Marsha Mercer 2013-12-11 07:46:57
The boisterous, over-the-top hijinks of the 1950s and earlier may have faded into history, but Lions still have plenty of fun while doing good. George Keens took his seat as the newest member of the San Pedro Lions Club in 1959 and wet his pants. It’s not what you think. Keens sat in a puddle of water left intentionally for him. While Keens was standing, a playful Lion had surreptitiously poured water onto the chair’s concave leather seat. That was how Lions in one club in Southern California welcomed new members in the age of Ike and Elvis. “They had to take it–like an initiation,” recalls Keens, 97. “It was all in fun.” Times change, and so do Lions. The San Pedro club has women members now, and the soggy, seat-of-the-pants welcome has gone the way of the transistor radio. Fun evolves, though it’s still as important to Lions clubs as H2O is to the human body. Surveys done by Lions Clubs International show men and women become Lions primarily to serve their communities, and Lions truly enjoy service. Whether they’re sorting old clothes for a flea market, flipping chicken on the grill or playing baseball with special needs kids, Lions have fun helping each other while they’re making their communities better. “The ‘We Serve’ philosophy resonated with me,” says Kathryn Scott, who joined the Orcutt Lions Club in California in 2010 and quickly rose to president. Lions’ work with Angels Foster Care and Royal Family Kids Camp, which help foster and abused children, touched her heart. She also loves the Lions-sponsored Christmas parade. With a background in sales and marketing, Scott sees stoking enthusiasm as key to retaining and recruiting members. She brings in small prizes–lion candy, fuzzy lion toys, Beanie Baby lions–because, she says, busy members face a decision: “Am I going to go to this meeting or stay home and watch ‘Survivor’?” Bottom line, says Past District Governor Bill Newyear in Pahrump, Nevada: “It’s a volunteer organization that does a lot of work. You’re not paid for it. If you can’t have fun, why bother?” Fun is not trivial. It serves an important role in groups, says Vanessa Druskat, an expert in organizational behavior at the University of New Hampshire. “The more you understand and appreciate the uniqueness of one another, the more you listen to each other, trust others’ views and make smarter decisions,” she says. Groups can achieve their goals without having fun, but fun actually boosts performance, says Druskat, whose dad is a Lion in Massachusetts. Bringing members and spouses together for social events like barbecues and golf tournaments helps people learn about, understand and trust each other. Taking five minutes at the start of a meeting for silliness is also smart: “People think more clearly when they’re relaxed,” she says. Plus, fun engages people. “When we’re engaged, we learn more,” she adds. Fun is not quantifiable, the way meeting a fundraising goal is, but creative fundraising can be fun, make a community take notice and energize members. Pam Burton of the Darlington Lions in rural Maryland compiled YouTube videos of Lions fundraising events around the globe–from elephants playing soccer in Nepal to Wiener Dog Races in Buda, Texas–for a presentation last year at the USA/Canada Lions Leadership Forum. Lions Clubs are all about experience, and what’s fun varies from club to club and even Lion to Lion. Age and gender affect someone’s notion of fun, as does geography. Clubs need to know their communities and their members. Even in a world of instant tweets and global CNN, people retain rich geographical differences that shape their ideas of fun. The Chilliwack Stellers Jay Lions Club in British Columbia, Canada, finds fun in catering memorial teas and other foodie events. “We were the first all-ladies Lions club chartered in Canada 25 years ago,” says Joan Maxwell, club secretary and a 19-year member. Men can join now, but, she says, “We wear pink vests.” At their meetings, Stellers Jay Lions get a kick out of tossing Loonies (the Canadian dollar) into a toilet seat. “It’s a game that livens things up,” says Maxwell. The tail twister places a toilet seat in the middle of the group, and members take turns tossing dollar coins. If yours goes in, you get it back. A miss and into the Lion bank it goes. Mostly, the Lions win. Don’t underestimate the fun potential of a member who’s a character. He or she might turn ordinary tasks into legend. David Carlock of the Boynton Lions Club, near Chattanooga, Tennessee, recalls the amazing sales skills of the late Harry McCauley. “He could sell Eskimo pies in the Antarctic. He wouldn’t take a no,” says Carlock. Decades ago when Lions sold light bulbs door to door, McCauley sold a box of bulbs to an elderly fellow who didn’t even have electricity. “People don’t believe it, but it’s true!” says Carlock, 75. Longtime Lions often relish old stories, traditions and rituals more than newer, younger members do. Conflict sometimes results. In Bridgewater, Massachusetts, Sharon Audette is helping new Campus Lions clubs. College students often don’t like raising money, but most are interested in volunteering, she says. Younger Lions want hands-on projects such as cleaning up a beach or running in a charity race, not selling tickets. Audette, who joined the Bridgewater Academy Lions in 2005, wants to bring in fresh, fun activities–maybe a road race (a scavenger hunt in cars), a chili cook-off or a hot wings cooking contest. Older members push back with the five words that murder change: “We’ve never done that before.” Audette perseveres. “You’ve just got to keep pushing, very delicately,” she says. Lions Clubs International recognizes that clubs have different needs. Only a little more than a third of non-Lions say they would appreciate regular meetings, and just one in 10 non-members say they like the idea of a cheer, roar or song, according to LCI surveys. The tail twister is now “totally optional,” says Becca Pietrini, a manager in Membership at LCI. Pranks can be fun, or not. Take cutting off neckties– please!