Lemont Lions give local girl new look on life

Lemont, IL —

Lemont_Lions_clubAt 5 years old, Lemont resident Madison Wesolowski is fighting to hold on to her vision.

“She has been through about 28 surgeries on her eyes and has been declared legally blind in her right eye,” said her mother, Carlene Wesolowski. “She had her first pair of contact lenses when she was a baby.”

When Madison was just three months old her older brother told mom and dad he noticed something floating in her eye. It looked like a piece of popcorn, he told them.

So dad Bruce and Carlene took Madison to see a doctor, who eventually determined she had cataracts — a condition typically found in older people that causes a clouding of the eye lens — along with glaucoma, another eye condition that leads to damage to the eye’s optic nerve.

Trying times for sure, for the Wesolowskis.

Luckily, they Lemont family was able to reach out to an old friend. That friend is Ken Novak, who spends some of his time volunteering with the Lemont Lions Club. The Lions Club is an international club that “empowers volunteers to serve their communities, meet humanitarian needs, encourage peace and promote international understanding.”

But the club, which has 46,000 branches across the world and is head-quartered in nearby Oak Brook, is popularly known for its work to help the vision-impaired.

Novak and the Lemont Lions have stepped up for the Wesolowskis by purchasing eye glasses for Madison — she needs new prescription glasses every three to six months. The Lemont Lions are also trying to raise money to provide Madison with an iPad, which has an easy-to-read large screen for her.

“I have known Ken forever,” Carlene said, adding that she grew up with him in Lemont. “Ken introduced us to the Lions Club. They have been her rock.”

The Lemont Lions have been a rock. That’s shown through their 50 years of existence — on March 29 the club will celebrate its 50th anniversary — it was chartered in June 1962 — with a celebration at Crystal Hall Banquets, 12416 Archer Ave. in Lemont.

But it hasn’t always been easy for the Lemont Lions. The club disbanded four times, only to re-organize each time. The club now has 75 members and is running strong, Novak said.

While the Lions Club formed in 1917, it wasn’t until 1925 that the club established its vision to help the sight-impaired. That year, famous author and activist Helen Keller addressed the Lions Club at a convention, convincing the club to take on the cause, Novak said.

Since, though, Lions Clubs across the world have picked up other causes, including the hearing-impaired.

Doug Wright, Lemont resident and a six-year member of the Lemont Lions Club, said the Lions are there for whatever people need.

“We are the best kept secret around,” Wright said.

The Lemont Lions Club has done everything from helping at disaster sites, aiding in Habitat for Humanity, donating large print books to the Lemont Public Library and helping out with Lemont Police Department programs such as DARE and Seniors And Law Enforcement Together.

For more than 20 years, Novak has been a member of the Lemont Lions Club. His family was always involved with activities in Lemont, as his mother was involved with the VFW Ladies Auxiliary.

“I started to do my family tree and found I had relatives with visual problems and thought the Lions were the best to join,” Novak said. “It meant something to me to help those who are visually or hearing impaired.”

Throughout his time as a Lions Club member, Novak said he has continued to come back each year because he can see the difference he is making in people’s lives.

“As you go along you get the tug on the heart strings when you see you are making a difference,” Novak said.

Lemont resident Paul Butt said he joined the Lions Club just recently because he wanted to keep the family tradition of being a Lion going. Butt’s father was a Lion for 40 years.

“I got to a point where (I said to my wife) what are we going to do, sit at home or get out and get involved?” Butt said. “I joined because I felt it was time to give back.”

Wright said before joining he had a “moment of clarity” where he looked around and was thankful for the healthy family and normal life he was living but knew there were others who weren’t living picture-perfect lives.

“I needed to give something back,” Wright said. “I truly do feel blessed to have a healthy and normal life and there are so many that are not. When you realize that you can do something to ease that burden, we don’t have a choice we have to help if we can.”

“The good thing about the Lions is that we are always doing something as a fundraiser and every penny goes back to the community,” Wright said. “We do so much stuff we are always poised for the next need.”

Novak said with the help of the Lions Club, it has been amazing to see the improvements in Madison’s vision from birth.

“I look where she was from birth and where should would have been today, just the quality of life we give, that’s what we do,” Novak said.

Take Part in Our Commemorative Coin Campaign to Help Raise Millions for LCIF

How much is a Lions’ silver dollar worth? About $8 million. That’s how much we hope to raise for LCIF if the U.S. Congress passes a commemorative coin bill honoring the centennial of Lions in 2017.

Getting Congressional approval is not automatic. Congress passes only two commemorative coin bills each year. But many Lions including past international presidents, past international directors and other members are lobbying their congressional representatives to pass the bi-partisan legislation. If approved, the U.S. Mint will produce as many as 400,000 coins. After the U.S. Mint recovers its cost, a $10 surcharge for every coin sold will go to LCIF and its programs for the visually impaired, the disabled, youths and victims of natural disasters.

