Even at 75, years old, the Leavenworth Lions Club's meetings have a lot of life.
Lions Sam Maxwell and Steve Wood both wander through the tables in the Riverview Room at the Riverfront Community Center in Leavenworth on Thursday afternoon. In one hand, these “tail twisters” hold a metal bowl with the Lions logo on it that makes a satisfying clinking sound when change is dropped into it. In the other is a looping squeeze horn that punctuates sometimes impromptu announcements made to the group during the meeting.
Members of the Leavenworth Lions say they wouldn't have it any other way. John Raletz, a past president and current secretary for the club, said that's part of what drew him in to the fold in the first place.
“The official motto of Lions is 'we serve,'” he said. “Our unofficial motto is 'we serve and have fun doing it.'”
The Leavenworth Lions were scheduled to recognize 75 years of existence with a dinner at 6 p.m. Saturday at June's Northland Banquet Hall in Leavenworth. Fellow Lion and U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran will be the guest speaker. It'll be a celebration of a club that, since its founding in 1938, has become comfortably the largest in Kansas with 182 members currently, among the largest in the country and no slouch on the international stage of more than 43,000 chapters as well.
Current Lions President Gary Colston said past and current members of the Leavenworth Lions include officials from Fort Leavenworth and the city of Leavenworth and, currently, seven or so international military officers.
“It's a good cross-section of the city,” Colston said.
It was as a newly arrived resident in 1994 that Colston said he first encountered the club.
“I got off the plane in Kansas City from Germany with my family and we were tired,” he said. “The first thing somebody did was ask me to join the Lions. That's the truth.”
In his second week here, Colston said he attended a meeting and joined shortly after.
The club's size, Raletz said, allows it also to take on a host of different civic service projects without burning members out too quickly. For much of its existence, the club has led efforts like scholarships for area students, annual pecan sales, delivery of trash bags for the city's annual Spring Clean Up and staffing booths at community events. But perhaps the centerpiece of their mission are the Lions work with vision care.
Kim Pearl, the first vice president for the club, said that work is what got her involved in the first place, shortly after she began her optometry practice.
Page 2 of 2 - “In fact, Helen Keller referred to us as the knights of the blind,” she said. “So since then we have really worked diligently not only help people see better by getting them glass if they can't afford them, but also try to better educate people on vision issues.”
The Lions have a mobile vision screening booth and can frequently be found at community events providing free vision checks. They've also partnered with Leavenworth's St. Vincent Clinic to provide some vision services to uninsured patients.
Though the club might be able to accomplish a lot of those goals because of their numbers, Raletz said there's another aspect to the club that has driven its activities for the last 75 years and hopefully into the next 75.
“You can't be here, even once, and not feel the enthusiasm,” he said. “ That's how they attack everything.”
For more on the Leavenworth Lions Club, visit www.leavenworthlions.org or firstname.lastname@example.org.