Jay Copp 2014-09-10 22:43:03
Lions sang, danced and launched our association toward its centennial at the 97th International Convention in Toronto. A shining moment of the 97th International Convention in Toronto unexpectedly occurred during a long delay, an unwanted interruption that may have roiled attendees of an uptight corporate gathering. The third plenary session had ground to a halt because, unknown to the thousands of Lions at the Air Canada Centre and even to Lions leaders in charge of the session, the election results were delayed when votes had to be counted by hand at the nearby Metro Toronto Convention Centre after the automated voting machine malfunctioned. President Barry J. Palmer of Australia could not proceed with the oath of office for 2014-15 President Joe Preston of Arizona. Palmer stalled for time. The big screen showed videos of Honolulu, the next convention city, and highlights of the Toronto convention. Then, out of options, Palmer told Lions to take a “stretch break.” The arena’s speakers blasted the infectious “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. Lions in their seats clapped, swayed in place and danced. On stage, to the delight of the crowd, Palmer swiveled his hips, and Preston and First Vice President Dr. Jitsuhiro Yamada of Japan, a dignified neurosurgeon, let loose and joined in the impromptu dance party. After many minutes, seeing Palmer still needed to fill time, a Brazilian Lion wearing a soccer jersey bounded to the stage with a soccer ball and skillfully kicked and kept the ball aloft for a long stretch. That’s when the beautiful game helped transform the interminable delay into a beautiful moment. The Brazilian purposely knocked the ball toward Palmer, who, though years removed from his playing days, deftly headed the ball as Lions roared. Convention is a lot of things over five days in July. It’s a business meeting where Lions elect new leaders and conduct official business. It’s a sort of continuing education seminar in which skills and strategies are learned. But most of all it’s a festive gathering where Lions share camaraderie, make new friends and, as demonstrated at the third plenary, revel in the Lions spirit, defined not only by a desire to serve but also by a generous, easygoing spirit full of patience and optimism. “It’s just amazing to be around and look at so many people who share the same passion. It’s fun just to be in the elevator and what you see and hear,” said Karen Ritterbush of the Battle Creek Lions in Nebraska. Heather Griffin of the Newcastle Lions in Canada hopped on a local commuter train to reach Toronto. “I get to see all the happy people here. I really enjoy all the different Lions’ outfits,” said Griffin, whose volunteer duty was to stand at the entrance to the exhibit hall and give directions or answer queries. Griffin epitomizes Lions’ emotional bonds to membership. Lions often find it deeply gratifying to serve their communities alongside friends. Some, like Griffin, are even more deeply rooted in their club because of family. She intended to wear her late father’s Lions’ shirt in the parade. Asked what that experience would mean for her, she composed herself and gently replied, “Don’t make me cry.” Convention also is about looking proudly back at grand achievements and fixing Lions’ sights on lofty future plans. In his farewell address, Palmer ticked off a lengthy list of accomplishments: Lions served more than 4 million people and tallied nearly 2 million service hours just in our four Global Service Action Campaigns (youth, vision, hunger and the environment). Additionally, RAP, the Reading Action Program, has now benefited 19 million, and Lions have planted more than 3 million trees, generating enough life-sustaining oxygen for 6 million people. Palmer’s theme last year was Follow Your Dream; he told Lions his far-flung travels helped him realize clubs had already been doing just fine reaching for the stars. “Lions, you have been following your dreams,” he said. Minutes after taking the oath as 2014- 15 president, Preston officially ushered in the Lions’ centennial celebration in 2017. Flanked by the other international officers and Past President J. Frank Moore III, the centennial chairperson, Preston revealed the centennial service goal: 100 million people served. Clubs worldwide will attempt to improve vision care for 25 million, relieve hunger for 25 million, help 25 million youths primarily through education or literacy efforts and benefit 25 million through environmental projects including planting 10 million trees. “Are you up for the challenge, Lions?” Preston asked. The crowd roared. The three plenaries were a showcase for important causes and people. Ruchira Gupta, the founder of Apne