Jennifer Martin 2015-09-12 10:04:06
Sixty-year members made Lionism what it is today—and often still pitch in on projects. 1955 was a memorable year. The Brooklyn Dodgers won the World Series, the first pocket transistor radios were sold, and the polio vaccine was successfully tested. It was an era of middle-class mobility, rock ‘n’ roll music and an awakening of the civil rights movement in America. 1955 was a grand year for Lions, too. Eleven new nations joined including Greece, Egypt and Ireland. Membership in Lions’ 44 countries rose by 5 percent to 523,450, making Lions by far the world’s largest service club organization. Lions of that era represent our very own “greatest generation.” They came of age when Lions were flourishing and took Lions Clubs to greater heights. Lions Clubs now counts nearly 1.4 million members in 210 nations and geographic areas. The LION talked to nearly 20 Lions who became members in 1955 or earlier. Sixty years is long ago. Gas is no longer 22 cents a gallon. New cars cost a bit more than $1,900. Rock ‘n’ roll is no longer seen as a threat to youth. But the more Lions seem to change, the more Lions stay … well, read on. Eddie Munger, 100 (on Oct. 10) Lion since 1951 Houston Heights Lions Club, Texas Eddie Munger led his first meeting as president of the Houston Heights Lions Club in July. It didn’t matter that he was nearly 100 years old. “He did great and was very polished,” said his daughter, Lion Winnie Eads. She adds with a laugh, “Most of his life, he’s been the boss.” But beneath his strong exterior lies a soft heart. Members know him as “Lion Daddy,” ever since Eads mistakenly used that moniker when calling on him at a meeting years ago. “Everybody calls him that,” she says. “We have many people in the club over 65, but he is ‘Lion Daddy.’” A past district governor and a Melvin Jones Fellow (MJF), Munger served as president of the Lions Eye Bank of Texas, and donors now receive an Eddie H. Munger Fellowship pin and plaque. “It’s a great honor for me, and it’s helped keep the Eye Bank alive,” Munger says. In 1991, Munger launched the Lions Foundation for Sight, which has provided more than $400,000 in grants for eye-related medical research. And he’s been president of the Texas Lions Camp for children with disabilities. “It kept me busy. I liked how people appreciated what we were doing,” he says. Part of his success in philanthropy may have come from his business background: Munger started out working at a laundry, then eventually managed it for a decade and later opened four dry-cleaning plants. But Munger remains characteristically humble: “That’s a lot of suds,” he says. His three daughters have planned a big birthday bash for him. Munger just plans to keep chairing the meetings. Son-in-law Paul Eads, a Lion, tells him: “Do a good job, and we’ll keep you on for another year.” F. Phil Saverino, 100 Lion since 1947 Grosse Pointe Lions Club, Michigan Phil Saverino is a past district governor and past president of the Grosse Pointe Lions Club as well as an MJF. But if you ask him what his favorite Lions achievement is, he’s likely to name serving as chair of the Leader Dog Kick-off Luncheon, an annual event that raises money to pay for guide dogs. Incredibly, Saverino chaired the event from 1950 to 1999, stepping down when he was 84 due to health issues. The event has raised more than $1 million for guide dogs. Says Saverino: “Blind people need a little help. That’s why we contribute so much. We figured that was a very important need in life.” Saverino has firsthand experience with the disability: he lost his sight in 1994 due to macular degeneration. “I can’t read, write or watch TV, but I can see light,” he says. “I see figures and shadows. I walk with a cane.” However, Saverino has never asked for help from his club: “I wanted to be a giver,” he explains. Saverino also has the help of his wife, Aline, whom he met as a young Marine while on a 72-hour pass from Camp Pendleton. The two danced at a USO club just before Saverino was deployed to the South Pacific during World War II. “I said, ‘You know honey, I really like you. If I come back in one piece, can we get together?’ She said, ‘OK.’ We corresponded for over a year and a half while I was overseas. When I came back, we got married.” In June, they celebrated their 69th wedding anniversary. Saverino counts his family and the Lions among his greatest gifts. “The Lord has been really good to me,” he says. “I figure I have to give something back.” David J. Waterbury, 94 Lion since 1950 Kentville Lions Club, Nova Scotia, Canada David Waterbury still is an active participant in meetings of the Kentville Lions Club. “It’s a life-giver. I’m pretty much an old standby and observer,” he says with a laugh. “I’m amazed by the activities of the Lions club here. They’re going all the time.” A past district governor (1964), Waterbury was proud of his well-attended district events and fundraisers. The Kentville club once had 100 members. “It was an enthusiastic club,” he says. “Our first major project was for a young man who had lost an eye. We sent him to Boston to get an artificial eye. We raised the money by gathering paper and selling it for recycling.” While most projects were successful, a few were more of a learning experience. At one multiple district event, the Kentville Lions thought they might raise money by selling liquor (the event was on a Sunday, when liquor stores were closed). Waterbury and his young pack of Lions bought a large stash of alcohol and stored it in their hotel room. Nothing about it was illegal. “But we miscalculated,” Waterbury says. “People brought their own liquor with them to the event. So for about six months, we were drinking all this liquor we didn’t need. We finally got rid of the stuff.” R. Edwin “Ed” Brown, 99 Lion since 1942 Monocacy Lions Club, Maryland Not long after he joined the Rockville Lions Club in 1942, Ed Brown left for World War II, serving with the U.S. Air Force in England. “I was in charge of the utilities at the Air Force base. It had nothing to do with my training or education as a lawyer,” he says with a grin. But at least one part of his experience “stuck”: Brown met an English girl named Winsome and married her. Brown returned with her to the United States, where he set up a law practice and transferred his membership to the Monocacy Lions Club in 1946. “It was a really good civic organization,” he remembers. “The Lions have done a lot of good things over the years.” Brown, an MJF, has served in many club leadership positions including treasurer, which he says kept him busy—perhaps too busy. Once, he forgot to pay the gas bill for the town hall they used. At an evening meeting, business went on as usual, until the Lions’ wives started to make the post-meeting meal and discovered that the stove had no gas. “We went up to a steakhouse instead, and I paid for dinner,” Waterbury says with a chuckle. “I’ll never forget that.” Don Keitz (right photo), 89 Clyde Tipton, 93 Tri-Village Lions, Ohio Lions since 1953 With exceptional resolve and commitment, Lions Don Keitz and Clyde Tipton helped grow a small, local nonprofit into a great gift for those with low vision. In 1960, Pilot Dogs, Inc., based in Columbus, was a fledgling group that trained a few dogs every year to assist blind individuals in maintaining their independence and safety. Pilot Dogs had received contributions from a few local Lions clubs including the Tri-Village Lions, but it was struggling to grow. In 1960, Tipton, then the president of the Tri-Village Lions, spoke at a state convention and made an impassioned plea to assist Pilot Dogs. The assembly adopted the organization as one of its recognized philanthropies, and Pilot Dogs has grown to serve about 150 people per year. It receives financial support from more than 500 Lions clubs nationwide. Keitz and Tipton both served on the board of directors for Pilot Dogs. “It was a good feeling,” says Keitz, who served as president of the Tri-Village Lions in 1963. “These are very smart dogs. They could have been a Labrador, a German shepherd, a Doberman. A few years ago they started using a full-bred poodle. These dogs worked out very well.” As for the occasional dog that didn’t finish the program, Tipton and his wife took them in as pets. “They were lovely dogs. It was just that they had wandering minds,” Tipton says happily. Both men are retired and living in Ohio. The memories of helping Pilot Dogs will always stay with them. “We were all young, and this idea of helping the blind just fit the spirit of what we were all about,” says Tipton. “It was a great experience.” Freeman Boyer (right photo), 94 Lion since 1951 R. Spencer Purvis, 97 Lion since 1941 Coupeville Lions Club, Washington On the surface, Freeman Boyer and Spencer Purvis don’t have much in common. A farmer, Boyer can give you advice about shearing sheep. (“They don’t particularly enjoy it. Hire a professional.”) An accountant, Purvis can speak about longevity. (“My niece is actually older than I am. It might run in the family.”) But both men agree that serving as Lions is among the most worthwhile activities they’ve undertaken. Purvis was nudged into the