Jay Copp 2017-02-02 13:59:53
Sure, Lions flip pancakes, screen children’s vision and better their communities in dozens of familiar, routine ways. But in the last 100 years Lions have often become intertwined with historic events and famous people or made history of their own. Here are nine ways (among many others) that Lions stepped outside the cage and showed the world that service can be fun, daring and groundbreaking. Braille Magazine for the Blind Printed Robert Irwin went on to head the American Foundation for the Blind, but in 1922 he taught blind and partially sighted children in public schools in Cleveland. An eye inflammation when he was five had left him blind. Troubled that were no magazines for the young blind, Irwin approached the Cincinnati Lions Club, which promptly put up $1,600 for a pilot issue. The Juvenile Braille Monthly was born. For more than 60 years, the magazine was mailed to schools for the blind during the school year and then to the homes of the youths in the summer. It typically went to more than 200 schools and 1,600 homes. Its 60 pages included stories, poems, games and puzzles. Articles ranged from a history of aviation and a profile of Beethoven to a fictional tale of a boy who builds and launches rockets. Lions in Ohio supported the magazine before Lions Clubs International began funding it in 1925. The magazine eventually was mailed to eight nations. In the 1980s grants from Lions Clubs International Foundation made the magazine possible. By then, the magazine took its contents from the popular Highlights for Children magazine. From the start, the magazine was produced by “the blind girls at Clovernook”—the Clovernook Home and School for the Blind in Cincinnati. To Russia With Love So what were four middle-aged men from England wearing white overalls that displayed a Union Jack and a Lions emblem doing at a car repair shop not far from Moscow, Russia, in the summer of 1969? The curious Russians who milled about the men did not know who Lions were. Nor did they understand what compelled the quartet to drive more than 2,000 miles from England to Russia. For Lions, the matter was completely understandable, even predictable. Their long-distance drive behind the Iron Curtain was a novel fundraiser. The Farnham Lions Club correctly surmised that a long car trip to Russia and back would generate interest and fill club coffers. The club easily raised from donors, on a per-mile basis, the $2,400 needed for a swimming pool for the Farnham Training Centre for Mentally Handicapped. The eight-day trip was made in a Zephyr 6, a car fitted with an extra-large fuel tank (because gas stations were rare in parts of Russia) loaned to them by Ford. Once in Russia, they aroused intense curiosity: large cars, foreigners and Lions were all relatively unknown commodities. The part about raising funds for charity was particularly puzzling— nonprofits were practically unheard of in that part of the world. Most Russians assumed the men were on a road rally. The Russian police discreetly kept tabs on the Lions. Despite an ever-present language barrier, the Russian people proved to be warm and friendly. In Orel, south of Moscow, the Lions treated locals with cans of Coca-Cola, and residents broke out bottles of vodka. “The four Lions received firsthand evidence that most people, wherever they live, are friendly, hospitable and helpful, if only given the opportunity,” the LION concluded. “Perhaps therein lies the key to unlocking the barriers of fear, hate, prejudice and distrust that divide much of the world today.” In the Rose Garden, President Kennedy greets the blind teenagers on the bus. A Freedom Ride for Blind Children Taking 24 blind teenagers on a 10-week cross-country tour of the United States might not seem like such a major event today. But in 1962 when Norman Kaplan, founder of the Los Angeles-based Foundation for the Junior Blind, conceived the trip, it was nothing less than revolutionary. Many blind children then grew up sheltered, attended special schools and traveled little. Children with disabilities weren’t regularly mainstreamed into public schools. Kaplan’s philosophy was different. “I don’t know about blind children,” he liked to say. “But I do know about children.” And children, according to Kaplan, needed to take tours to learn about the country’s history. They needed to ride horses and drive bumper cars, to visit the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls, meet presidents and ordinary people. Blind children would soon grow up to be blind adults and Kaplan wanted to make sure they could lead productive lives, find meaningful work, be independent. The 10,000-mile journey was a way to help set them on that path. Kaplan knew he couldn’t do it alone. So