Aap Women Worldwide, decried the widespread horror of human trafficking. Lions Wendi Dwyer and William Mou, a former Lost Boy of South Sudan, talked about their literacy initiative at wells. The Seven Summits Mountain Climbing Team from Nepal described how they conquered Everest and the highest peaks on three other continents. “This year I’ve asked Lions, What is your Everest? They could reply, ‘Our Everest is Everest,’” said Palmer. “We’re very glad to have them here because they know firsthand how critical leadership, teamwork and planning are.” Part of the appeal of convention is the swirl of dress, language and mannerisms. The common denominator is service, exemplified by the Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF), which pools Lions resources and crafts partnerships to achieve broad service aims. In the second plenary session, a parade of speakers highlighted the goals and success of LCIF. Binod Chaudhary of the Chaudhary Foundation pledged $1 million from the foundation for social businesses to reduce poverty through microenterprises. Other dignitaries detailed Lions’ progress in battling blindness and curtailing measles. The message of the day was that LCIF enables Lions to do far more than they could on their own. “Working together, Lions identify the most crucial needs, and LCIF supports you in your humanitarian efforts that transform the lives of people around the world,” said 2013- 14 LCIF Chairperson Wayne A. Madden of Indiana. Past International Director Robert E. Corlew of Tennessee was elected as second vice president in Toronto in a close vote over Past International Director Mike Butler of Texas. He’ll serve as international president in 2016-17, succeeding Yamada. Membership numbers revealed to Lions in Toronto were generally quite good. Total membership stood at 1,360,121, the best June figure in a decade. Total clubs were 46,385, the best in June in 20 years. The average charter size increased to 31 from 26, an important statistics because larger charter clubs are more likely to endure. More worrisome were membership numbers in North America. Membership dropped 2,793 in the United States and 192 in Canada. Lots of things happen at convention when large numbers of Lions congregate–nearly all of them good. “It’s my fourth convention, and every time I come I learn something new,” said Yvette Fiedtfou of Guyana. “I’m interested in recruiting, retention and rewards. I get new ideas I can try at home.” Watching the festive parade, Past District Governor Lewis Quinn of the Anchorage Captain Cook Club in Alaska told of the convention parade that led him to Lions. “When my grandfather was at the convention in Tapei [in 1987] he saw a Lion from Alaska, picked him out of the crowd and told him, ‘You’ve got to give my grandson a call in Alaska and tell him about Lions.’ I happened to know him! I had done some business with him [Past International Director Buster Hall]. I had been a Rotarian until then.” Chance encounters, fortuitous coincidences and history repeating itself all are part of convention. Incoming District Governor Donald Bissonnette of District A 711 in Ontario had his ceremonial DG ribbon pulled by his father, Lion Peter, who had been an incoming district governor at the Toronto Convention in 1964. But it gets even better. Peter’s father, Neill, a Lion for more than 50 years, attended the Cedar Point, Ohio, convention in 1925 when Helen Keller urged Lions to be Knights of the Blind. The convention’s keynoter was singer Olivia Newton-John, who eschewed a formal speech but instead sat down on stage in comfortable chairs with fellow Aussie Palmer for a nice chat. Johnny Carson would have been proud, but Carson probably would have stayed away from some of the profundities Palmer elicited from the breast cancer survivor. “I think the thing that inspires everybody–what everybody needs is love, whether it comes through interaction with other people, whether it comes through music or art or laughter,” said Newton-John. Grammy-winning producer and songwriter David Foster of Canada received the 2014 Lions Clubs International Humanitarian Award. His foundation, which assists families with children in need of life-saving organ transplants, received $250,000. “The greatest gift I was given was being raised by parents who had a great moral compass,” said Foster. “You could say my music destiny was predetermined. But for all of us being charitable is optional. But no one should get applause for being charitable. It is, simply put, our responsibility.” As Foster played the piano, Newton- John sang two of her many hits: “I Honestly Love You” and “Magic.” She dedicated the latter “for the Lions and the magic they perform.” As she sang “we have to believe we are magic, nothing