David McKay Wilson 0000-00-00 00:00:00
<b>Decades-old Projects Unite Communities While Putting Lions Front and Center</b> Back in 1931, when orchards spread over the hills of Romeo, Michigan, Katrina Schumacher’s grandfather rallied the peach growers. They agreed to hold a community celebration to promote their industry at harvest time during Labor Day weekend. Back in 1931, when orchards spread over the hills of Romeo, Michigan, Katrina Schumacher’s grandfather rallied the peach growers. They agreed to hold a community celebration to promote their industry at harvest time during Labor Day weekend. The Peach Festival caught on, and by the 1950s the Romeo Lions Club was running the three-day event. Schumacher has since taken over the family peach orchard, and she’s looking forward to the 79th annual Peach Festival this September. Nearly 300,000 people from across the region will descend on the town of 3,500 to eat peach pie, drink beer, play soccer, ogle classic cars, ride the Ferris wheel and watch the Floral Parade come marching down Main Street. “The Lions are the inspiration,” says Schumacher, whose company bakes 1,000 deep-dish peach pies for the weekend. “It’s a crucial part of our community. Nothing brings our town together like the Peach Festival.” Lions net an estimated $150,000, which represents 75 percent of the money they raise during the course of the year. It serves as the foundation for the good works supported by the Romeo Lions. “The youth of today are the future leaders of tomorrow.” “It’s incumbent on us to keep it going,” says Gary Schocke, the former township supervisor who has served as president of the Peach Festival for 20 years. “We couldn’t survive without it. And it’s how the Lions club here has kept alive.” Clubs throughout the United States and America sponsor decades-old popular events such as the Peach Festival that years ago became something much more than a fundraiser or project. The events often are the biggest single gathering of the year for area residents. They help define the place for community members and stand near the center of the community’s collective identity and memory. For Lions, their project enables them to become woven into the fabric of the community. By tapping into a vital community need, they become an essential part of the public life of the community. They not only raise funds and provide service but also raise their visibility and the spirits of their neighbors. <b>Speech Contest</b> Longtime projects unite the Lions through volunteerism – both within their clubs and across an entire state. In California, Multiple District 4’s annual Student Speakers Contest involves up to 1,500 students from the state’s districts as they compete for $103,000 in college scholarships. “The Lions made a commitment to the high school students of our state,” says Al Ohrmund, who for the past five years has served as president of the Student Speaker Foundation of the Lions of California. “The youth of today are the future leaders of tomorrow.” When District 4 in California was split into five subdistricts in 1937, Fred Smith, who later became president of Lions Club International, still wanted to stay connected to other Lions throughout the state. So that year the Student Speakers Contest was born. Clubs across the state held contests on the topic of Americanism. Benjamin Hoover of Modesto High School won a $100 savings bond for his college education. The winner today receives $21,000 in a competition that progresses with six levels, beginning at individual Lions clubs and working its way up through area competitions. The 15 district winners each receive $4,500; the four area winners receive $6,500. They compete for the grand prize scholarship of $10,000. The 2009 winner, Eric Brewster of Long Beach Polytechnic High School, delivered his first of six speeches on “Water – Will California Be Left High and Dry?” at the Long Beach Petroleum Club, where the Downtown Long Beach Lions Club meets each Friday at noon. He gave the 10-minute speech a final time in June at the Council of Governors Joint Meeting held in Cathedral City, where he delivered it with passion and clarity. “Giving us the chance to speak, to communicate, lending us an ear – it is perhaps the greatest gift you can offer,” Brewster told the Lions. This year, in keeping with the national debate on health-care reform, students are grappling with the topic, “Universal Health Care – How Would It Affect Us?” Kitty Kramer, a member of the Woodlands Reveille Lions Club, chaired the event at her club. She recruited the three judges, which included the local newspaper editor. Lions served as door monitors and timers. Students are judged on a 100-point scale that scores them on originality, delivery, sincerity, persuasiveness, enunciation, cohesiveness and overall effectiveness. “It’s amazing how calm, cool and collected the students were,” she says. <b>Elburn Days</b> Forty-four miles west of downtown Chicago, Elburn is a small farm town with corn fields stretching for miles. For three days in late August, its population of 5,000 welcomes tens of thousands of visitor. The Lions club’s Elburn