Jay Copp 2014-07-09 14:08:11
Our new president is not an ordinary Lion. Well, yes he is, and he hopes you can match his enthusiasm for Lions, sow similar results and reap the same benefits he has. Meet Joe Preston. You likely have—if you were a Lion at an event and looked as if you were alone. Her husband is not always outgoing, says Joni Preston. But among Lions it’s a different story. Preston will spot a newcomer and make him feel welcome. “I’ve asked him about that,” says Joni. “He says he wants everybody to love being a Lion like he loves being a Lion.” This is a certainty like the sun rising: our new president relishes Lions as a surefire mechanism to improve our communities. Being a Lion also is a golden opportunity for significant personal growth. Lionism worked that magic in his own life. In 2014-15, we can look forward to a Lion in charge who also will lead the charge, a leader supremely convinced of the value of Lions and our capability to leap to the next level of service. Meet Joe Preston? You’ve met him, or at least a Lion like him. Certainly, you don’t become an international president by being an ordinary Joe. But the contours of his life are routine and familiar. He’s the fleet manager for the Sanderson Ford dealership, the largest Ford dealer in Arizona. He and Joni have three grown children, all of whom fondly recall idyllic family times including vacations at Sea World in San Diego and fall Saturdays in the football stadium at Arizona State enthusiastically cheering on the beloved Sun Devils. These days the circle of life for Joni and Joe has formed another loop. They have seven grandchildren under the age of 7, all boys. So any discord or disagreement among a crowd of Lions will not faze a grandfather unhesitant to wade into the mosh pit of young boys. “They’re all pretty little and have lots of energy. Any time we have a family event and they’re all there, it kind of dominates what’s going on,” Preston says. “They have fun doing almost anything because they have fun within themselves. Just going to the park with them can be a fun experience.” Lions in Arizona first met Preston in 1974 when he joined the Mesa Host Lions. He was 21. A work colleague invited him to the meeting. His friend never returned to the Lions. Preston never left. “They really took me under their wings,” he says. “It was amazing– you’d go out and work on their service projects and there’d be somebody that was 80 loading bags of newspapers into the bin and helping to recycle. It was pretty hard to say you weren’t going to do your share of the work when they’re working like that. “They really appreciated what I did. And I appreciated what they did. And it was just amazing how you could join and develop friendships by just working together with people.” Preston was no stranger to service even as a newcomer to Lions. His upbringing predisposed him for it. A native of Iowa whose family moved to Arizona when he was 15, Preston says he had “two great parents.” But he has a special affection for his mom, who traveled to Toronto for his installation as international president. “My mom was a tremendous influence on me. She was just very loving and steady,” he says. With his mom’s blessings, he volunteered for the YMCA Leaders Club while in high school. He worked with grade school students, teaching them how to organize sports events. It was fun, and it was rewarding. So by the tender age of 15 he knew he liked to play sports, paint and draw, sing, play the piano–and serve. As a young Lion, Preston again found himself working with youth. He did eye screenings and promoted reading. But he also didn’t shy away from whatever service project was available. That willingness to step forward cemented his status as a Lion and presented him with his “day I became a Lion” revelation. He volunteered to drive blind people 20 miles to a blind center in Phoenix. Those he drove bubbled over with anticipation at meeting their friends. The realization that he was bringing joy to others struck him full force. “It was amazing what I got out of it. I knew that I was making a difference in somebody’s life,” he says. He was getting something else out of Lions, too. He was finding himself. His identity became rooted in being a Lion. His growth as a person and at his job was tied to his increasing role as a Lion. “I was so shy and timid at the start of my year as a club president. I think about how confident I was by the end of that year,” he says. “Being able to speak in front of people, it was amazing how I grew as a Lion. I was more successful in my business life. I was more successful in my personal life. “Being a Lion I’ve learned so many skills that I was able to use in my business life. You join for certain reasons. And you stay for certain reasons. But there are so many side benefits to being a member. It’s the friendships, the relationships.” Lions delivered one relationship in particular. As a bank manager, Joni realized it was time for her to become more involved in the community, and she joined the Pinnacle Peak Lioness Club. The incoming district governor, Joe showed up for the installation of the charter members. Joni and Joe ran into each other again at the state convention. “What attracted me to Joe was his energy, his enthusiasm for life and just his good heart. I could tell right away he was a good man,” says Joni. Joe was similarly enchanted. “She had something very magical about her, special about her–this compassion and caring about other people that you don’t see in a lot of people,” he says. “I would call Joni my soul mate. We’ve had a magical relationship, and we’ve been very supportive of each other.” Their Lions-tinged relationship reached a new level at the USA/ Canada Lions Forum in Canada when he proposed. International President Judge Brian Stevenson offered to marry them on the spot. Politely turned down, the judge announced their engagement at a banquet in front of 3,000 people, and Joe and Joni had to spend the rest of the forum fending off offers to marry them. Their Lions-themed life together continued with their children. The Prestons took them to Lions conventions and to service projects. “I’ll always remember handing out white canes on the weekend and collecting donations for that,” says Dustin, a firefighter.” “We grew up around the Lions. My memories are of pancake sales, working booths at carnivals and white cane events. And we had a lot of good friends that we had parties with,” says Tony, who is in real estate. Karli Kelley, their daughter who is a biochemist, is grateful for a childhood imbued with Lions: “I think growing up around it that it’s great to meet all the people you come across. They’re such wonderful people that are part of the association.” Today their kids are on their own, and the Prestons live in Dewey, a rural community of 5,000 people. Joe was a charter member of the Bradshaw Mountain Lions Club in 2001. He had been a member of the Prescott Sunrise Lions Club for several years after moving for job reasons. Those who have served alongside Preston attest to his people skills, dynamic personality and solicitude for others. “Joe is well liked. I have yet to hear anybody say anything negative about him,” says David Roberts of the Wickenburg Lions Club. “He is a gregarious person. He and Joni are a marvelous couple. I just love working with them.” Adds Past Council Chairperson Richard Brown of the Pride of Scottsdale Lions, “Joe is a very unique person in that in all my 43 years of Lionism and all my years in business I have never met anybody where everybody likes them. He doesn’t have any enemies. And he’s such a leader.” The praise makes Preston uncomfortable. He prefers the focus to be on the task ahead. “During my tenure I want to do everything I can to increase the amount of service that we provide and help our clubs be more productive and more efficient,” he says. “We have to take new strategies to what we are currently doing and take it to the next level.” His complete program is on page 23. Suffice to say that Preston believes every Lion can make an impact and every Lion can be impacted by being a member. “I think one of the important things about Lions is you don’t have to be rich. You can be successful by bringing your leadership to the table or by building relationships within our association,” he says. Meet Joe Preston? Your best bet at a Lions project is behind the grill, or in a booth selling tickets, or at the eye chart. You’re most likely to find Preston in the middle of the service, not on the periphery. “He rolls up his sleeves every time, every function that we have. He’s in there serving spaghetti or flipping pancakes,” says Lynne Fortney of the Bradshaw Mountain Lions Club. “He’s the epitome of Lions. He sets a good example for the rest of us.” Digital LION Watch a revealing video on our new president at lionmagazine.org.
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
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