he called on the Lions for help. Some 72 Lions clubs from across the country pitched in to make the trip a reality. The Lions raised money so that the Southern California teenagers didn’t have to pay a dime for their journey. They planned outings in their towns, and opened their homes to provide food and lodging to their road-weary visitors. The trip, christened BY LIONS (Blind Youths Looking Into Our Nation’s Scenes), lasted just 68 days. But its impact lasted a lifetime. The participants, who became small business owners, administrators of social service agencies, teachers, homeowners, parents and grandparents, fondly look back on their cross-country trip and credit it with making them believe that they could take risks, be successful, be themselves. Linda Woodbury, 15 in 1962, remembers arriving in New York, racing to the base of the Statue of Liberty and bounding up the circular staircase. Just when the ascent seemed it would never end, Woodbury found herself standing at an open window inside Lady Liberty’s crown, New York City spread out 22 stories below. Woodbury couldn’t see the view. She relied on the sighted adults with her to answer questions about what spread out before them. As Woodbury stood there with the wind blowing in her hair, she was struck by the magnitude of the experience. How fortunate she was to be on this trip. The words to her favorite Woody Guthrie song ran inside her head: “This land is your land, this land is my land; From California to the New York Island; From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters; This land was made for you and me.” “This is America,” she thought. “It belongs to everyone, sighted and blind. We get to come here because we’re free.” Woodbury eventually earned a master’s degree in speech communications, served as a consultant to Fortune 500 companies, founded two businesses and administered programs to people with disabilities. “What the trip me taught me most of all, really, was to never give up,” she says. “There’s always a way. It’s not can you do something, it’s how can you do something.” Extra Digital Content Read the full story of the Freedom Ride. Families enjoy the playground in 1996. Lions Respond to Oklahoma Bombing Nineteen children were among the 168 who died in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City. That occurred on April 19, 1995. Almost exactly a year later—on April 20—a playground built by Lions in Oklahoma in memory of the 19 children was dedicated. Lions built the lovely Little Hands, Innocent Smiles, Beautiful Memories playground in just two days. The 10,000-square-foot playground was constructed at a quiet spot on Lake Hefner, eight miles from downtown. The project was an unusual collaboration between Lions, a onetime Lion and corporate workers. Gerry DeRoche, a former Lion and a vice president at Fleet Financial Services in Boston, suggested the project to colleague Louis Marotta of the Hyde Park Lions Club. Fleet employees donated $35,000, which was matched by Fleet as well as the Shawmut Corporation. The Oklahoma City Lions Club spearheaded the construction, and at the time of the dedication Leamon Freeman of the club visited a young bombing victim at the hospital. The legs and arms of Royia Sima were in a cast, and her face was disfigured. Still, she was grateful for the visit. “Y’all have a nice day,” she told him. “We were all in tears,” Freeman told the LION. The Oklahoma City Downtown Lions Club, incidentally, is one of the 25 Founder Clubs of Lions, which were represented at the first Lions’ convention in Dallas in 1917 or were in existence or being organized then and have functioned continuously since chartering. In 1920 two members designed a logo with one head of a lion looking back at the past and the other toward the future. The logo was then adopted by Lions Clubs International. Extra Digital Content Read the full story of the Lions’ playground in grief-stricken Oklahoma City. Town Built by Lions Marches On “I see something coming … something big,” fisherman John Larson yelled frantically over his radio transmitter as he squatted in his boat near Afognak, a small island village in Alaska. “Boy, this is a big one.” Those were his last words. Larson and his boat were lost in a tsunami from the Good Friday Earthquake of 1964, the strongest earthquake ever recorded in North America. A second casualty was the town itself. None of its 170 residents died—they fled to higher ground thanks to prior radio warnings. But the town was nearly wiped off the map. A series of 25- foot waves obliterated everything in its path. Lions in Alaska received an outpouring of donations from Lions from the “South 48” as well as many offers of assistance including a million feet of lumber from a lumberman’s