Life Experiences of Our New President Prepared Him for Life as a Lion Every Lion has a story to tell. Eberhard Wirfs could write a book. As a 17-year-old in Germany, he befriended Elvis, the most famous GI in the world at the time. The two met at a Gasthaus (a tavern/restaurant). “One day I’ll sing a song from Germany for the world,” Elvis assured Wirfs. As a young man, after an internship at a U.S. food company, which was years ahead of its overseas counterparts in marketing, Wirfs took over his father’s small food company in Germany. “You will find our company wherever people like to eat well out of the home such as at restaurants, airplanes and railway stations,” he proudly explains. Wirfs will make history in another way when he takes the oath of office July 10 in Minneapolis at the international convention, becoming our first German president. The Frankfurt area-native who learned English in school because he wanted to travel and meet people from other cultures now will lead the service association that prides itself on its international character and worldwide appeal. It’s a remarkable, unusual story. Yet our new president is the typical Lion. He relishes his membership because hands-on service stirs his soul. “As a Lion you are asked for help. As a Lion you are needed. If somebody is needed, he is able to contribute,” he says in English. “This enriches our life. Sometimes with only a little money, but much more with your hands, you give the help that is needed. It’s not only satisfying, it’s important. It’s important as a citizen to have this kind of responsibility in the world.” Early Hardship A Lions pin was the linchpin for Wirfs becoming a Lion. In 1985, he met with a friend. “And he always wore his pin. And one day I asked him what is this? I did not know,” recounts Wirfs. The friend invited him to the Hofheim am Taunus Lions Club and Wirfs soon was wearing his own pin. Wirfs’ club took a special interest in those with multiple sclerosis. Lions provided a van for them and treated them to a daylong boat trip on the shimmering Rhein River. “It was like Christmas for them. They were so happy to be out on a beautiful day,” recalls Wirfs. Being around those with a disability deepened his appreciation for the tenacity of the human spirit. “In their minds they were fully functional. But their body was the problem. You see people in wheelchairs and see their disability. They couldn’t change their condition but they could be happy.” The Wirfs family lives in Kelkheim, a postcard-perfect small town near Frankfurt. Wirfs has traveled the world but there is nothing quite like his home region. “I love this area so much—the Rhein River, the vineyards, the monasteries and the wonderful castle. We have kept this culture for many hundreds of years. This area has always been good to me,” he says. Wirfs was born in 1942. His father was a paramedic in the war. Evacuating Frankfurt during the war, Wirfs’ mother took her three young children to a farm. “It was a very bad time—hungry and just barely able to get by,” he says. “My mother was alone, with her three children. She worked very hard just to get her kids out of hunger.” Even after the war ended, food was scarce. Young Wirfs helped feed the hens, harvest the peas and look after his younger sister. His mother held the family together. “My mom gave us all a lot of love and a lot of understanding. We felt she was always on our side, even when we made a mistake because she had the kind of understanding that was unbelievable. So overall we were very happy even when the times were hard.” One day a jeep with four U.S. soldiers rolled into the farm. Wirfs was frightened by the soldiers. One of them handed him a rough-textured sphere. “I thought it was a ball. I wanted to play with it, but he opened it so I could taste this orange,” says Wirfs. The soldiers took a liking to Wirfs and came back day after day, giving him chocolate and rides in the jeep. “I developed a kind of friendship and I heard their language which I could not understand. And my mother told me this is English. So I was very interested in that. It was my first contact with people from America. So this was really an impression that changed some ideas in my life as to the American people.” The Wirfs family survived the lean post-war years by its wits; care packages from America also helped. As a young boy he didn’t quite understand the who or why behind these boxes of food that periodically came through the postal service. He later learned that a family from Idaho were the benefactors. There were benefits to being hungry, though Wirfs did not realize it until years later. “I’ve had the privilege of knowing what it means to starve,” he says. “I think hunger is the number one catastrophe in the world.” In his travels, Wirfs can’t