By Rosalind Russell – Espanola is well known for its various charitable organizations and clubs that assist the community in the endeavor to see its citizens happy and the community growing. One such organization is the Espanola Lions Club, which has been a mainstay in Espanola for decades.
With dedicated men and women taking on a number of projects throughout the year, from the Christmas Toy Drive to the annual food drives, the club has been a steadfast part of Espanola. But where did it all begin … well, you have to take a walk down memory lane for that according to long-time Lion, Grant Lewis.
“The year is 1917. I remember it well. Not exactly!,” chuckles Grant. “The United States Bought the Danish West Indies for 25 million dollars and quickly re-named them the U.S. Virgin Islands; the Russian Revolution began, the Czar abdicated, the United States enters the Great War and Canada proves its courage and strength at Vimy Ridge. And to the delight of the youngsters, Raggedy -Ann appears in stores.
“And Melvin Jones…whoa…who is Melvin Jones? Melvin Jones was a Chicago insurance man and chair of his local business club. In June, he challenged his membership to use their business skills to improve their community. And the Lions Club was born, one hundred years ago.”
Since then, over 200 countries have embraced the aims and ideals of Lionism which is the focus of its direction: “We Serve.” In 1920, the first Lions club was founded in Windsor, Ontario. Today, there are over 1.4- million Lions around the world.
Why the Lion? Lewis says certain traits of the lion appealed to the founders of the club and explains how the logo was designed.
“They especially appreciated the strength, courage, activity and loyalty of the regal beast,” explains Lewis. “The logo features two lions on either side of a blue circular shape with a large gold “L” in the middle. They face away from the centre, symbolizing looking back to the past and forward to the future. On top in gold is “Lions”, and below is “International”.
In 1925, Helen Keller addressed a Lions convention and first used the phrase,”Knights of the Blind.” To this day, June 1st is Helen Keller Day, a day when Lions International introduces new programs for the blind.
Until 1968, local clubs dedicated themselves to mainly local needs. Then Lions International was formed to extend programs worldwide. Many of those programs were adopted at home.
“In 1984 Lions Quest, a program for elementary schools was introduced and used in Espanola schools for years,” says Lewis. “Sight First”, “Opening Eyes”, and “Sight for Kids”, were a few of many programs funded by Lions International. $15 million dollars was given to alleviate the misery of the South Asian Tsunami in 2004. Other Lions International aid programs included: $5 million to Hurricane Katrina; & 6 million to Haiti; $12 million to Japan following the devastating earthquake in 2011; $12 million to support the “One Shot, One Life” program. This program was co-ordinated with the Gates Foundation to inoculate millions of children for measles.”
And that does not include what the Lions do locally. The dedicated volunteers assist with the annual telethon for Christmas, plus host a local toy drive in the Espanola and North Shore area, host food drives throughout the year to assist the Espanola Helping Hand Food Bank and are always quick to assist when there is a crisis. They are also quite popular for their successful hosting of the annual Seniors Appreciation Dinner, which has been renamed the Paul and Hester Zahorec Dinner in memory of the pair who were dedicated volunteers before their passing. And what would Christmas be without the Lions bringing in Santa for the day to meet with the kids? And the list goes on and on.
Since 1968, Lions International has donated just over $1 billion.
Lewis adds as Lionism enters its second century, the local club will continue to serve Espanola and the North Shore as best they can. The local Lions will also be sharing more of their story over the next year and celebrate the centennial by continuing to give back to the community. Anyone interested in finding out more about Lionism and/or wanting to join, contact Grant Lewis at:
Photo: Espanola Lions host the annual Seniors Dinner every year … here the members meet up with Santa to kick off Christmas celebrations.