association. After huddling with government officials, Alaskan Lions made a proposal to village leaders: to build a new town on raw, virgin land of nearby Kodiak Island. The Lions would construct 40 homes, the sewer and water systems, a community center, a school, a post office, a boat dock and even an airstrip. With their village reduced to an eerily wracked landscape, Afognaks agreed. Afognaks were a mix of Alutiq natives and descendants of Russian settlers. Hardy and normally self-reliant, they welcomed the helpful outsiders. Afognaks, Lions and Mennonite Service volunteers worked shoulder to shoulder surveying lots and installing the sewage and water systems. Forty-four cedar homes were prefabricated in Kodiak and shipped by barge to the settlement. Two weeks before Christmas in 1965, people of the former village of Afognak arrived by boat and settled in. The Alaskan community became the only town in the United States built by a service club group. Residents gratefully named their village Port Lions. The new Lions club in the village helped it grow, raising funds for a library. Port Lions also took on other needs such as providing food and clothing for villages scorched by wildfires and giving a wheelchair to a local fisherman whose legs were amputated after an accident. The club disbanded in the 1980s after a local cannery and sawmill closed, leaving the town reeling. But a new harbor and health clinic in recent years as well as a flourishing school have helped Port Lions turn a corner. A photographer in Valdez, Alaska, looks over wreckage from the 1964 Good Friday earthquake. Photo by AP Images Extra Digital Content Read the full story of Port Lions: villagers in Alaska start anew in 1964 thanks to Lions (November 1964 LION), and the town is still going strong decades later. Lions to America: Keep Cool—It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Roy Orbison sang for the lonely— and Lions. And Elvis might not have been Elvis—at least not the hipswiveling king of cool and rebellion— without the acquiescence of Lions. When rock was young, Lions, keepers of the keys to countless halls and gyms, gave the green light to the new generation of stars. Orbison was a pale, scrawny, picked-on fourth-grader in Wink, Texas, in 1945. His singing and guitar skills caught the attention of his principal, Lion R.A. Lipscomb, and soon the shy and insecure 9-year-old was the star of the school assemblies. Eight years later Orbison fronted The Wink Westerners, a raw country-and-western band with a small but loyal following. A gig at the McCamey Lions Club led to their first paid performance, a dance. Running for district governor, Lipscomb invited Orbison to tour West Texas with him. Lipscomb was so impressed with Orbison that he invited him to represent Texas at the Lions’ international convention in Chicago in 1953. The Wink Westerners played in the lobby of the Conrad Hilton Hotel, alternatively entertaining, amusing and confounding the Lions from near and far. Orbison became a star when he released “Only the Lonely” in 1960 and eventually gained induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Lipscomb didn’t do too badly, either. He served as an international director for the Lions from 1958 to 1960 and eventually was voted into the Texas Lions Hall of Fame. Elvis Presley gives the Lions something to roar about in March 1955 in DeKalb, Texas. Also playing are Jimmy Day (left), Scotty Moore and Bill Black (right). Photos courtesy of Willie Cox In 1955, Elvis, 20, was a raw, mostly unknown talent. A country boy quite unsure of himself, he was so nervous performing live that his legs wobbled. But his stage fright worked only to his advantage: the uncontrollable shaking drove his female fans wild. That year Elvis toured Texas. Like the Beatles a decade later, who honed their musical talents in neighborhood clubs in Germany before bursting into stardom, Elvis was still developing his distinctive sound. Elvis and his sidekicks played whatever was available—high school hops, car dealership openings and, on March 4, 1955, a benefit for the DeKalb Lions Club. The Lions needed to raise funds for the high school football team. However, the school’s football coach abruptly decided to cancel the show. He didn’t want any part in promoting a “sex maniac.” This was perhaps the first time the controversy over Elvis and his sexually charged performance came to a boil. The school principal overruled the coach, and Elvis was in fine form at the high school gym. The teen-agers went wild, the Lions walked away with a nice bundle of cash, and Elvis moved one step closer to ushering in the rock and roll era. “I owe a lot to Texas,” he later reflected. “They’re the ones who put me over the top.” Within one year, the