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It’s a ‘roaring’ big birthday for local Lions

By Staff | Mar 21, 2010

Above, left to right, Frankie Bly, Dean Vereide, and Dave Frank, all ‘Knights of the Blind,’ will be presenters at the 50th anniversary celebration for the Blue Earth Lions Club on March 24.

Fifty years to the day, March 24, the Blue Earth Lions will celebrate their golden anniversary with a banquet at Hamilton Hall.

The local chapter, with the sponsorship of the Fairmont Lions, was chartered on March 24, 1960.

Frankie Bly, a Lion for 41 years, explains anyone wishing to start a group must first have a sponsoring club, or ‘Guiding Lions’, before they can become an active branch of the Lions world-wide organization. In Blue Earth’s case, Fairmont was their ‘Guiding Lion’.

There were 27 members when the Blue Earth club began. Of that number, only two of the original charter members remain. They are Ramsey Johnson and Chuck Beyer.

Johnson will be in attendance at the anniversary observance.

Lions are volunteer members of the world’s largest service organization which had its beginnings in Chicago on June 7, 1917.

Today, Lions International currently has about 45,731 clubs and 738 Districts with 1,379,023 members in 190 countries and geographical areas.

The Lions are probably best known for their work with eyeglasses and the vision impaired. This is not surprising, since Helen Keller challenged the Lions at their convention in 1925, to take up her cause and become her ‘Knights of the Blind.’ This has been one of their main focuses ever since.

The purpose of the Lions is to make their community a better place in which to live.

In the 50 years since its inception, the local Lions have given over $111,000 to local and international causes. Normally, two-thirds of the funds raised by the club are spent locally, with the other one-third shared internationally.

Funds are raised locally by the Lions through the Bingo stand at the Faribault County Fair; annual January pancake brunch at the high school; mint sales; rental of their 20×30 foot tent; and the annual athletic banquet, in which they serve a meal to over 500 people.

Annually, the group collects about $7,500. Because they are a non-profit organization, all of the money raised goes back to benefit the community or other groups in need.

Two of the larger projects the group has undertaken in its 50 years were the construction of the former picnic shelter at Putnam Park and the press box at Wilson Field. They also have helped install playground equipment within the community.

The Lions will provide material and labor for about any service needed if it meets certain guidelines.

In the case of the Relay for Life event, volunteers help set out the sacks, fill the sacks, light the candles, then clean-up afterward.

For several years after the death of Dr. Paul Schollmeier, the Lions helped maintain and groom the Bicentennial Trail.

Some of the Blue Earth area Lions service projects include providing replacement eyeglasses for people with special needs and collecting used eyeglasses and hearing aids. They also help support and promote the eye donor program.

In addition, they support: the St. Luke’s activity fund; Blue Earth Library; Blue Earth Fire Dept.; Journey for Service; YSI Venture program for Boy Scouts; Blue Earth Area Food Shelf; Christmas Wonderland; Unity Trail for World Service Day; Friends of the Developmentally Disabled (Christmas party); Blue Earth educational scholarships; Post Prom Party; American Cancer Walk (Relay for Life); Town and Country Players; BEAS Foundation; BEAS Track and Field and Habitat for Humanity.

They also participate in the following Lions District Programs: Minnesota Lions Eye Bank for Children’s Eye Clinic; Minnesota Lions Hearing Foundation; University of Minnesota Lions Research Building; International Leader Dog of Rochester, MI. in addition to Hearing and Service Dogs of Minnesota and Hearing Dog International of Henderson, CO.; Youth Outreach Programs; Lions International Foundation; Diabetes Awareness; Youth Exchange and Journey for Sight Campaign. They also contributed to the World Trade Center Disaster Victim’s Survivor’s Fund.

At the Blue Earth Elementary School, each October the Lions distribute dictionaries to all third grade students.

They have also worked with the school nurse to cover the cost of eye glasses for children who otherwise could not afford them.

“We even bought a reading projector for one child,” says Dave Frank.

Since their primary focuses are vision and hearing, it is not surprising to learn the local group collects about 1,000 pairs of eye glasses annually. Used eye glasses may be donated and deposited at drop sites in the Blue Earth Post Office, Faribault County Court House, the eye clinics and at First Bank Blue Earth.

In the course of its 50 year history, current Lions secretary, Dean Vereide, says there have been a total of 304 members on the roster. Of this, only four have been women. But in the past eight years, a woman has been consistently a member.

The local group has also served as ‘Guiding Lions’ when they sponsored the start-up of the Wells and Elmore Lion organizations. However, the Elmore chapter has since disbanded.

As the age of the members has risen, the Lions have not been doing as many community service projects as they once performed in Blue Earth. But they still look at 18 different projects annually which are all run by members and various committees. Some of these committees include: membership; publicity; hearing committee; mints; and the chicken feed committee.

Selling Halloween candy door-to-door is one of the annual projects the group used to do. With the sky-rocketing cost of candy, the group stopped doing this. The year immediately after this was discontinued, they distributed gun locks instead of the candy. This was probably one of the more unique projects the group ever undertook, says Vereide.

Through the years, 48 men have served as president of the Blue Earth Lions. Only Dave Frank and Chuck Pingry have served two terms.

Currently, the slate of officers consists of: Dave Frank, president; Marv Dikken, vice-president; Dean Vereide, secretary; and Joe Tempel, treasurer.

When the club was first begun, R.B. Kleven served as president with John Breen acting as the secretary/treasurer.

To read more of this story see this week’s Register.