Seattle Central Lions Club as a young man, where his uncle was the secretary. “He said, ‘It wouldn’t hurt you to become a Lion. You’ll meet some good people.’” He transferred his membership to the Coupeville Lions Club in 1978, where among other projects he coordinated a major garage sale for 15 years. Both clubs have been a great gift to him. “All the friendships and the things that we did together over the years, it's been most gratifying,” he says. Like Purvis, Boyer has been involved in many projects including the garage sale. He joined the Coupeville Lions at age 24, when the club was meeting at the Methodist church he attended. “It was sort of a package deal,” he jokes. After marrying the same year, Boyer eventually ran a 300-acre farm. His wife, Opal, joined a Lioness club, and both stayed busy while raising three children. Boyer, an MJF, advises young people to stay on the straight-and-narrow, and to join a service club like the Lions. “I managed to stay out of jail,” he jokes. “I think being honest is great. I go to church and I belong to a Lions club, which is a good group to be with.” Harry Pinkham, 87 Lion since 1953 Boothbay Region Lions Club, Maine While stationed near Seoul in the Korean War, Harry Pinkham rose from a company clerk in the U.S. Army to a section clerk, overseeing daily reports from four companies. When he came home to Maine in 1952, he took his experience with him and helped launch the Boothbay Region Lions Club. Pinkham served as club secretary for 18 years and assisted with numerous fundraisers and projects. He did all this while working as emergency management director of his town for 48 years, an on-call firefighter and policeman for more than 40 years, a member of the Water District Board for 53 years and a participant in many other civic activities. “He rarely misses a meeting,” says Karen Nickerson, secretary. “And he remains active in our service activities.” Pinkham, an MJF, speaks modestly of his service but advises young adults to consider joining the Lions. “Come to the club, and see what we do,” he says. “If you want to belong, it’s a good fellowship.” John Garvin, 102 Lion since 1954 West Mansfield Lions Club, Ohio District 13-E Governor Micheal Gibbs has a cherished memory of John Garvin. “One time, I visited his club when he was only 99 years old,” Gibbs recalls. “He stood up and made an impassioned plea for names of people who would make good Lions. He told people he would go out and make the contacts, and do all he could to get them to join.” That enthusiasm has marked Garvin’s life as a Lion. “One year, we made a concerted effort to gather used eyeglasses,” says Garvin, an MJF. “We gathered over 1,000 pairs within a few months.” Garvin also supports his club’s annual Turkey Raffle. “This last November, 101-year-old Lion John was all over, helping out where ever he saw a need,” Gibbs says. “We even got him to spin the wheel a few times and call a couple numbers in between his clearing tables and opening the door, helping to sell tickets and other things.” Garvin, a former grocery store owner, says being a Lion has always made him proud. “I felt I was of service to my fellow man, locally, nationally and internationally,” he says. “I always liked that. I think the world of the Lions Clubs.” He has a sense of humor as well. Asked about the secret to longevity, Garvin says, “I just keep breathing.” Merlin Carstenson, 96 Lion since 1949 Northeast Tarrant Lions, Texas Merlin Carstenson was midway through college when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941. The same week, he was at the Coast Guard recruiter’s office. The new recruit’s career was short-lived, however, as the Coast Guard discharged him to go to work at an aircraft plant, making a new plane for the Navy, the PB2Y3. “The captain at the Coast Guard told me, ‘If they need you, that’s where you go,’” Carstenson remembers. That sense of duty has pervaded his life—an ideal quality for a Lion. After three months of hard work on the new plane, plus a stint in the U.S. Navy, he settled down with his wife, Eileen, in Falls City, Nebraska. A few years later, during a busy life as a hog broker in the farming sector, Carstenson joined the Maryville Lions Club in Missouri and later transferred to the St. Joseph Host Club before moving to Texas. Among numerous fundraisers and projects, he helped Lions partner with the local Lighthouse for the Blind to sell brooms, mops and lightbulbs. “Super-salesman Merlin Carstenson was in the middle of it all,” says Jerome Davis, secretary of the Northeast Tarrant Lions. Carstenson said he loves