PAMELA MOHR 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Tom Harpst of Illinois recalls eating at a big round table in 2002 and sitting next to Cory, one of the participants at Camp Lions for the visually and hearing impaired. Cory had it tough. His vision was slowly getting worse, and he knew he’d never be able to get his driver’s license. But he turned to Harpst and said, “Thank you, Mr. Lion. Thank you for letting me come to camp.” Harpst was stunned. “I have been a member of this organization since 1979 but that was the day I became a Lion. It made all the Candy Days, fish fries in the cold, pork chop sandwich sales and all the other projects I have worked on to help support our foundation and my home club worthwhile,” says Harpst of the Mahomet Lions Club and 2008-09 District 1-E governor. Many Lions discover the day they are inducted is not the same day they genuinely understand or appreciate what it means to be a Lion. For some, it takes years. For others, it’s the first time they are thanked or the first smile on a child’s face at a service project. LION Magazine asked a few Lions to share their experiences on the day they truly became a Lion. It was the poet T.S. Eliot who once lamented that “we had the experience but missed the meaning.” These Lions understand that service changed them as surely as it helped those they served. Jerry Loney of Kansas was a clown before he was a Lion. Loney’s alter ego is JR Juggles the Clown, who was “born” in 1983, 15 years before he became a Lion. But the laughter had died inside of Loney when he was devastated by his divorce. Then a friend asked him to come to a Lions meeting. Lions entered his life at a time when he really needed to connect with people. His “aha” moment as a Lion came on a service mission to Honduras in 2003 through VOSH (Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity). The poverty was appalling. Loney stepped up. Not only did he help deliver and fit eyeglasses, he entertained at schools, medical clinics, daycare centers and orphanages. The kids “knew about clowns but had never actually seen one, and they were all over me, touching me to see if I was real or a cartoon character.” “This was the first time that I truly became a Lion,” says Loney of the Topeka Sunflower Club. The visit “is the key to why I am a Lion and what it means to me to be able to help someone, or others, in need, whatever circumstances they find themselves in.” Loney uses his clown talents for Lions’ purposes locally as well. He taught his balloon-twisting skill to members of his club, who since 2004 have morphed balloons into animal shapes as a fundraiser for Campaign SightFirst II. Held on the first Wednesday of every October, “Balloons Around the World,” incidentally, is the designated date globally to raise funds for a charity of people’s choice. Clowning around as JR Juggles is “certainly a stress reliever,” Loney says. He needs to balance his job at the Kansas Department of Revenue with being an advocate for divorced fathers, a part-time preacher and a full-time Lion. “Sometimes I think I do more volunteer service work than my regular job. I love it!” he says. When Nick Landy of New Jersey was a boy, he recalls walking with his mother and encountering people in yellow blazers with buckets asking for donations to help the sight impaired. Every contribution netted the donor a little white plastic cane, and Landy pestered his mom for loose change. In high school Landy was asked by a teacher to pick up a check from the Harrison Lions Club. The check was a donation from Lions so that Landy could attend a camp. While working a summer job, Landy met Augie Martinez, a Harrison Lion. He helped sell the club’s raffle tickets for him. Martinez became his sponsor in 1992 when he inevitably joined the Harrison Lions. “I had finally come to realize what a great organization this was and how it helped so many people.” Landy’s membership, a long time coming, was a defining moment for him as he realized he could give back to the community what it had given him. Landy has served as president of the Harrison Lions four times. A high school teacher and coach, he interprets his experiences as the Lions “circle of life.” One of the greatest rewards comes “when I see the excitement of the students when they have done something good for their community. I have seen many kids step up and help with no questions asked.” Not only is he guiding students into service as many of them assist Lions with fundraisers, he’s also recruiting faculty. Amy Nicosia “has started her own little middle school army of students who help us on many occasions.” And colleague Patti Gerris, the teacher who sent him to pick up that check so many years ago is now a Lion, recruited by Landy. Some Lions jump in headfirst; others prefer to wade. Pam Nichols is a jumper. When asked to become a member of the Manchester Lions Club in Vermont last September, “I jumped at the chance,” she says. Just a few months later, she was asked to become club secretary. “I crazily agreed to do so not realizing what I was getting myself into,” she jokes. The club hadn’t been involved on the district level for a while but Nichols wanted to learn all she could so she invited president Garry VanSiclen to attend a district meeting. They drove an hour and a half to Plymouth, where they met the new 2008-09 district governor, Patrick McWilliams. “He very quickly asked me questions about my goals in Lionism, and truthfully, I really didn’t have any,” she admits. “I just wanted to be a good secretary and learn all I could about it and the Lions. After all, I had only been a member for 10 months so what did I know about goals?” The meeting was a turning point for Nichols. “I quickly began to realize that it didn’t matter how much experience I had or what I had done in the past. I could be a good Lion, and after listening to District Governor Patrick, I realized I could go where I wanted to in the Lions club.” One of his goals was to have Leo clubs active in Vermont. “I didn’t even know what one was,” she says. “But Governor Patrick did and he said he could help me find my path.” Since she worked at the local high school, Nichols knew a lot of teens and understood how organizing a Leo club could be helpful not only to the students but also the community. That path she took led straight to chartering the Manchester Leo Club, the only one in Vermont. Nichols gives credit to McWilliams for her immersion and rapid involvement in Lions. “I was supported all the way.” She does, in fact, admire him so much that she says she plans to pattern her Lions “career” after his and one day serve as governor. Melvin "Mel" Samplawski may be a little fuzzy on a single moment that defined his service, but that's to be forgiven. After all, how can you choose a single illustration from a history of volunteerism stretching back 56 years? "There have been so many times I was proud to be a Lion that I can't recall just one," he says. The reason he did become a member, however, is that he was inspired by the Lions' mission to help the visually impaired. His twin brother was blinded by shrapnel during World War II, and when he learned about the Lions' dedication to sight, he was quick to join. A member of the Chetek Lions Club in Wisconsin, he is a near legend for his vast collection of Lions pins.numbering between 6,000 and 7,000. They stand as reminders of all the Lions he has met and all the good that Lions do in the world. He admits that it may be time to slow down his pin collecting and trading now that he's 86. He recently donated 400 pins to the Calhoun Memorial Museum in Chetek even though he was initially reluctant to part with them. His devotion to his club and community service has earned him another moniker around town: Mr. Lion.
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.