Jay Copp 2016-01-19 14:17:03
CLEVER, CRAFTY and ANYTHING BUT CONVENTIONAL Clubs get creative in serving their communities. They may not raise a ton of money or dramatically change lives, but these projects touch people’s hearts, provoke a smile or help a person get through a tough day. Contest Rains Supreme Everyone in Hoquiam, Washington, talks about the weather, but they also do something about it. Less than 15 miles from the Pacific and at the base of the Olympic Peninsula, Hoquiam is one of the nation’s rainiest places. The hamlet averages 68.30 inches a rain annually (Hoquiam’s 8,400 residents like to be exact when it comes to rain, as you shall soon learn). The average U.S. town gets 37 inches. So residents put on their galoshes, tote their umbrellas and submit their guesses for the Rain Derby of the Hoquiam Lions. A Lions' project since 1949, the derby awards $1,000 to the person who comes closest to guessing the average annual rainfall. Last year a contestant hit it on the head with a guess of 59.62. Two others made the same guess. The tie was broken by the one who came closest to guessing the rainfall amount in December. He would have won a bonus of $4,000 if he had exactly predicted the December figure: no one has ever done that. Guesses must be made by October 31. Five derby tickets cost $5. The club usually sells several thousand chances. Unless you have a tee time, rain is often looked upon kindly in Washington. A lack of rain contributed to massive forest fires last summer, and the state relies on hydroelectric dams. “People get nervous when it does not rain,” says Mel Thompson, who, as president, is the Lions’ presiding rain man. But too much rain can lead to a personal downfall. The Lions publish the predictions before the contest ends to build suspense, and one year Thompson was eating out on New Year’s Eve. “Hey, I think you’re gonna win,” someone excitedly told him. Later that night a deluge hit. “That wiped me out and about 1,000 other people,” Thompson recalls with a grin. Gone Fishin’—Again The ol’ fishin hole outside tiny Holyoke, Colorado, was a popular spot for fathers and their children. The boys and girls could catch trout, bass and catfish in the lazy 3.5-acre pond while standing safely on a railed bridge. The fishing was enhanced by the serenity of nature: a stand of willows graced the shoreline and deer, ducks and even cranes made appearances. Then slags of unsightly algae built up, killing oxygen and fish. Who you gonna call? Well, the Holyoke Lions, who painstakingly built the pond in 1991. Using GPS imaging, the Lions aerated the water and remedied the algae buildup without resorting to problematic chemicals. Cleaning up the Lions Club Fishin’ Hole, as it’s called, was far easier than building it. The Lions had stretched a liner over a massive sand pit, filled the hollow 1/2 inch a day through a pump that reached down into the water table and placed 1,700 tons of rock to prevent erosion. The effort has been worth it. “We love to see kids having a good time,” says Lion Larry Stein. “I think that’s part of being a Lion—enjoying what you accomplish.” Winter Fun, Whether It Lingers or Not Punxsutawney Phil, meet Fenwick Flossie—far bigger, much funnier and more accurate, it turns out. Each Groundhog Day for more than 20 years Fenwick Lions in Ontario trot out the six-foot-tall Fenwick Flossie, who emerges from a manmade snow lair that backs up to the Lions clubhouse. “I put my hand out first. That really gets the kids going. When they get really loud, I come out,” says Lion Bill Farion, 77, a retired police officer who has worn the furry costume for two decades. Farion plays it straight. If he sees his shadow, he crawls back into his burrow, signifying six more weeks of winter. Of course, he is tipped off beforehand to make sure he knows what to do. “A Lion usually tells me if the sun is out,” he says. Farion typically enters the lair before the busloads of younger schoolchildren arrive at Centennial Park. But if he is running late he can enter from the clubhouse. “They can’t see me get in,” he explains. The groundhog costume is stifling hot; even in the cold Canadian winter Farion sweats heavily while wearing a light jacket. But it’s worth it. The children laugh and drink hot chocolate. The Lions raise no funds but get the satisfaction of entertaining hundreds of children, and increasingly, crowds of adults. Farion gains something, too. “If I get it wrong [his prediction], I hear about it,” he says. “But I’m better at prediction than Punxsutawney Phil. I know—we keep track.” A Bridge to a Beloved Past There isn’t a movie called “The Bridges of Brown County.” But perhaps there should be. Dozens of old covered bridges, many no longer open to cars, grace rural Brown County in Ohio. Among them is picturesque McCafferty Bridge, built in 1887 and stretching 167 feet across the Little Miami River. People drive to the McCafferty Bridge and many others to take wedding and family photos there or simply to admire them. And some are willing to fork over $60 for a painting of one and perhaps give it to a loved one for Christmas. The Georgetown Lions Club can vouch for that. In 2001 the club commissioned James “Skip” Werline, a renowned local watercolorist, to paint six of the county’s bridges including the late, great Eagle Creek Bridge, washed away in a 1997 flood. The club sold each original for $1,500, made 300 prints of each and also sold matching acrylic ornaments. The profit margin was good and the demand was even better. “There’s not a whole lot left,” says President Lena Bradford. “We made some pretty good money.” And made or at least preserved some pretty good memories. Ramping Up Service East Hampton in New York may conjure images of affluence and celebrities, and it’s true that Lions on the eastern tip of Long Island serve in one of the wealthiest zip codes in America. But not everyone is well-off. “Not by any stretch of the