Lions in popular culture are often portrayed as respected leaders, sacrificial heroes and stalwarts of the old guard. Members of the county’s Lions Clubs are much the same, helping those in need to fulfill their simple motto of “We serve,” but the old guard is hoping to bring in more members to ensure that their work locally continues well into the future.
“Young bodies is what we need,” said Kasey Emmick, president of the Lewisport Lions Club who, at age 42 isn’t exactly old, but until a recent spate of new members was still the second-youngest in the group.
Lions are continuing to do good work, doing service projects like building wheelchair ramps, but also donating lots of money to various charities and even to sick individuals.
Bob Ogle, treasurer of the Hawesville Lions Club, calculated that in his years as treasurer that club has donated more than $133,000 to local organizations, including $53,000 to Care & Share and Santa Sacks, $16,000 to the fair board and more than $20,000 to optometrists for eye care for the poor.
“If you didn’t have a Lions Club where would that have come from?” Ogle said.
But, he added, it’s getting tougher to keep up that level of working and giving because most of the members are getting older.
“We’re getting to the point in time that unless we get some new blood to continue this service organization it’s going to be difficult”
Even the fundraisers, the most famous of which are the food sales each year at the fair, where the Hawesville club sells corndogs and other treats and Lewisport sells ribeye sandwiches, take some time and dedication.
“We start Wednesday evening and it’s Thursday, Friday and Saturday and it takes several people and you’re very busy and the work’s hard, and it’s hot,” said Ogle.
“Flipping chickens ain’t for the old,” said Emmick. “I even hurt from doing it the next day.”
But lined up all around the two Lions Club booths are other booths full of young adults and teens selling other foods to raise money for sports teams and other organizations, so the work itself doesn’t appear to preclude people from helping in general.
Some might be too busy with swing shifts or with family activities, but some might just not be aware of how big a role the clubs have played in the county since the ‘50s when they were both chartered.
The first grandstands at the fairgrounds were built by the Hawesville Lions Club, as was the first medical center in Hawesville. They’ve also built three picnic shelters at Vastwood Park and one at South Hancock Elementary School.
Lewisport Lions built the Community Center in Lewisport and regularly work on the homes of those who can’t afford any other way.
“If someone is in bad need of some yard work or we’ve actually helped with roofs,” said Emmick. “We try to help out where we can as much as we can in the community and the people with need.”
One recent project was even done to help out another charity. The Repair Affair had enough money to fund a wheelchair ramp for a man in Lewisport, but didn’t have the bodies to make it happen. The Lewisport Lions had the manpower and not the funds, so they joined together and built the ramp by sharing resources.
Their financial situation has improved after the city of Lewisport took over the ownership of the community center to take away the burden of paying to maintain a large building, which means the group is freed up to help more individuals.
Their membership situation has also recently improved with six new members, all except one being younger than Emmick, who will help the club come out this year with renewed vigor.
“That’s what we’re trying to work on now is trying to recruit some of these younger guys to understand it don’t take a lot of time to be a part of the Lions Club but you can definitely do a lot of help in the community if you just take a little of your time and do stuff,” he said.
As part of a membership drive around the world, Lions Club International has eliminated the membership fee to join through the end of the year, meaning members can now join by just paying $5 a month.
The Hawesville Lions Club meets at Riverview Restaurant on the third Thursday of each month and Lewisport meets at the community center each second Thursday.
For more information or to join call Ogle at 270.922.0010 or Emmick at 270.295.3333.
By Dave Taylor