the uplifting effect of Lions. He recalls a blind man who told his fellow Lions that his life had been nearly meaningless before he had joined the Lions. “He said, ‘Now, when I walk down the street, I can tell people who are in the Lions club by their voice. I can just converse, and it’s wonderful to be alive,’” Carstenson remembers. An MJF, Carstenson served as zone chairman and district governor. He still attends Lions meetings, enjoying the camaraderie and sense of service. “They do a lot for people because they really want to do it,” Carstenson says. “That says a lot about them. They’re the best in the world.” Ralph Fukumitsu, 94 Lion since 1950 Kona Lions Club, Hawaii Ralph Fukumitsu remembers his first day as a Lion. “There was an initiation we had to do,” he says. “We were blindfolded and the guy told us we were eating earthworms. I opened my mouth and someone put noodles in there. It was slimy and wiggly. I think I spit it out.” Fukumitsu says laughingly that he’s pretty certain the Lions “don’t do that anymore.” But what today’s clubs still have in common with the clubs of 65 years ago is a great commitment to service. “We did so many things—built benches for the parks in Kona, did so many projects for the children,” he says proudly. “We must have collected 4,000 to 5,000 pairs of eyeglasses every year that we shipped out to other countries.” Wendell Hanson, 96 Lion since 1951 Sioux Falls Downtown Lions Club, South Dakota As a pilot flying a B52 bomber in World War II, Wendell Hanson had many close calls. On missions over China, he flew as low as 150 feet—“below the treetops.” Furious antiaircraft fire was constant. “I wrecked three airplanes landing them because they had so many holes in them,” he says. On his last mission, he lost hydraulics and lights but managed to crash-land safely with no wheels down. Awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and numerous other medals, Hanson finally came home from the war, married and had children. He didn’t dwell on his brushes with death. “I just felt like, ‘The war is over; let’s get to work,’” he says. H e started a successful career in real estate. Hanson also joined the Sioux Falls Downtown Lions Club and never looked back. He helped launch the club’s annual Pancake Day, which draws more than 15,000 people to the Sioux Falls Convention Center. Lions on 11 grills flip 10,560 pancakes per hour to keep the line moving. The fundraiser supports many causes including one of Hanson’s favorites: a project to send doctors to Mexico to assist those struggling with blindness or low vision. “We collect thousands of pairs of eyeglasses and fit people with them in various parts of Mexico,” he says. “It solidifies a person’s desire to stay in the club and help any way they can.” Fukumitsu, an MJF, is now retired and living in Honolulu. He said being a Lion has been an honor. “Helping your local community and people in other countries who were in need … that’s a good feeling,” he says. Roy Kern, 92 Lion since 1947 Upper Lehigh Lions Club, Pennsylvania Roy Kern remembers his early days as a Lion as a time of fun and fellowship with “young fellows like myself.” He says cheerfully, “We got interested and joined in with the old people—the ones who were 40 or 50 years old. In my time, that was ‘old people.’” The club grew through a network of relationships. Kern, a foreman in the trucking business, had friends in many professions such as doctors and ministers. “Most of us knew each other. And we had a couple of good salesmen, enticing people to join,” he says. He contributed to projects such as a festival and craft show, breakfast fundraisers at the Schnecksville Fire Company and food trailers at high school football games. There’s also the annual Schnecktucky Derby, a live viewing of the Kentucky Derby on a giant TV, with some good-natured betting. “It’s a fun night,” Kern says. “If your horse wins, you win some money.” All of the club’s profits are given to those in need— a rewarding feeling for Kern, an MJF. “It’s something different, something interesting,” he says. “We all like to work together.” Willard Keddy, 90 Lion since 1951 Mahone Bay Area Lions Club, Nova Scotia, Canada Willard Keddy was just 19 years old when he crossed the English Channel with the U.S. Army’s 66th Infantry— the Black Panther Division—on Christmas Eve, 1944. While the troops were en route to Cherbourg, a German torpedo ripped apart one of their transport ships, killing 14 officers and 748 enlisted men. It was one of the most tragic and significant losses of the war. “I was one of the fortunate few who survived,” Keddy