Jay Copp 2013-09-10 18:24:20
Lions enjoy a great convention stuffed with stars and spectacle. He gently closed his eyes, slightly raised his olive-hued forehead and then delivered a stunning performance of “Ave Maria.” Andrea Bocelli’s powerful, lightning-bolt voice stilled the 13,000-seat arena in Hamburg. When he finished, Lions sat hushed for a nanosecond and then rose as one and burst into applause. Lions at convention take pride in being part of something that spans the world; after Bocelli finished and gratefully bowed his head Lions instantly understood they had witnessed a world-class performance. Bocelli awed the convention crowd after Lions Clubs International presented him with its prestigious Humanitarian Award for his foundation’s work to help the blind and needy. His performance was one highlight among many at the hard-to-top 96th International Convention in early July. Lions enjoyed five days of oratory, exhortation and performances by the well-known and the well-regarded. Former U.S. First Lady Laura Bush praised Lions for their literacy efforts. Basketball legend Yao Ming of China, taking the stage as an ambassador for Lions’ partner Special Olympics, downplayed his status as a superstar and deftly deferred to Special Olympians and Lions as true stars. The venerable but ever-youthful Up with People sang and danced with buoyant optimism for two high-wattage hours at the International Show. A clean, prosperous city, freshly adorned for a week with Lions flags and logos draped on or over poles, buildings and ships at the Old World city center and along the busy Elbe River, Hamburg was awash in Lions. Nearly 25,000 Lions and guests from 136 nations registered, far more than a typical convention. Germany led the way with 5,918 registrants, followed by Japan with 3,725, the United States with 2,099, France with 1,336 and China with 1,298. Thanks to the organizational skills of German Lions, events proceeded with clockwork efficiency. The shuttle buses whisked away the 10,000-plus at the plenary sessions almost as soon as the Lions exited the hall. The emphasis on efficiency did not detract from the dazzle and excitement typical of conventions. The parade on the convention’s second day was particularly memorable. Lions did a one-mile lap in downtown Hamburg around gorgeous Binnenalster Lake. Mounted police officers led the parade followed by Lions executive officers in horse-drawn carriages and then tens of thousands of flagwaving, folk-singing, ethnically-garbed Lions. Afterward marchers filed into a sprawling Lions Market to devour grilled bratwurst and learn about Lions’ projects at stalls and booths. Traditions and spectacle also filled the other days of the convention. The popular flag ceremony respectfully and colorfully showcased the flags of the Lions’ 200 nations. Outgoing International President Wayne A. Madden of Indiana and new President Barry J. Palmer of Australia delivered well-received speeches to motivate and inform Lions. Madden recounted the rousing success of the four-part Global Service Action Campaigns as well as the overwhelming impact of his signature project, the Reading Action Program (RAP). Lions assisted more than 6 million people in completing 73,000 RAP Projects in 2012-13. He also announced that the Lions’ board of directors extended RAP for a decade and before an audience of assenting Lions at the first plenary signed a collaborative partnership with Scholastic, the world’s largest children’s book publisher, to promote literacy. Madden administered the oath of office to Barry Palmer, who then unveiled his four dreams this Lions year. He will help Lions begin microfinance programs to take women and children out of poverty, establish programs and projects to attract members of all ages and both sexes, reach for a “dream goal” of 1.4 million members and raise the visibility of Lions through social media. Leadership succession was a prominent element of the convention. Lions elected Past International Director Jitsuhiro Yamada, a Japanese neurosurgeon, as second vice president, and Joe Preston of Arizona was duly elected as first vice president, meaning Preston will lead Lions as international president in 2014-15 to be followed by Yamada. Lions also elected 17 first-year directors from the seven constitutional areas for the board of directors, and just before the convention ended the incoming 757 district governors took their oath of office. One of the traditional functions of the convention is to showcase and further partnerships–with the ultimate goal to extend Lions’ service. Hamburg was no different. LCIF committed an additional $7.8 million toward its partnership with Special Olympics (see page 45); Lions provide vision screenings and eyeglasses for Special Olympics athletes. LCIF also pledged to raise $30 million to protect children in poor nations against measles and rubella. Lions are partnering with the GAVI Alliance on the initiative, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK’s Department for International Development pledged to match Lions’ commitment, meaning GAVI will receive $60 million to protect 700 million children in 49 nations by 2020. Like other conventions, Hamburg proved to be a beguiling bundle of entertainment, enlightenment and enrichment. Lions came to enjoy themselves but also came with a sense of responsibility. They voted for new directors and officers. They crowded seminars to pick up new ideas on service and club operations. They arrived knowing that when they leave they expect to be better able to serve their community. The bonus they received in Hamburg was an unusually rich