Jay Copp 2015-08-12 23:22:13
Some Lions’ fundraisers are going strong 60, 70 and even 80 years after begun. The formula for success is, well, success. The Fairest of Them All How old is the Aurora Farmers Fair? So old that organizers of the inaugural fair proclaimed that rigs or teams were not permitted on Main Street during the festivities, and the huge crowds streaming into town came by horse and buggy, in spring wagons, on horseback, and to the amazement of excited fairgoers, even in double cylinder automobiles. The first fair in this small river town of 5,000 in southeastern Indiana was held in 1908, and today nearly 50,000 fairgoers arrive on the first weekend in October to watch the loud, long parade, gawk at exhibits and classic cars, sway to music, devour diet-be-damned elephant ears and, probably most anticipated of all, catch up with old friends. “It’s like a reunion,” says Scott Petty, 2014-15 president of the Aurora Lions Club. Last year graduates of the high school from the 1950s, some now living in Arizona, Florida and other far-flung places, gathered for a hay ride as one of featured attractions of the two-hour parade. Like many other adults at the fair, Petty attended as a boy. “I can remember running around without a care in the world. Now I see my 7-year-old having fun on the rides,” he says. Schools shut down for the opening day of the fair; teachers know that making children sit at a desk with the fair awaiting is a no-win proposition. Outside the town farmers grow soybean, corn and tobacco. But the fair eschews livestock displays. The exhibits, displayed in the Lions’ building, tend to be of more general interest. Displayed last year were entries from a photo contest and, made from Legos, a moving Ferris wheel and merry-go-round. Less provincial as well—and drawing fairgoers from far beyond town boundaries—is the musical entertainment. The fair books bands with solid reputations, and newspaper advertisements pull in many fairgoers from Cincinnati, 35 miles away. Lions took over running the fair from the Aurora Business Men’s Association in 1959. Chartered in 1947, the club has 63 members. Like the other Lions’ projects profiled in these pages, the fun serves a purpose. In a recent 10-year stretch the club donated nearly $600,000 for Scouts, scholarships, Leader Dogs, cancer reduction, diabetes awareness and many other concerns. Where the West is Still Wild Cowboys no longer shoot-em-up on the silver screen, and the Ben Cartwrights, the Matt Dillons and their ilk no long swagger across the TV screen. But people still love cowboys, and the Dixie Roundup Rodeo in Utah is still packing them in and going strong after 80 years. Run by the St. George Lions Club, the rodeo features real cowboys, who rope calves, ride bulls and nonchalantly dust off their chaps when unceremoniously tossed. “This is an extreme sport, and people love it. You’ve got a wild bull trying to beat the you-know-what out of a cowboy,” says Joe Bowcutt, a 40-year Lion who serves on the city council. “There’s a lot of glamor to it. It’s an individual sport—one person and an animal.” The Lions’ rodeo is a sanctioned rodeo event in which cowboys earn prize money in advance of the National Finals Rodeo. A rodeo producer hired by the club oversees the event, which includes a colorful parade and ends with bull riding. “Nobody misses that. Everyone stays for that,” says Bowcutt. Oklahoma and Texas may be more typically linked with cowboys, but Utah also was rife with cowpokes until at least 1935 when the rodeo began. “You probably had to be about half a cowboy just to survive daily life back then,” according to a history of the rodeo. Lions held the rodeo in a smaller arena until 1947 when the club built its current facility, the historic Sun Bowl. Forty-two members each contributed $100 from their own pockets. Lions and the residents they persuaded to help did the arduous manual labor while construction companies donated their services. Hundreds of high school and college students finished the job in leveling off the arena. The rodeo excites spectators but, as a consequence of its longevity, also pulls at heartstrings. “It involves your whole family. My daughter will call me and say, ‘When’s the rodeo? I want to bring my daughter,’” says Bowcutt. “I was on a church mission with my wife to the Philippines for 18 months. I’m not making this up: the only thing I was homesick about was the rodeo.” Recovering the Past Year after Year It’s not the hilarious Follies variety show, the lively parade with colorful marching bands or the 1940s-era, kitschy kiddy cars with hovering parents and grandparents smiling even wider than the children. It’s not even the magnificent setting just off the ocean in a California coastal town cocooned by swaths of rare Monterey pines. What brings fairgoers to the three-day Pinedorado in Cambria, what has brought them here since 1949, is something less tangible. It has to do with memory and expectation and, finally, gratification. Longtime events build on themselves. They become better over time because in a world where aging and decay is inevitable there remain signature days that stay frozen in time. Being there is