says. But Keddy didn’t let the haunting memories hold him back. Settling in Long Island after the war, he joined the Selven Lions Club and quickly went to work on a colorful array of projects. An annual raffle of a Ford sedan raised money for eyeglasses. “If any of the kids in the schools needed eyeglasses, we were there,” says Keddy, president in 1956. The Selven Lions also provided Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets to those in need, receiving names and addresses from local churches. One year, he says, “We went to the wrong house by accident, and when the woman opened the door, we said, ‘We’re from the Lions club and we would like to present you with a Christmas basket.’ She wasn’t expecting it, and she cried. She just fell apart. As it turned out, she was a single mother with two little children there. The kids were joyous. It was the best moment of my life.” In 2000, Keddy moved to Nova Scotia, his hometown and transferred his membership to the Mahone Bay Area Lions Club. He’s grateful for the opportunity to continue as a Lion. “I look forward to coming to the meetings,” he says. “I like being able to help … to serve others.” Bruce Kelley, 88 Lion since 1952 Orono Lions Club, Minnesota Bruce Kelley joined the Lions because, he jokes, a friend was looking out for him. “I was young and foolish, and a friend of mine said, ‘We’re starting up a Lions club. You’d better join,’” he says. “So I did.” Kelley took part in every fundraiser including an annual variety show called Fearless Frolics. “We did singing and dancing, all that dumb stuff,” says Kelley, who once dressed up as Peter Pan to do a send-up on a popular commercial for a peanut butter. “We did have lots of fun.” A past president and treasurer and an MJF, Kelley found that Lions gave him room for creativity. One day, when his granddaughter came home from school, she mentioned that she got a gift certificate for ice cream because she had been reading every day. Kelley’s wife, Irma, also a Lion, said, “We can do better than that.” Working with the Orono Lions Club, the Kelleys created the R.E.D. (Read Every Day) Lions Challenge 14 years ago. First-graders in the Orono School District who read for 20 minutes every day during February receive a $25 gift card to a bookstore. The program has been so successful that other Lions clubs throughout the nation have replicated it. The Kelleys also organized Orono Reads, which provides reading tutors for second-grade students. Kelley and his wife treasure the impact of the Lions. “It’s always been important to us that we give back to our community,” he says. Bill Teslik, 90 (on Oct. 5) Lion since 1954 Conrad “Babe” Lederer (photo), 100 Lion since 1956 Brandywine Lions Club, Maryland Besides the fact that they’re fellow Lions and MJFs, Bill Teslik and Babe Lederer have something in common: blood. Teslik has been organizing Lions’ blood drives for 33 years, and Lederer always showed up to donate until some recent health struggles. Teslik says he always appreciated Lederer’s donations. “Blood is so important. They don’t make it, you know,” Teslik quips. Teslik’s blood drives occur every two months at a local firehouse. Typically, about 50 donors participate. “It’s just like a big family affair,” he says. “Through the year, we collect around 300 units of blood.” Both Lederer and Teslik carry an ironclad commitment to community service. Besides assisting with Lions fundraisers, Lederer also coached his Lions club’s Little League team. His son, Bill Lederer, remembers, “He’d want to have a fundraiser for his baseball team, and the Lions club would step in and say, ‘Come on, Babe, we’ll help you do that.’ He always appreciated that.” “He was quite a baseball player,” his son adds. “One time, when he was about 9 or 10, he hit two or three home runs during a game. Someone said, ‘Conrad, you hit the ball like Babe Ruth.’ And the name ‘Babe’ stuck.” While Lederer was running a turkey farm, Teslik ran a combination farm and landscape nursery, with which he is still involved. He stays busy. He recently returned from a family reunion in the Czech Republic. “Would you believe I was the oldest descendant there?” he says. Teslik was thrilled to revisit the old family home, which has been standing since 1410. “There were 122 relatives at the party,” he said. “They came from all over Europe. You can’t imagine how exciting it was.” Teslik said his parents emphasized the importance of education, a value they share with Lions. “When my parents came to this country, they could not read, write or speak English, and they survived by