whole country, especially its teenagers, would discover him and the frenetic music he pioneered. Lions Golf Course Altered History African Americans were barred from golf courses throughout the South in the Jim Crow era. At best, black caddies could play on certain days or black golfers could play at designated times. The first desegregated municipal course south of the Mason- Dixon line was founded by Lions. In 1951, two African-American youths walked onto the Lions Municipal Golf Course in Austin, Texas. Mayor Taylor Glass received a phone call telling him about the presence of the youths on the course. “This was before there was any mixing of the races in restaurants, schools or anywhere,” said Glass in a 1974 interview that was not discovered until 2008. “I don’t see why it ought to bother anybody, and I’m for leaving them alone and not even calling the newspaper and see what happens. We went on and [let] them play and never heard a word.” Lions had founded the course in 1924, and they transferred the lease to the city a dozen years later. The University of Texas, which currently owns the land the course sits on, voted to let the lease expire in 2019 and has wanted to develop the land. But in July the course was added to the National Register of Historic Places because of its role in desegregation. Lions for Art’s Sake Professor Trento Longaretti, the director of a prestigious arts academy in northern Italy, sat on a treasure trove of art in 1964. Some of the work of Italy’s greatest artists lay hidden at Carrara Academy—unseen by the public for more than 150 years. Even art authorities were not aware of many of the works. It was no easy task to mount an exhibition. Thousands of drawings and paintings first needed to be catalogued, critically appraised and winnowed down. Who you gonna’ call? That was easy. A Bergamo Lion, Longaretti proposed the special exhibit as a club project. The club promptly hired a panel of art experts and appointed renowned Professor C. L. Ragghianti of the University of Pisa to direct them. The end result was a stunningly well-received and popular exhibit of 350 works of art, some of them more than 400 years old and most of them by Italian masters such as Canaletto, Lotto and Veronese. Also included were 22 prints by the acclaimed German painter Albrecht Dürer. An Italian newspaper hailed the show as meriting “national significance.” With government sponsorship, the exhibit toured the United States, Japan, Iran and other nations. Lions in an ancient mountain town proved that service can take varied shapes and forms—even an artistic slant. Are Lions Smarter Than Sixth-Graders? Long before reality TV became popular, “Quiz Kids” fascinated Americans. The radio and TV series drew huge numbers in the late 1940s and ’50s. On December 3, 1950, six Lions took on five Quiz Kids on NBC radio. The Quiz Kids ranged in age from 15 to 7. Four were from the Chicago area, and the other was from Elkhart, Indiana. The Lions were a formidable bunch. Two had master’s degrees, and all had good jobs. Among them were S. A. Dodge, the third vice president and a founder of Leader Dogs for the Blind in Michigan; First Vice President Harold Nutter of New Jersey; R. Roy Keaton, director of Lions headquarters; and Joe Kelly of the Chicago Central Lions Club. Blessed with a mellifluous voice and genial manner, Kelly was the show’s regular quizmaster. So Pat Conlon, a 13-year-old Quiz Kid, took that role. Nutter set the tone off the bat: “I tried to bribe Pat to get a copy of the questions but was not successful.” The first question was: “What yellow flower that you dig up and throw away describes six men, all brave and stout?” Naomi Cook, 12, quickly shot up her hand: “A dandelion.” Lions were slow on the draw for a while. Kelly offered a defense to Pat: “Lions didn’t know they’re supposed to hold up their hands.” A bit later, as Lions continued to lag behind, Kelly turned to his teammates and implored: “Fellows, you get permission to put your hands up.” The show was tailored to Lions. Two questions related to lions in the Bible (who killed a lion and who slept with lions?). Audio was played from Talking Books (a Lions’ project), and the competitors had to name the book’s title. Toward the show’s end was a Lions’ “commercial.” Keaton explained that Lions were Quiz Men: they constantly asked “what can they do to improve the lot of humanity?” Lions, he said, took on “every conceivable worthwhile community project.” In fact, International President H. C. Petry Jr. Of Texas could not be present because he was at the dedication of a Lions’ children’s hospital in Panama, he added. Who won? Listen to the show at the digital LION at lionmagazine.org.
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