The commemorative coin idea originated with two members of the Sandy Spring Lions Club in Maryland. Brother Meredith Pattie, a past district governor, and Alan Ballard were at a luncheon for Melvin Jones Fellows when they began to brainstorm ways to support LCIF.

“Our first idea was a coin for the 50th anniversary of the death of Melvin Jones [in 1961]. But we realized we were too late for that,” says Pattie. They eventually formed a nine-person Lions’ committee from District 22 C that includes Past International Director Joseph Gaffigan.

Co-sponsors of the Lions Clubs International Century of Service Commemorative Coin Act, H.R. 2139, are Rep. Peter Roskam, whose district in Illinois includes Oak Brook and LCI headquarters, and Rep. Larry Kissell,  from North Carolina who is a Lion. Another Lion, Senator Jerry Moran from Kansas, introduced the bill, S. 1299, in that chamber. The bill needs 290 co-sponsors in the U. S. House and 67 co-sponsors in the U.S. Senate to pass.

We ask all Lions to write or call their representatives to urge them to co-sponsor H.R. 2139. Our Web site offers tips on contacting lawmakers and includes a regularly updated tally of number of co-sponsors.

A Former president will visit Lions International

President Carter, to visit LionsJust days after President Obama called on citizens to write to soldiers, help in soup kitchens and devote time to assist others, former President Jimmy Carter will come to Oak Brook to continue his long legacy of service.

On Tuesday, Jan. 27, Carter will visit Lions Clubs International headquarters to dedicate a “Gift of Sight” bronze sculpture, which is a gift from The Carter Center, a not-for-profit group working to advance human rights.

Since Carter is a longtime Lion, the statue is a thank-you to the organization for its latest donation of more $203 million for international sight programs and research through its SightFirst initiative.

Al Brandel, president of Lions Clubs International, said it was easy to convince Carter to travel to Oak Brook.

“I didn’t have to twist his arm,” he said with a laugh.

Brandel said most of the $203 million was raised by local Lions Clubs throughout the world, including groups in Bloomingdale, Glen Ellyn and Naperville. Lions Clubs International is the world’s largest service club organization with 1.3 million members.

“We are so proud of the clubs we have around the world doing things in their own communities that sometimes don’t even come to our attention,” Brandel said.

While Lions Clubs serve their communities in whatever way they see fit – rebuilding after disasters, helping needy families during the holidays – the group also has a long history of working to prevent and reverse blindness.

Brandel said the club forged a partnership with The Carter Center in 1996 to fight river blindness, which is caused by infection.

“It was just a marriage made in heaven” Brandel said. “We have almost totally eliminated river blindness in South America and now our focus will be on Africa.”

The life-size sculpture Carter will dedicate Tuesday depicts a child leading a man who lost his sight to river blindness.

Carter’s dedication corresponds with a two-day symposium that runs Monday and Tuesday at the club’s Oak Brook headquarters. Representatives from organizations and governments worldwide will gather to discuss youth development and blindness prevention.

Brandel said the event attracted attention of major not-for-profit groups, including The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Carter’s visit, he said, will help the initiatives gain more visibility.

“The attention we bring to ourselves and our good works will not only increase our membership but improve the communities we are serving,” Brandel said. “It is a synergy of us all getting together and giving something bigger and better to the people we serve.”

Lions Clubs International 2009 Rose Parade Float

Lions Clubs International 2009 Rose Parade FloatSince 1992, Lions Clubs International has had a float in the New Year’s Day Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California.  Two of our entries, in 1993 and 1994, won awards for the most beautiful floats in the parade.   But all entries have been winners, presenting Lions an opportunity to promote our service activities to people worldwide who watch the float each year.

The Rose Parade is seen by an estimated 400 million people in 85 countries worldwide.  The parade is covered by several hundred domestic and international newspapers.  Every major newswire service features related stories before, during and after the parade.

Lions Float, Inc., a non-profit corporation, was formed in 1994 to direct the preparation and funding of the Lions float in the Rose Parade.  This is a year-round activity involving the designing, fundraising and coordinating of volunteer decoration of the float in December.

Lions Clubs International in Oak Brook, Illinois has provided approximately half of the funds; the remainder is raised by the Lions of Multiple District Four (California).


The “floragraph” depiction of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan is created with ground onion seed, light lettuce seed, poppy seed and powdered rice; its gold frame and the lion’s head are covered with strawflower, clover seed and ground white rice.

The cane features red strawflower and ground white rice.

The glasses are decorated with silverleaf, and the books are covered with orange lentil, red strawflower and parsley seed – the pages are created with ground rice and poppy seed.

The base of the float is bedecked with roses, daisies and carnations in a mix of orange, gold, pink, lavender, yellow and gold.