education,” he says. “It’s something they always stressed, and it’s something I passed on to my sons and grandsons. If I ever have a great-grandchild, I hope they will pass this on to their children.” Honorable Mentions Minnie Kranzler, 106 Lion since 1994 Lehr Lions Club, North Dakota Minnie Kranzler became a Lion at age 85. “In the first place, I like the people,” she says. “I know them all, and they’re very nice.” Kranzler was following in the footsteps of her husband, John Kranzler, a longtime member of the same club who passed away in 1978. Once in the club herself, Kranzler took a keen interest in its activities. In 2011, she made vegetable soup for a fundraiser to benefit the victims of the Japan tsunami. “She really enjoys the meetings, the people, the projects,” says her daughter, Linnea Veeder. “It’s an important part of her life.” Kranzler has since relocated to be near her daughter, but has maintained her membership in the Lehr Club. “It’s a worthy club,” she says. “We help whenever it’s needed.” Virginia Carpenter, 100 Lion since 1987 Annapolis Lions Club, Maryland Virginia Carpenter started out as a Lioness in 1987, and when that club folded, she joined the Annapolis Lions Club. Carpenter, who still lives independently, doesn’t let age hold her back. “She is a very feisty lady,” says Lion Carol Kellner, a longtime friend. “She was an active Lion until a year ago, and she was still driving a car. We live in Annapolis and the meeting wasn’t too far away for her to drive.” Carpenter helped organize the club’s annual sale of bushels of Florida fruits. “She’d be the person that people would call about that,” Kellner says. Today, Carpenter enjoys spending time with her daughters. “They come and pick her up to go do things. She really is self-sufficient. She has a very good attitude toward life.” Ike Fitzgerald, 88 Lion since 1960 Midland Downtown Lions Club, Texas Ike Fitzgerald is multitalented. An aficionado of the bass fiddle and guitar, Fitzgerald joined the Midland Downtown Lions Club “mainly to play in the club band,” says Lion Marshall Cooper, a longtime friend. Fitzgerald is also a paramedic, a real estate investor and an automobile mechanic. He could master large amounts of information and possessed a keen memory. So when he got involved in the club’s eyeglass recycling efforts, he set to work learning how to “read” the prescription level of donated lenses. “He would pump the doctors for every bit of knowledge he could get from them, then write all this stuff down and save it,” Cooper says. Fitzgerald then shared the information with local doctors, who accompanied club members on trips around the world. “He trained doctors who have gone overseas in how to ‘read’ the recycled glasses to fit kids who need them,” Cooper says. “Ike put a lot of time, energy and money—his money—into this.” With the help of Midland optometrist Norman Gould, Fitzgerald went on to launch the Texas Lions Eyeglass Recycling Center, one of the largest centers of its kind. Fitzgerald’s passion for providing the gift of sight, especially to children, is reflected in the first half of his email address: eyeglassike. “To this day, when he joins us at meetings, he is interested in getting the children’s programs throughout the world,” Cooper says. “He knows if they can’t see well enough to get a good education, they’re not ever going to succeed. Ike is a person who really cares about others.” Ruth Olsen, 100 Lioness/Lion since 1983 Murrietta Lions Club, California Ruth Olsen became a Lioness in 1983, then a charter member of the Murrieta Lions Club in 1992, where she served as secretary. She worked on the club’s constitution and by-laws for several years, and served as chair of the Scrapbook Committee. Olsen lives in Maine now, but still maintains her membership with the Murrietta Lions Club. “Everything about the Lions Club, I love,” she says. “It’s really a wonderful club.” Cal Spivey, 97 Lion since 1969 Rogers Lions Club, Arkansas Cal Spivey rarely let anything keep him from a meeting. “He was our song leader for years,” says Jim Secker, a past president. “He was president and tail twister, and has done quite a bit.” Each Christmas, when the club sold fruit and meat baskets, Spivey broke records. “He was always our sales leader,” Secker says. “He was really good.” Spivey, a retired real estate agent, was attending meetings until this year when he had health problems. His friends in the club know he’s with them in spirit. “If he were able,” Secker says, “he would be there every time, for every meeting.”
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