stepping into and recovering the past while still being completely steeped in a golden present. “The appeal [of the Pinedorado] is tradition. It’s what you do on the Labor Day weekend,” says Lion Norm Palmer, who has coordinated a half-dozen Pinedorados and volunteered at 26. “The town is full of tourists on Saturday for the parade. Sunday is like a big family reunion.” You may leave Cambria, but the Pinedorado calls you back. “People say all the time, ‘I was here as a kid. Now I bring my grandkids,’” says Andy Zinn, 2014-15 president. The name “Pinedorado” bespeaks the event’s allure. The first part of the name refers to the Monterey tree, native to just three places, and the second part alludes to the mythical El Dorado, a magical place full of opportunity and fulfillment. The thousands of hours required to stage the Pinedorado is beyond the resources of the 90-member Cambria Lions Club, which enlists volunteers from a variety of groups in town. After the festival ends and receipts are counted, the club donates funds to each group. The teamwork helps make the Pinedorado the community-building event it is. “We could go solicit funds and not spend three long days of intense labor. It takes thousands of man hours, and the hard work doesn’t equate [to funds raised],” says Palmer. “But it’s a community thing. All the service clubs are involved in it.” Having Fun by Poking Fun Parody plays well in White Bear Lake. This March the title character in “PETERs PANts” didn’t lose his shadow—he kept losing his pants. That’s no small matter when a malevolent Captain Hook is chasing you. A few years back White Bear Lake Lions did a send-up of “Grease.” Their Danny and Sandy in “School Daze” were hopelessly devoted to slapstick romance. The Minnesota club has put on a popular annual show since 1946, six years after it was chartered. A Lion writes the show. Lions and family and friends star in it. Some are more talented than others. That’s part of the charm. “It’s a crapshoot,” says Mike Machus, who has written a dozen shows and been part of 39. “We don’t have any Broadway people. The audience knows people are up there giving it their best shot.” Adds Mike Roelofs, another longtime writer and performer, “We’re mostly amateurs. That’s where the passion comes in. People are trying to make it work. The audience can relate to that.” The Lions skirt the fine line between jesting and offending. “It’s a G-rated show with an occasional PG. There might be a line or two that goes over the heads of kids,” says Machus. Adds Roefels, “It’s a tricky thing. We go right up to the line and maybe cross it but don’t totally go over it.” A half-hour drive north of Minneapolis, White Bear Lake, population 24,000, is no metropolis. That’s all the more reason why nearby Hugo is a frequent target in shows. “They’re a small farming community, so we have some fun with that,” says Machus. But the Lions know making fun of themselves draws the most laughs. “In my first show we wore pink tutus and did a ballet to ‘Truly Scrumptious.’ That sold it for me. My mom was on the floor crying and laughing,” recalls Roefels. The four performances, held at a school theater (the largest venue in town), raise as much as $20,000. The funds enable the club’s 76 members to leave their paw prints all over town: Lions Park, the Lionmobile (which transports seniors and those with disabilities) and a library study room named after Lions. Yet it’s not as if residents don’t already know about the club. “The show is our signature event. People know who the Lions are,” says Machus. The shows benefit from the talents of a professional choreographer, expert musicians and a gaggle of friends and relatives. This year’s show included “my wife, my oldest daughter, two sisters and my dog,” says Machus. Kopper, a Brittany Spaniel, played Nana, the dog-nursemaid of the Darling children. The exact particulars of long-ago shows may fade from recollection, but good memories of the camaraderie in staging a show remain. “The audience has a blast for one night. We laugh a lot for the eight or nine weeks before a show,” says Roefels. Longtime Projects Abound Lawrenceburg Lions in Tennessee have sponsored a youth baseball team (photo) for 52 years. The first team sponsored by the club included future U.S. Senator, 2008 presidential candidate and “Law & Order” TV star Fred Thompson (back row, far right). Lawrenceburg was the home club of 1966-67 International President Edward Lindsey. Schumacher Lions in Ontario, Canada, have run their Sportsman Show for 68 years. Vendors sell everything from fine bed sheets to boats, and the popular birds of prey exhibit of the Canadian Raptor Conservancy showcases the bald eagle, falcon and great horned owl. Willits Lions in California have held an egg hunt for 87 years. One year a heavy rain forced Lions to hold a “drive-up egg delivery”—parents drove under an auditorium arch to get the eggs. “You guys are our heroes,” a parent called out. Floyd Lions in New Mexico have treated residents to a night of country music at the Floyd Lions Club Jamboree for 65 years. Pancakes don’t get old. Duluth Lions in Minnesota have served flapjacks for 58 years, the Norfolk Lions in