GAYLORD — The Lions Club began in 1917 when a 38-year-old Chicago man, Melvin Jones, asked himself a question.
“What if people put their talents to work improving their communities?,” he asked.
The first Michigan Lions Club was formed in Marquette in 1919. In 1920, the Lions Club went international when it established the first club in Canada. Today, there are 1.35 million members in more than 46,000 clubs around the world.
Helen Keller, born blind and deaf, was a world famous author, speaker and political activist. In 1925, she challenged the Lions to become “Knights to the Blind.” The Lions accepted the challenge and provide aid to the vision impaired to this day.
Lions Club International changed its constitution to allow women to become members in 1986. Before that, women were restricted to the Lioness Club program.
The Gaylord chapter was chartered in 1966 with 18 members. Their motto is “we serve.”
“I believe in giving back to my community,” said Gaylord Lions Club president Mary Weitzel. “I’ve had vision problems since I was 4 or 5. What a way to give back to the community when you’ve had vision problems yourself and understand the need for proper vision. We focus on vision, hearing and diabetes because diabetes can cause vision and hearing loss.”
A few of the numerous activities the Lions Club does to fulfill its mission is to provide vision care and hearing aids for Gaylord residents. The club donates annually to Leader Dogs, Michigan Eye and Tissue Bank and Paws With A Cause and collect old eyeglasses and hearing aids to send to needy countries. The club also provides Kidsight Eye Screening for local preschool children ages 1-5.
Cathy Otto was a Lion before she moved to the Gaylord area and has been a member of Gaylord’s Lions Club for 20 years.
“I enjoy working with a club that is associated with preserving things like a child’s sight,” said Otto. “We have cameras that can detect any undiagnosed and untreated eye diseases and disorders in young children. And the Lions Club is one thing my husband and I can do together.”
Although sight and hearing are priorities for the Lions, the group is active in a number of other ways that benefit the community. Among them are contributions to the Gaylord Gators swim team, Adopt-a-Class, Gaylord High School’s Senior All-Night Party, community meals, the Community Thanksgiving Day Dinner, youth bowling, the Otsego County Food Pantry and the Children’s Bereavement Network.
Every year, the Lions provide scholarships to local students interested in going into a vision or hearing field. And club members make the coffee each year for the World’s Largest Coffee Break at Alpenfest.
The club raises money to support its causes with various types of fundraising. The Lions hold a “White Cane” drive, sell raffle tickets and make money on the newspaper recycling trailer in front of the old Carter’s store. Lions mints are sold in many restaurants. The club receives donations from its Bring-em Back Alive program held at the Loon Lake rest area on I-75 every Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day, serving coffee, juice and cookies to help keep motorists alert.
Anyone wanting to donate old eye glasses and hearing aids to the Lions can drop them off in collection boxes at the Otsego County Library, Walmart, New Vision and Gaylord Eye Care Center. For more information about the club call Weitzel at 732-2559 or visit http://gaylordlions.lionwap.org.