bear to pass by hungry children he sees on the street. “If Eberhard has no food or drink to give him, he maybe touches his hand. We heard it’s not a good idea to give a child money. It’s better to give him love,” says Margit, his wife. Living on the farm as a boy also introduced him to the wonders of nature, a lifelong delight. “We lived in a wonderful natural surrounding. We had a river and a creek. I think that was a very big influence on my life because still today I like nature,” he says. At the USA/Canada Lions Forum in Saskatoon, Canada, in 2008, Wirfs accompanied a Lionfarmer to his property and climbed onto a combine for a ride through the golden fields of grain. Wirfs finished his studies at the University of Hamburg. In school he learned French as well as English. “Very early on I realized that speaking another language makes a lot of friendship,” he says. After his studies, he took an internship at various companies in the United States. One of his assignments placed him a few miles from Oak Brook, the future home of Lions Clubs International (then located in downtown Chicago). He immersed himself not only in U.S. business practices but also in American culture, taking a trip on historic Route 66. One of the artists he heard on American radio was his old acquaintance, Elvis. The King made good on his promise to Wirfs. In the 1960 film G.I. Blues he sang Wooden Heart, based on the German folksong Mus I Denn Zum Städele Hinaus. Meeting Margit One of the activities Eberhard and Margit enjoy together is riding a tandem bike, a feat that takes teamwork and typifies their relationship. He seeks her counsel on the food business, in Lions matters and in everything else they share. “I’m convinced I would not have had the results in my life without her,” he says. “She is what the Spanish call a companero. Somebody who accompanies you and fights for you.” “What I like most about Eberhard is that any time we have a problem we work on it together and we get a good result,” says Margit. “I loved him all these 38 years and he has a very warm heart. He tried to help everybody all the time.” They first met through Margit’s best friend, who had invited Eberhard to a party. “She told me she invited a nice man for herself,” recalls Margit. “So I looked at him and he looked at me and then we went to a dancing place. And so we got a little closer together.” They were married in 1971. Oliver was born two years later and then Marcus two years after that. The hardcharging businessman discovered he also had time to be a dad. “He tried every minute to play with his boy and took him on his shoulders and walked with him and carried him in his little car. Or he played in the sandbox with him,” says Margit. Dad didn’t mind playing kids’ games. “We had a lot of parties for our birthdays when we were younger,” says Marcus, now a lawyer in London (Oliver helps run his father’s company). “My mother was preparing funny games and a whole crowd of people was running around in the backyard going mad. My father was around in the winter time when we had snow and we were building igloos in the garden. Just having big fun.” The fun recently started anew for Wirfs. “Our granddaughter is a new spot of happiness in our life,” he says. “It is so fascinating that it was 35 years after I had my son in my arms for the last time. Now we have this wonderful little girl.” A Lions Leader As a Lion, Wirfs was a quick learner. In a short span he progressed from someone who didn’t know what a Lion was to a Lions leader in Germany and then worldwide. He served as club president, zone and region chairperson, district governor and council chairperson before being elected in 2002 in Osaka, Japan, for a two-year term as an international director. But Wirfs didn’t accumulate titles and responsibilities so much as accomplishments. He founded a women’s club in Kelkheim and helped membership grow significantly overall in Germany. In his own club Wirfs championed working together on fun projects and urged other clubs to follow suit. “He likes to have the people engaged and have them involved in activities. Not sitting around or just donating a check to somebody that’s in need,” says Gert Anselmann of the Offenbach in Der Suedpfalz Lions Club. “Just be active—that’s where our success comes from. That makes us more familiar with each other and shows the public that we are a strong organization.” He trained hundreds of Lions leaders. “He’s a very good leader. He’s a very good trainer. He could explain the most important things and leave out the things not so important,” says Klaus Tang, a past council chairperson from Germany who received district governor elect training from Wirfs in Indianapolis in 2001. “He will be an outstanding
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