Nebraska for 55 years, the Pacific Lions in Missouri for 63 years and the Cape Girardeau Lions in Missouri for an astounding 77 years. Partly to celebrate the victories of World War II, Lake Zurich Lions in Illinois helped establish Alpine Fest in 1942. Lion Footloose Frank (his real name), who has coordinated the event for more than two decades, is a most appropriate volunteer: his father, William, lost his sight at an explosion in a war plant in 1944. Lions helped him set up a business in woodturning, and he became so skilled that a movie was made about him. For 54 years Bergenfield Lions in New Jersey have rubbed shoulders and broken bread with Rotarians, Optimists and members of other service groups at their Brotherhood Dinner. Cold Spring Lions in New York have awarded scholarships at the commencement of Haldane High School for 55 years. The Costa Mesa Newport Harbor Lions in California are known as the “Fish Fry Club,” a title earned from 68 years of holding the fundraiser. Santa Claus has come to town thanks to the Grand Falls Lions in Newfoundland, Canada, for 57 years. Stow-Munroe Lions in Ohio have given more than 20,000 awards to grade school students for 57 years. “My fellow Lions voted me the permanent chairman of the program because they found out I was one of the first to receive it in 1958,” says Robert Platt. Mount Prospect Lions in Illinois recently ran their 77th Annual Village Festival. Mason + Dixon Lions in Pennsylvania have been preparing boys for responsible lives by supporting Boys Scout Troop 400 in Delta for 80 years. Eagle Lions in Colorado have sponsored a troop for 70 years. Spartanburg Lions have supported students at the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind for 82 years. A few years ago students received flutes, drums and other musical instruments, and an annual tradition is a gala Christmas party. St. Paul Downtown Lions in Minnesota have honored the top male and female high school student-athletes for 71 years. “Play ball” has been heard on the diamond for 55 years thanks to the Exeter Lions Club All-Star Game in California. Snow and cold don’t faze Chazy Lions in New York. For more than 50 years they’ve sponsored a Winter Weekend for children that includes outdoor contests such as snow sculptures and indoor competitions such as dodgeball. This fall marks the 63rd year Wilton Lions in New Hampshire will hold their Penny Sale at which people purchase tickets for donated goods and winners are drawn for the items. Since being chartered in 1948, the Kirkland Lions Club in Illinois has held a Fourth of July celebration. The events this year basically began at sunrise and continued beyond sunset: a pancake breakfast, a parade, a pork chop barbecue and fireworks. For 73 years the Goodfellows program of the Richmond Lions in Michigan has provided food baskets at Christmas for families in need. Members secure ads for a Lions’ newspaper and sell the paper to raise funds. Lions have big hearts, and Norton Lions in Virginia exemplify that with their Big Heart Project, a 64-year Christmas donation of clothing, food and toys to needy families. Pacifica Lions in California have sponsored a Junior Olympics for 50 years. Lake Oswego Lions in Oregon have hosted a July 4th Pancake Breakfast for 66 years. The Keller Lions Club Fair in Texas is a 67-year tradition. Don Blevins, a 50-year member and son of a founding member, can attest that is all is fair in love: on his first date with his future wife, Kaye, they rode together on the fair’s Ferris wheel. Ah, yes, the circle of life. Don’t see your club’s longtime project here? Let Lions know about it by posting on the Facebook page of LION Magazine at facebook.com/lcilionmagazine. Club Part of the History It Celebrates The Oakmont Country Club has hosted eight U.S. Opens, more than any other golf course. People in Oakmont, a suburb of 6,400 on the Allegheny River near Pittsburgh, are proud of their small town’s place in the sports world. But they’re also proud of their own history as a tightknit community, and last year they celebrated their town’s 125th anniversary. Entirely fitting, the Oakmont Lions literally took center stage during the festivities, performing “Celebrate Oakmont 125: A Musical History of Our Town.” The Lions and their shows are an integral part of the town’s history. Chartered in 1940, the club has put on a variety show every year since 1943. “We’ve done a patriotic show, a Christmas show, a Gershwin show, a Sinatra show. You name it, we’ve done it,” says Lion Gary Rogers, the producer of the 2014 show. “It’s amazing the amount of talent we have in such a small town.” That’s been a reason for the show’s enduring success: though a core group of Lions take on major roles year after year, the club counts on the contributions of community members. Dance troupes add sizzle (and swell the audience with family and friends); high school students act and serve on the stage crew. “They make us look good. They do a great job with the sound and lighting,” says Rogers, a salesman for General Mills. The 40-member club deftly divides up tasks such as ushering and printing according to interest and skills. Rogers began as an usher