can stand in our way,” it was not a stretch to assume that the Lions singing along may have found the lyrics perfectly fitting to what they do in their clubs in their myriad hometowns. Lions Flock to Toronto The convention in Toronto was well attended with 16,452 Lions and guests. The top 10 nations represented were: UNITED STATES 3,496 JAPAN 1,576 CHINA 1,398 CANADA 1,361 INDIA 1,164 NIGERIA 1,033 NEPAL 855 SRI LANKA 712 BANGLADESH 421 KOREA 365 Digital LION (lionmagazine.org) Watch a lively video of the convention highlights. Watch the creative “Oz” video, which retells the familiar Oz story with a Lions angle. Watch a video of the engaging chat between Olivia Newton-John and 2013- 14 President Palmer. Listen to Lions talk about their experiences as a Lion in segments done at a recording booth set up at the exhibit hall. Meet the 17 new international directors. Read the talks of President Preston, Ruchira Gupta and David Foster. Learn the winners of the International Awards including the Environmental Photo Contest and the World of Service Awards. The 1958 convention in Chicago was one of the best ever, and the LION told the story in photos. 14 Memorable Moments at the Toronto Convention Catapult Entertainment, shadow dancers who perform behind a screen using their silhouettes, ended their performance at the second plenary paying tribute to Palmer’s theme by spelling out DREAM. Sometimes it’s the quiet, private, overlooked moments that typify Lions and their generous spirit. Seated in the front at a three-hour plenary session, Edward Strzala of Newark, Delaware, patiently recounted what was happening on stage to his blind wife. He cannot only lead and inspire but sing and write, too. Near the end of his inaugural speech new President Joe Preston belted out his stirring theme song, “Strength of the Pride.” OK, so she melted Lions’ hearts just being led onto the stage–only 17, blind, a little nervous, emitting the innocent radiance of youth. But when Ho-Yan Sui sang–game over. The Hong Kong resident’s version of “Time to Say Goodbye” during President Palmer’s farewell speech was the stuff of dreams. Ah, the enthusiasm of a newcomer. New Lion Gloria Walton of the Brooklyn Kings County Lions Club in New York perched up high on a flower bed and showered parade marchers with a stream of joy. “You’re beautiful,” she shouted multiple times. And later: “I feel the energy!” The skies were blue, the streets of downtown Toronto were lined with spectators and the Mississippi Lions All- State Band marched in perfect precision and played with peerless craftsmanship. The all-state bands are vivid reminders of the powerful influence of Lions on youth. Special Olympics athlete Ariel Ary of Costa Rica, who has benefited from Opening Eyes, opened some eyes of his own when he delivered a speech. “I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house,” said Council Chair Steve Bennett of Nebraska. Added Karen Ritterbush of the Battle Creek Lions in Nebraska, “He held his heart out.” If this Lion thing doesn’t work out, 2013-14 President Barry Palmer might find himself on the telly chatting up celebrities. His one-on-one with Olivia Newton-John was absent of blather and full of insight. You might think 55 years as an entertainer might dull one’s edge, but Neil Sedaka put on a masterful performance at the International Show. He was engaging as well as fully engaged. Pop love songs never sounded so good. Past International President Joe Wroblewski is a Lion in winter, retiring as Lions’ U.N. Liaison. (He will continue to chair the Convention Committee of the board of directors.) “Let’s stand and show our appreciation for one of the greatest Lions of all time,” Past President Al Brandel exhorted the crowd at the final plenary and then proceeded to read a congratulatory letter from President Obama. Do pay attention to the man behind the curtain. The first plenary had a Wizard of Oz theme, and Palmer made a grand entrance from the backstage curtain by arriving on the stage in an Oz-type bubble. Lions Jean-Jean Fong, Ssu Ting Yu and Chao Yung-yuan from Multiple District 300 Taiwan donated more than US$750,000 to LCIF. Their bow and guttural roar were priceless. Tongbram Mahesh Singh of India, the 2013-14 Peace Poster Contest grand prize winner who lost his father in an accident and lives in an orphanage, was anything but intimidated by the crowd of 15,000 at the plenary session. He exuberantly raised his arms in triumph when marching on stage to receive his award. The 2015 International Convention will be in Honolulu, Hawaii. Find registratiion information on page 47.
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://digital.lionmagazine.org/article/Good+Times+in+Toronto/1808258/224775/article.html.