imagination—there are working-class people here,” says President Bob Schaeffer. So when people in need face mobility issues because of age or accident, Lions step up. East Hampton Lions have built deconstructable aluminum ramps at 32 homes since 2006. Its 14 ramps currently are in use. It takes a few hours for a crew of three Lions to put up or take down the ramp. “We can pretty much tell [if people need Lions’ help]. It’s a small community,” says Schaeffer. The club recently learned it is receiving a $5,000 federal grant to purchase three more ramps. Preserving the Precious Past History is in the air and on the ground for Lions in Thurmont, located in Maryland 20 miles from Gettysburg and 10 miles from Camp David. “I can hear the three [presidential] helicopters fly over my house [on the way to Camp David],” says Lion Joann Miller. Just outside her kitchen window is a remnant of local history: the well-worn groove of the former tracks of the Thurmont Trolley, which from 1886 until 1954 whisked residents to other cities. It once was the key to mobility, transporting nearly 3.8 million riders in Frederick County in 1920 alone. So when a few years ago Lions asked the mayor of their quaint town of 7,000 what they could to do improve it, he nodded at the decrepit old power station for the trolley near the town’s main square. Lions commissioned a local artist, Yemi, a renowned illustrator born in Nigeria, to paint murals for the box-like substation. Miller, whose grandfather was a trolley conductor, chaired the two-year endeavor. The end result celebrated Thurmont’s history: the five murals, each about 5 1/2 feet by 9 1/2 feet, show Main Street, Cunningham Falls, the old iron works, covered bridges and more. Three small helicopters poke out of one mural. Lions raised the $35,000 needed from a $15,000 state grant, $5,000 from the Masonic lodge, $5,000 from Lion Nancy Dutterer, a donation jar and fundraisers. The club also sold Christmas ornaments based on the murals and a picture book of the project. “It’s like a jewel box of history,” says Miller of the murals. “It exceeded our expectations.” Going to the Mat Lemoore Lions in California are crime stoppers. They do it preventively—through the sport of wrestling. Kings County received a $50,000 grant as part of the state’s Community Recidivism Reduction Grant. Five local groups received $10,000 including the Lemoore Lions Club, which is using the funds to purchase a 40-foot by 40-foot wrestling mat for the Police Activities League (PAL). Leemore is a small city of 25,000 located in a rural farming county. “Juvenile crime is a problem here like everywhere,” says Steve Rossi, the club secretary who is a commander in the Lemoore Police Department. “If we can get the at-risk kids interested in sports, with its sense of teamwork, leadership and accomplishment, the hope and goal is that they’ll stay with the program and stay out of trouble.” The vice president of PAL is Sergeant Jim Chaney, also a Lemoore Lion. Blind Get a Feel for Art Nearly 20 years ago artist Linda DiFranco of Florida was frustrated that fellow Lion Danny Koster, who was blind, could not appreciate her drawings of zebras. So she began working in clay. Thus was born her club’s MindSight art project in which painters, sculptors, quilters and basket weavers present their tactile art to the blind. “It bothered me I couldn’t share my art. It became an obsession,” says DiFranco of the Gainesville Noon Lions. “Every person has that creative gene. The problem is that in museums you can’t touch anything.” Actually, with MindSight and museums now, touching is what it’s all about. The home of the project, renamed Access Art, now is the Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida; blind people take tours as volunteers describe paintings and participants hold tactile versions of the paintings created by volunteer artists. The project has become a collaboration of many groups besides Lions including students, artists and the National Federation of the Blind. The project has come full circle in that the visually impaired who experience the art have been inspired to create their own. Lenora McGowan, blind since birth, recently displayed eight of her paintings, which drew admirers. “I think about love every time I meet somebody,” McGowan told the Ocala Star-Banner. “And I think with my art I can show love.” Dignity Amid Death Wedding gowns are transformed into “angel gowns” by the Garvois Arm Lions Club in Missouri. Inspired by the efforts of Texas-based NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Units) Helping Hands, the club secured 37 donated wedding gowns and transformed them into 327 lovely gowns to be given to parents whose babies were stillborn, premature or died after being in intensive care. “A lot of times the baby is handed back to the parents wrapped in a towel. A gown gives some dignity to it,” says Lion Melana Malecky, the club’s seamstress. (Lion Doris Naes deconstructs the dresses.) Malecky, who once sewed baby toys and sold them online, knows the heartache of infant loss. Her sister lost a day-old baby, and two sons and their wives also grieved from an infant loss and a miscarriage. “A wedding gown is a woman’s most prized possession,” says Malecky. “A mother realizes the love behind it when it’s given away.” So far, the club has given 20 of the gowns to hospitals in the Kansas City area. “Some [parents] will save it. Some will lay their baby to rest in it. We don’t know. We don’t want to know,” says Malecky.“We’ll never meet the parents who get the gowns. Our satisfaction is knowing what it meant for them.” Digital LION Many clubs do unusual projects. Learn more at lionmagazine.org. • “Toying with the Police” in Canada is among the 10 Outside-the-Box Successes (April 2013 LION). • “Unusual Fundraisers are Uncommonly Successful”: clubs leverage mini-golf and Monopoly (June 2008 LION).
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