and became a “Lions player” before taking on the job of producer. Was his rise a Hollywood-type story? “I was hoping to stay as an usher in the background,” he says with a laugh. The history show featured segments focused on decades. The ‘40s featured songs from Big Bands and the ’50s was rock ‘n’ roll. In between the songs two Lions in rocking chairs reminisced about local happenings from that particular era whether it was a high school football championship, a new school, a golf tournament or even a Lion opening a well-known business. A cherished tradition, the show ended with the cast loudly singing “Lions Roar.” Says Rogers, “The crowd loves it. They always sing along.” Taking a Chance Long Ago Pays Off You don’t find bright lights and big crowds in Parma, Idaho. “We don’t have any stop lights or parking meters. We don’t even have a McDonalds,” says Glenda Leigh, 2014-15 president of the Parma Lions Club. Despite the paucity of people in Parma, population 2,000, the club has been able to sustain the same fundraiser for 64 years. Since 1951, the club has raffled off turkeys. In November 100 tickets are drawn for 12-pound turkeys ordered by Lions from the M and W, the town’s sole grocery store. Lions typically gross $5,000 from the sale of the $1 tickets. “There is a lot of support. People know the funds go for community projects. I’ve never had anyone tell me to take a hike,” says Leigh, a retired English teacher. Part of the appeal is that the odds of winning are decent. Leigh herself has won twice, and her son won last year after she sold him tickets. Some winners, especially Lions, donate the turkeys to the town’s food pantry. The club is robust with 78 members, some of them farmers. Giving away turkeys is a nice complement to the local crop—Idaho potatoes. The turkey raffle began after a club member taught horticulture at the University of Idaho in Moscow. He returned to Parma and told members of the huge success of the Turkey Carnival and Fair of the Moscow Lions. That’s often how Parma Lions still operate—observe and act. Driving in her car, Leigh recently saw a large group of children in the park, trying to eat sack lunches provided by a summer lunch program, but huddling under a tree because of a sudden downpour. The Lions’ next project is to provide a covered pavilion for the park. The Play’s The Thing in Utah To be or not to be. Well, the remarkable Utah Shakespeare Festival almost wasn’t. It’s not a Lions’ event, but without Cedar City Lions the festival’s 54 seasons, its much-acclaimed tragedies and comedies, its authentic theater—so close to the design of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater that the BBC filmed part of its Shakespeare series there—its blasting open minds and hearts with the wisdom, genius and empathy of the Bard, none of this would have transpired, would have been such stuff as dreams are made on. Festival founder Fred Adams had moved to Cedar City from New York in 1959 to start a theater department at a small junior college. The iron ore industry had collapsed there. Tourism was the town’s lifeline; the state’s gorgeous parks were nearby. Then the federal government announced that the new interstate would be located 20 miles from town. No one would ever bother to drive to Cedar City. But Adams had an idea: a Shakespeare festival. He knew that a Shakespeare festival in the small town of Ashland in Oregon prospered. Adams described to StoryCorps what happened next. “I went to the Elks Club. I went to the Kiwanis. I went to the Rotarians. I went to the Chamber of Commerce. I must say, the Chamber of Commerce, when I gave the idea of a Shakespeare Festival, the idea went over like a pregnant pole vaulter. It was dead silence in the room. When I went to the city fathers to ask them if there would be any chance of some subsidy, I was literally laughed out of chamber. They thought that was the dumbest thing. “If I’d come up with a festival that had some merit to it, but Shakespeare, absolutely ridiculous. One of my students said, ‘My brother is the president of the Lions club.’ We went to the Lions club that morning. Six in the morning for breakfast. Why on earth anyone meets at 6 in the morning, I don’t understand. After I had done my spiel, one of the Lions raised his hand and he said, ‘Fred, how much of the $1,000 that you require do you think that you're going to raise in tickets?’ “I answered him very openly, ‘I figured that we could raise all of it.’ We had no problem with that, but we had to have up-front money in order to buy lumber and fabric, et cetera. He made a motion to the Lions club that they underwrite the Utah Shakespeare festival for any amount up to $1,000 that we did not earn in ticket sales. It was unanimous. That gave us our nest egg. We brought in over $3,000 that summer. Didn’t have to pay a thing to the Lions. They never had to pay a dime out.” The Lions, not normally associated with high culture, brought Shakespeare to Utah and to millions. Ole Will warned Horatio—advised us—not to be surprised at the unexpected: “there are more things in heaven and earth than of dreamt of in your philosophy.”
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