–says Past District Governor John Youney of Skowhegan, Maine. “Cut your tie off? That’s not acceptable to me,” says Youney. A tail twister’s tail twister, Youney has presented talks on how to accentuate fun. He’s all for competitive nerf basketball but losing one of his beloved Jerry Garcia silk neckties to a “fun” snip of the scissors? Never. Youney’s region is one of the country’s top maple syrup producers, and Skowhegan Lions naturally think they know syrup-making. He recently sprang a surprise pop quiz–$1 each–and offered syrup products as first and second prizes. “That got people going, because when there’s a prize, they compete,” Youney says. And they laugh. There’s scientific evidence to back up the power of laughter, says Professor Druskat, who notes that brain research shows people are never more in sync than when they are laughing together. Their brains light up in the same area. Greg Stahl of the Wrentham Lions Club in Massachusetts could surely get a good-natured argument from other Lions when he declares, “We’ve got the most fun club on the planet!” In March, Wrentham Lion J.R. McDonald and a partner dressed up as Barney and Betty Rubble from “The Flintstones” and danced to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” in the first “Dancing with the Wrentham Stars” competition. “Our guy was hilarious,” says Stahl. “Barney” brought home the award for raising the most money among the participating charities. “We’re good at playing jokes with and on other clubs in the area,” says Stahl, a 20-year member who once impersonated another member and got inducted into another club so he could razz his friend at district conventions. They also enjoy stealing other clubs’ gongs and gavels. Regional differences dictate fun, and in Alabama there’s a saying: “If it’s not football, it’s wrong.” The Montgomery Lions Club, which meets every week for lunch, frequently invites football coaches as guest speakers. An all-stars high school football game is among the club’s fundraisers. Members also enjoy Lion Alva Lambert’s uncanny impersonations of famous Alabama sports stars and politicians including the late Gov. George Wallace and Sen. Howell Heflin. “It’s good fellowship, with some frivolity and joviality,” says Lambert. Montgomery Lions once were known for lobbing dinner rolls at each other. “We’re more civilized now,” he says. “We ball up cloth napkins and throw them. Much more refined.” Fun is intangible, but it’s not hard to find solid proof of the power of fun in accomplishing big goals. The Fort Kent Lions in northern Maine constructed a gym-sized pavilion with a covered stage and restrooms in Riverside Park. This is remarkable in a town of 4,000 residents. The Fort Kent Lions Club has 90 members, all men. About 60 show up for meetings every other week at a restaurant where they can have a couple of drinks while they discuss their latest projects. The club even has a house band of members, called Boomerang. Club fundraisers include an ATV Poker Run, in which all-terrain vehicle drivers pick up playing cards at various checkpoints on a predetermined route with the goal of getting the best poker hand. Five years ago, members posed in the buff–carefully, so as not to scandalize–for a calendar. Sales went through the roof, and the club made $30,000. A variety show every other year is a reliable money-maker. “I can’t say it’s a family event,” President Charlie Ouellette says of the show. “Some of the skits are a little racy, but it raises a lot of money to do the things in the community we want to do.” Fort Kent Lions contributed to a mural that depicts the region’s history of potato farming. They gave a ski tow to the town. They support a Boy Scout troop and pay for golf lessons for kids among other projects. Ouellette says his members enjoy some rituals – singing Lions songs and doing the roar and toast. As for yellow vests, some older members wear them, younger ones, not so much. “When we travel out of town, we wear polo shirts with the Lion logo and pins,” Ouellette says. Newyear and his wife, Past District Governor Marcia Newyear, who lived in California until earlier this year, say the vests are such a sticking point for younger members that the Newyears once had denim vests made with the Lions logo on the back. The Newyears believe in making serious, if routine, occasions like the induction of members or installation of officers into fun celebrations. “We do things that help a lot of people, and we should celebrate those who take time to do the work and become officers,” says Marcia Newyear. She turned one installation into a “Jeopardy” episode, complete with questions for the new president. Another time, she created an Academy Awards show–a red-carpet “walk of fame” and a roving TV “reporter,” all against a backdrop with Lions logos. Any club could produce a faux “Jeopardy” or Oscars, but what made these events special was that they grew organically from the members and locale. The incoming president worked on the “Jeopardy” TV show and the venue of the actual Academy Awards is located just 20 miles away. In Lemont, Illinois, where John Goushas’s dad has been a Lion for 45 years, the younger Goushas thought Lions were “an old man’s thing”–until he saw younger people getting involved. He joined 11 years ago. As president, “I’m trying to step it up a notch–bring in some variety.” He changes seating so members meet new friends, rotates meetings among restaurants and is open to new ideas. When a woman member suggested that male Lions dress as women and perform in a cabaret show, the men agreed. The next year, though, the club auctioned a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. An annual pork chop dinner features a popular “Wheel of Meat” raffle. Lemont Lions support three local food pantries. They give scholarships and iPads to high school seniors and work with a local optometrist and ear, nose and throat doctor so children get free glasses and hearing aids. The camaraderie is so strong that whenever Goushas, 51, has a problem or needs something, he turns to fellow Lions. “It’s always, ‘I know a guy who knows a guy.’ We’ll find a way. That’s the way Lions are,” he says. That’s fun. Digital LION Read about those crazy days of yesteryear at www.lionmagazine.org.: • Nebraska Lions cage human Lions (December 1923 LION) • Pennsylvania Lions punish tardiness in a highly unusual way (October 1934) • Wisconsin Lions play snowshoe baseball at 15 below (March 1951)
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