Days is a high point of summer and a fixture on the calendar since 1929. The festival is a family-friendly weekend, with musical entertainment, recreational events and an ear-splitting tractor pull that draws hundreds of spectators. On the main stage, teens compete in the Elburn Idol contest, strutting their stuff before a panel of local judges while top regional bands come on later in the evening. Saturday morning dawns with a five-kilometer road race from the Elburn fire station and the annual Elburn Boys Scouts pancake breakfast at Lions Park. Downtown Elburn comes alive with sidewalk sales, a flea market and rummage sale. There’s a used-book sale at the library, a craft show sponsored by the Elburn Chamber of Commerce and an antique tractor show of prized farm equipment from bygone days. On Sunday morning, there’s a community worship service on the Main Stage and local farmers bring their summer harvest to sell. “We have never called it Lions Day – it’s called Elburn Days and we can only pull it off with the complete cooperation of the entire town,” says Gordy Dierschow, an Elburn Lion who has volunteered for 34 years and last year was in charge of the event’s 36 “porto-potties” and four 30-yard Dumpsters. Kids cavort at the carnival while their elders play bingo. When it gets too hot, patrons cool off watching an ice-cream eating contest or settle in at the beer garden down for a cool lager on a steamy August evening. Members of the local 4-H clubs bring their livestock – pigs, steers, cattle and sheep – and the animals get auctioned off on Sunday. The event takes place on the 27-acre park owned by the Lions. It’s a mighty volunteer effort by the 175-member Elburn Lions, the state’s biggest club. Al Lee, treasurer of the Elburn Lions, says about 130 members are capable of working, and they all volunteer for at least three days. Proceeds of the annual event fund Lions charities for the visually impaired, those with diabetes and several local charities. “We have a good time with whatever we do,” says Lee. “I volunteer because I want to make life better for someone who is less fortunate. We’re fortunate that so many volunteer.” He runs the beer tent, so he’s setting up for several days before it opens on Friday. In 2009, they drained 50 cases of Mike’s Hard Lemonade and 105 half-barrels of Miller High Life and Miller Lite. With 160 cups of beer per barrel, that’s close to 17,000 servings of beer during three days. “We have eight taps, and from 8 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. and we hardly ever turn off the tapper,” says Lee. The tractor pull, which features massive, roaring rigs from the Illini State Pullers Association, attracts a big crowd, many of whom drive their pick-ups along the course, and hangs out all day watching the massive machines strain with their heavy loads along a 100-yard dirt course as plumes of smoke fill the air. An added attraction in 2009 was the Mud Volleyball Tournament, played on the rutted course after the tractors had torn up the dirt track. The track gets flooded with water, creating a mud pit that’s provides a soft landing for volleyball players diving for blazing spikes. “It got pretty wild,” says Lee. <b>Santa Parade</b> When Robert Mahannah was a child in the late 1960s, he’d come with his sister, Margaret, down to the Georgetown Lions Santa Claus Parade in the early afternoon in mid-November in the suburban Ontario town about 30 miles west of Toronto. They’d line the sidewalk on blustery November afternoons, watching their grandfather lead a team of horses from their dairy farm pulling a festive float down Guelph Street to the Georgetown Fairgrounds. The parade, which will celebrate its 80th anniversary this November, signaled to local children–and the merchants readying their wares for the holiday marketplace– that Christmas was near. “It was time to pick out your favorite toy,” recalls Mahannah. “We couldn’t wait.” On the 75th anniversary, the Georgetown Lions veered from tradition and decided to hold the parade at night. Al Watt, club president, says the change has infused new energy in the parade, as the floats are now lit up with thousands of lights as they parade through the town’s main commercial corridor. As darkness settles on the town, families gather along the sidewalk. They wrap themselves in blankets sitting in lawn chairs, on tailgates or in makeshift shelters to shield themselves from the cold. Merchants set out free hot chocolate and coffee along the way as the spectators await the parade, two hours of holiday magic. First comes the police cruiser, followed by blaring, flashing fire trucks from the Georgetown Fire Department. The Georgetown Lions Color Party leads the parade. Twenty Lions, dressed in the club’s black winter coats and red Santa’s hats, carry flags from Canada’s provinces, the United States and the Lions Club International. They march to the drone of the Georgetown Pipe Band, the town’s bagpipe ensemble that plays Christmas carols as they march by in kilts. Then come the floats: St. Andrews United Church with its choir singing about the birth of Jesus and the Brampton Fall Fair