This year marked 100 years of service for the Lions International Club. On June 7, 1917 Melvin Jones started the club in the midwestern city of Chicago.
By COLE BENZ
But this year also marks a milestone for the local Lions of Bowman. Forty years ago, when Roger Walter moved to the area, he had a work supervisor at Barber Transportation who lauded the Lions, and really encouraged him to look at starting a chapter in Bowman.
Initially Walter hesitated, believing there were already too many service groups, and thinking there wasn’t enough room for another.
But his supervisor was persistent.
Eventually, Walter began visiting other chartered Lions groups along his work route, and was inspired. Walter then began surveying interest among area residents, and the support grew.
“We got enough people together,” he said. “Between Bowman, and Rhame, and Scranton, at that time, we had enough members together to start a Lions Club.”
The group charted with 28 members—minimum of 20 was required—and two still remain active in the club today, Walter, and Richard McElmury.
Their charter went into effect in April of 1977, and the club in Bowman was sponsored by the New England Lions Club. Partnering with another group is another requirement and helps the new charter in the implementation of practices and processes.
The motto of the Lions Club is ‘We Serve,’ and in the past 40 years, the Bowman Lions Club has served. Throughout their four decades, the local club has completed more than 600 projects, and raised and estimated $1,200,000, all of which was donated back to the community, Walter said. The projects are countless, and they group has a full calendar of events and sponsorships for 2017.
“The majority of our projects that we do is to raise funds for people in need in our community,” Walter said. “And a lot of them are medical situations.”
The very first project the Bowman Lions Club ever completed as an active chapter was the lighted sign, given to the fair board on Highway 12.
“I don’t know who owns it now, but the original one was donated by the Lions,” Walter said.
The club also helped with scoreboard on the football field and the early scoreboards in the high school gymnasium—those boards now reside in the Bowman recreation center.
The group can is also a visible presence at the sporting events, selling bingo tickets for a halftime game for some fundraising.
The most notable project, however, that they do every year is the Sight For Kids screening. The Lions goal of the ‘Site and Service’ was inspired by Helen Keller, who gave an emotional speech to Lions Clubs International Convention of 1925, and challenged them to become “knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness.”
Since then, they have made it their mission to encourage healthy eye site, starting with children, an each year they utilize an ophthalmology machine that can detect diseases of the eye, even if the kids don’t notice anything wrong with their vision. They screen kids preschool through sixth grade, and recently screened over 100 kids and found six kids with an eye ailment. The screening has also detected a few cases of eye cancer early enough for successful treatment.
“That’s probably one of the biggest things we do,” Walter said. “And that’s free to the public.”
The group also will assist in purchasing eye glasses if a candidate qualifies for the assistance.
Walter said he believes the future is bright for the Lions in Bowman.
“There’s always going to be a need for someone in the community,” he said. “And as long as we’re here to help them and support them, I can see the Lions moving [forward].”
He does however, wish that the group could be better at recruiting younger members. Walter believes that the younger generation looks at these organizations and thinks they don’t have enough time to dedicate to the group. But as Walter puts it, you can get as involved as you’d like.
“It’s amazing, it’s 40 years, who would have thought when we started it this was going to do what it has done,” he said. “I’m glad to say I was the charter president, and I’m amazed at what we’ve done.”
Walter also was quick to give credit to who he said really has made the club successful, the community.
“They’re the ones who make Lions, it’s not us,” he said. “It’s the people who support us.”
In honor of that support, the club is hosting a free meal on Monday, July 10 at the Bowman Lions Park Campground round just east of the fair grounds. Burgers and hotdogs will be available starting at 5:30 p.m. At 5 p.m. the group is dedication a SMAU storage shed in honor of the late Ken Silha, who was a long member of the club. The Silha family assisted in build the shed.
Anyone is welcome to attend the event and enjoy the meal as a thank you from the club to the community.