experience of fellowship and festivity. Lions in Hamburg realized that, similar to doing service, they received more there than they gave at convention. “This is an inspiration. Everyone here is so friendly,” said John Mundt of Meridian, Indiana, as he watched a German band play sing-along folk songs outside the exhibit hall. “It’s a shame that the world can’t do what happens here. We disregard all our differences and just be together to celebrate life.” Lions Parade in Style It was a great day to be a Lion on the second day of the 96th International Convention in Hamburg. More than 15,000 Lions from 130 nations marched through the streets of downtown Hamburg. Often wearing native dress, the Lions dance, sang and high-fived charmed spectators. After the parade, they descended on a Lions’ Market, where 30 booths showcased Lions’ service and served international foods. The food was exceptional, the scenery was spectacular and spirits were high. Did we say it was a great day to be a Lion? Memorable Moments Gently led by her mother, 11-year-old Maura Loberg of Nebraska, the grand prize winner of the Lions International Essay Contest for visually impaired youth, shyly made her way across the stage at the plenary hall to receive her award. Recognizing Maura as an embodiment of Lions’ service aspirations, the more than 12,000 Lions in in the arena rose to shower her with warm applause. The 7-foot-6-inch Yao Ming stood next to 2012-13 LCIF Chairperson Wing-Kun Tam upon being introduced at the second plenary. Lions broke out in laughter as Tam smiled good naturedly. The themes of the three plenary sessions were, respectively, peace, love and understanding, and the first plenary opened with long-haired, hippie-like singers belting out popular tunes from “Hair” and other 1960s classics. Former U.S. First Lady Laura Bush tut-tutted her favorite ex-president for leaving his socks strewn about the house. With a lull in the parade, Lions from Israel joyously danced in a circle on the streets of Germany, and spectators joined their hands to become part of the impromptu folk dance. Jenny Park of California, the Peace Poster contest winner, decided to donate her $5,000 prize to her sponsoring club, the Northridge Lions Club, which set up a fund to provide eyeglasses for children in need. Lions Club’s executive officers including Wing- Kun Tam, LCIF chairperson, joined Up with People on stage to sign and dance to “YMCA.” Normally a bustling place with a din, the exhibit hall took on the quieter dignity of a concert hall as the German Lions Symphony Orchestra filled the spacious room with lovely classical music, and Lions stopped what they were doing to wander over and listen in wonderment. Outgoing President Madden, a die-hard Hoosier sports fan, received from Indiana Lions, in addition to a check to start a literacy foundation, a basketball signed by Coach Bobby Knight, an Indiana basketball jersey and an honorary membership in the Indiana High School Basketball Hall of Fame. With a deep feeling belying their youth, the Hamburg Gospel Train Choir sang “Circle of Life” at the last plenary session. Classy but also endearingly down-toearth, Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands spoke of her 9-year-old son at the second plenary session in a way every parent and every Lion could relate to. His favorite animal is a lion. When she told him she was speaking to Lions and what they do, he told her, “You see, Mummy! I told you that everyone should have a lion. Then everyone would be happy like me.” New President Barry Palmer choked up in front of thousands of Lions in telling about Leo Taylor Heersche of Kansas, who wished to be in Hamburg but died of cancer in the fall. 2012-13 President Madden also poignantly saluted Taylor at the Leo Lion Summit, attended by many of her Leo friends from Kansas, by taking off his suit coat and revealing a “Taylor’s Gang” T-shirt. Lions in the plenary halls gasped as Past District Governor Aruna Oswal of India and her husband, Lion Abhey Oswal, pledged $5 million to LCIF, the singlelargest donation made to LCIF. Happy to be in Hamburg GEMÜTLICHKEIT, the mood of amiability cherished by Germans, is found in abundance in beer halls and at family gatherings. But for five days in Hamburg Lions and others happily found themselves in a sphere of good will and good times. Attendees agreed that the international convention succeeds in bringing out the best in people and motivating them to put more into service when they return home. “Everyone is friendly. It makes you that way. If you ever come to a convention, you will want come back.” –Praveen Chandra Sharma (with his wife, Tara), 322-E district governor from Patna Bihar, India “It’s really impressive. We have people from communities from all over the world. It’s called Lions International. You can feel it … people from all over the world.” –Christian Leupold (with his wife, Kirstin), president of the Freising Lions Club in Germany. “We really like the Lions Market [stalls selling food or showcasing Lions’ projects held after the parade]. It’s brilliant. It gets people in a Lions environment. It should be replicated each year.” –Mike Baldwin (with his wife, Janet), a past district governor from Milton Keynes, England. “Everyone is so friendly. That’s the way it should be. Everyone is just happy and friendly.” “You miss a lot not being here. Every Lion should experience this.” –Lee Eisenhard, 14-T district governor from Mont Alto, Pennsylvania “You meet so many people and they all have the same thing in common–service.” –Sandy Eisenhard, his wife.
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