Float, with 12,000 lights aglow. The final float, built by the Georgetown Lions, ferries Santa Claus along the parade route. The parade is the town’s biggest event, and an estimated 10,000 revelers lined the streets in 2009 to watch and listen as 66 bands and floats come by. “It has been going 79 years, and we aren’t going to stop,” says Watt, a Lion for 30 years. “It’s one of the most fun things that we do.” Mahannah and Shirley McCallum helped build the float for the Brampton Fall Fair, which features several reindeer and a multi-colored Rudolf, led by reins that appear to be moving as the lights blink on and off in sequence. The 20-foot-long wagon is pulled by 1947 McCormack tractor, which was used to till the fields of McCallum’s great-grandfather. Three 7,000-watt generators power the lights. “I love the nighttime parade,” Mahannah says. “We’ve had snow, we’ve had rain and one night it was so foggy you could barely see. The lights illuminated the fog and it was really like we were in a dream.” Georgetown Lion Doug Welden stuffs a few pillows under the Santa costume, dons a fake beard and rides the Lions float, as he has done for the past 15 years. He sits Atop the Georgetown Lions float, waving to the children, calling out the names of those he knows as he passes by. On cold November nights, he’s certain to don several layers of long underwear and sweaters to keep him warm in the late November chill. “It’s as much fun for me as it is for the kids,” says Welden. “I get them singing Jingle Bells and Let it Snow as we go along.” <b>Colorful Carnival</b> For 85 years, the Dunville Lions Club has attracted fun-seekers to this small town at the mouth of the Grand River for its annual carnival in southern Ontario, about 50 miles west of Buffalo, New York. This year’s carnival coincided with the town’s sesquicentennial, so the celebration had added meaning to the townspeople and those who came to visit in early August. At one time, the carnival covered the entire Lions Park, and teens from across the region would descend on Dunnville for three days of merrymaking. Today, the carnival is geared more toward younger children, with pony rides, a climbing wall, amusement rides and a mini-rodeo, with cattle roping. For the adults, there’s bingo, a food concession and an exhibition of classic cars. This year, the Lions scheduled a display of raptors as well as a demonstration of fire safety procedures by the Ontario provincial firefighters, who erected a smoke-house and taught how to survive a blaze. To spark interest in the fair and draw more visitors, Hank Hultink, first vice-president of the Dunville Lions Club, says the club seeks corporate sponsorships, which allows free pony rides or free use of the climbing wall for a few hours. “Word spreads darn fast if it’s free,” says Hultink. “We get more people there, we sell more food and we pick up a buck or two.” The club makes money for its charitable donations at its food operation, which serves onion rings, hot dogs and a banquet burger – a hamburger with bacon and smothered in cheese. “There’s wonderful camaraderie in that kitchen,” says Hultink. “Through all the moaning and groaning, we have lots of fun.” <b>Lions Follies</b> Since 1936, the Temple Founders Lions Club has brought townspeople together to laugh and share jokes about the town located 130 miles south of Dallas. The show, which began in depths of the Depression, was called the Minstrel Burlesque and held at the Municipal Auditorium. Seventy-four years later, the show, now called the Lions Follies, plays to packed houses at the 487-seat Cultural Activities Center. It’s the club’s biggest fundraiser, netting about $20,000. “The whole community feels like they are in on the inside jokes,” says Lion George White, who has collaborated on writing the scripts for the past 27 years with Dr. Gary Gosney. “If you come from out of town, you won’t quite get it. They might need an interpreter in the audience.” In 2009, the show was the Temple Lions version of The Honeymooners. That year, Gosney played Ralph Cramden, the character popularized by Jackie Gleason. This year, 29 of the club’s 100 members were in the cast for a show that was a spoof on the hit television classic, The Andy Griffith Show, with Gosney playing Aunt Bee. The show also includes a segment called News Botch, which is a take-off on the local TV station’s News Watch program. The station’s News Strong motto becomes News Wrong in the Follies. Each year, the Follies deliver a message. This year, it focused, in a humorous way, on the need for an arts district in downtown Temple. “You throw it out in a funny way, and you make people think,” says White. Any event in town is fodder for the Follies. When bats had infested the local football stadium, White and Gosney went to work. When the bats suddenly disappeared, the owner of the local Tex-Mex restaurant was poked in the ribs on stage. “We reported that the restaurant was having a White Wing Special, and asked, ‘Coincidence? We think not,’ ” says White. “It’s all in good fun, and the whole community looks forward to it.”
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