and Lions hoped to not only raise money for their club’s service activities, but to also “have a secondary economic effect on our community.” Lions organized what they now plan to make an annual event—the La Grange Kanoe Klasika. “La Grange is the stopping point at the halfway mark between Houston and Austin for a large bike race that takes place every year, and it was this that helped us move in the direction of an event that involved activity and a little sweat to achieve,” Huette says. “We are privileged to have a beautiful river and rolling hills that make up the landscape of Fayette County. We knew somehow that we had to get more people out here to enjoy it. Since biking, running and canoeing have become more popular over the last decade and La Grange is so close to Austin, Houston and San Antonio, we believed an adventure race would be a great fundraiser.” Lions soon changed their minds when they realized how many volunteers it would take for their 24-member club to accomplish an adventure race. “After months of consideration, we decided to do a canoe race,” he explains. Lions admitted they didn’t know much about running a canoe race, so they contacted the operator of the Colorado River 100, a race from Bastrop to Columbus, Texas. “Not only was he willing to help, but he also provided us with a turnkey operation,” says Huette. “We set the course up as an 18-mile course and started the leg work.” They became slightly discouraged when they discovered that the river’s water levels were “really low and going lower,” he reports. “We ended up with 90 participants. We plan on adding a shorter race next year in addition to the 18- mile race to get more first-time, local and leisure paddlers out on the river.” Participants’ ages ranged from 10 on up, and included teams of kayakers and canoeists. A local band entertained without pay; a cooking team volunteered to grill donated food. Other businesses contributed or discounted their services. Lions made a profit of between $2,000 and $3,000, which Huette says will go toward scholarships for graduating seniors. Iowa Lions Toast Oktoberfest Spirit It may be approximately 4,500 miles from Burlington, Iowa, to Hamburg, Germany, but Lions have been hosting Oktoberfest for the past 13 years like true Hamburgers. There are some obvious differences—Hamburg is home to 1.8 million people; Burlington has a population of around 25,500. Both cities, however, share a love of good “bier” and food. The Oktoberfest in Burlington is so popular that Lions have netted more than $119,000 from the one-day event since they began sponsoring it. All profits have been recycled back into the community, says Lion Jean Ballinger. “The club had been seeking an alternative to the long hours members had for many years worked staffing the concession stands for the Burlington Bees’ minor league baseball team—70 home games each summer,” she explains. When Mike Schwenker proposed the Oktoberfest, Ballinger says, “Lions jumped in enthusiastically. The concessions had been steady income. But burnout was setting in and we needed to try something new.” Planning begins each March, although Ballinger says bands are booked a year in advance. The 30-member club also receives assistance from Burlington Leos, who serve food and decorate the Mississippi riverfront Port of Burlington building where the fest is held. “The riverfront location’s liquor license is held by Burlington Steamboat Days, another nonprofit group. Lions have simply turned over all alcohol responsibilities and related profits to this group,” points out Ballinger. “It’s a win-win for everyone. “The early years began with a few major sponsors, but those can be tough to find and hard to keep. We can only sell just so many tickets and so much food in one day. A few years ago Lion John Wagner came up with a blockbuster idea—stein sponsors. For $100, a small business or an individual receives a ceramic beer stein, a couple of free tickets, advertising and other small perks.” Wagner’s idea was a moneymaker. “Last year, 81 sponsors jumped on the ‘bierwagon’ and said yes to the club,” Ballinger says. “It was a banner year for profits.” Lions cook authentic German food such as cabbage rolls, bratwurst, sauerkraut and pork chops with family recipes straight from their own kitchens. Free polka lessons for children, horse-drawn wagon rides and Lions dressed in traditional lederhosen or dirndl skirts and vests add more German flavor to what Burlington Lions affectionately call “O-Fest.”
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