The world’s largest philanthropic club organization, with 46,000 clubs and more than a million members across the globe, provides assistance to those in need with life, energy and a spirit of service.
Wherever a Lions Club exists, smiles broaden and communities improve. That’s because the Lions Club functions within local communities and throughout the world to offer assistance to children and adults in need. Internationally, Lions Clubs are known for feeding the hungry, caring for the environment, and assisting seniors and the disabled. In Peoria, Lions Club members participate in charitable services, fundraisers and community activities that support assistance and treatment for individuals with visual and hearing impairments and diabetes.
“When you see the joy on people’s faces and they thank you for what you are doing to help them, there’s no other feeling quite like it,” says current Peoria Lions Club President Rich Hagel. “It makes me proud to be a Lions Club member.”
The First Lions
The Lions Club, otherwise known as Liberty Intelligence Our Nation’s Safety, began in 1917 when a 38-year-old Chicago business leader named Melvin Jones exhorted members of his local business club to address methods to improve local communities. Jones’ club, the Business Circle of Chicago, agreed, and the new group was founded in Chicago as the Association of Lions Clubs. The Lions Clubs have since spread across the United States and internationally, from Canada and Mexico to Europe, Asia and Africa, encompassing men and women active in community projects in more than 207 countries.
The Peoria Lions Club was chartered on March 19, 1920, by the International Association of Lions Clubs as the seventh club in Illinois and among the first 60 clubs worldwide. “We’re a very well-run organization with a long, proud history and a clear mission,” asserts Hagel, who joined in 1969. “Our motto is: We serve. We want to encourage young people and adults to live by the Lions Code of Ethics, which involves being service-minded, displaying integrity and living by the golden rule.”
A Hierarchy of Service
As with any organization, the Lion’s Club of Peoria ensures its philanthropic services are carried out in an organized fashion. “There are 49 Lions Clubs in District 1-H, including the Peoria Lions Club, which is the oldest club in the district,” Hagel explains. “The entire state of Illinois is divided into 12 districts, with approximately 50 clubs in each district. There are probably between 500 to 600 clubs in Illinois alone.”
Peoria’s District 1-H officers consist of a governor; first and second vice governor; and a zone chairperson. Additionally, each club has its own president; immediate past president; first, second and third vice president; secretary; and treasurer, as well as a mascot and a “tail twister.” “The tail twister tells Lions’ tales and jokes and motivates people to donate to the club,” says Jim Scott, a former president of the Peoria Lions Club.
The Lions Club also consists of various committees to organize fundraising events, membership, charitable programs, sight and hearing initiatives, diabetic awareness and the club’s news bulletin. “There’s no shortage of things to do for people looking to get involved,” Hagel claims. “Every member is a valuable asset.”
“Knights of the Blind”
In 1925, Helen Keller addressed the Lions Club International Convention in Cedar Point, Ohio, and challenged members to become “knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness.” Since that time, the Lions Club has assisted the blind and visually-impaired as well as the hearing-impaired in an assortment of ways. “Here in Peoria, one of our missions is to provide eyeglasses to those in need and hearing aids,” says Peoria Lions Club member Rev. Richard Hanson.
Two unique assets for helping serve that mission are the Lions Club’s sight bus and hearing bus. “Persons who think they may have visual or hearing problems can receive free hearing and sight tests on these buses,” says Angela Weck, another member. Retirement communities in the local area bring senior citizens to local health fairs where they can access the sight and hearing buses. “The Peoria Lions Club offers free testing for any age group.”
The club also purchases vouchers from local businesses for the hearing and visually impaired at a cost of $50. “Those who require eyeglasses or hearing aids but cannot afford them should mail a request to the Peoria Lions Club,” says Hagel. “The Sight & Hearing chairman will send them an information form to determine if they qualify for a voucher. If they qualify, the chairman will send them a voucher for free. If they need eyeglasses, they can take the voucher to any local eyewear business and receive an eye exam for $25. Based on the results of the exam, the voucher allows them to get a pair of glasses at no charge. The Lions cover the whole cost.”
Additionally, the Lions collect old eyeglasses to reuse the frames with the help of club members sorting, counting and sending the glasses to the Lions Foundation in Chicago to be recycled. The Peoria Lions Club also partners with local organizations, such as the Central Illinois Agency on Aging, the Peoria City/County Health Department and the Peoria County Triad, in order to assist as many persons in need as possible.
Putting “Sight First”
In 1990, the Lions Club launched Sight First, a program created to restore sight and prevent blindness on a global scale. Targeting the major causes of blindness, including cataract, trachoma, river blindness, childhood blindness, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma, the initiative has raised more than $346 million. “We participate financially in Sight First,” says Weck.
In Bloomington, Illinois, the Peoria Lions Club supports a camp for blind and visually-impaired children. “This is a week-long summer camp designed for children who are blind or hearing-impaired,” Weck explains. “The kids have the chance to participate in arts and crafts and other fun things. It’s really a unique initiative, and young people love it!”
The Peoria Lions Club has also assisted in the establishment of the Illinois Eye Research Institute in Chicago; sponsored Infant Hearing Testing; participated in the Diabetes Awareness Program; and contributed to Leader Dogs for the Blind and Habitat for Humanity, to name a few programs.
Without question, the organization’s greatest contribution to the blind has been the White Cane, which was birthed in Peoria in the fall of 1930 when then-president George Bonham was on his way to a Lions Club meeting and saw his blind friend, Elmer Thomason, attempt to cross the street at a busy intersection with a black cane. Bonham assisted his friend, who later asked whether the Lions Club could do anything to help blind people navigate the busy streets. Bonham and the club devised a plan to paint blind persons’ canes white with a band of red at the tip to signify “stop” or “danger.” On December 9, 1930, the Peoria City Council passed an ordinance giving the right-of-way to a blind person using a white cane. Consequently, Thomason became the owner of the first White Cane in Peoria, and the Peoria club’s motto is now Home of the White Cane.
» Lions Code of Ethics
- To show my faith in the worthiness of my vocation by industrious application to merit a reputation for quality of service.
- To seek success but to accept no profit or success at the price of my own self-respect.
- To remember to be loyal to my clients and customers in business and true to myself.
- To hold friendship as an end and not a means.
- Always to bear in mind my obligations as a citizen to my nation, my state and my community and to give freely of my time, labor and means.
- To aid others by giving my sympathy to those in distress, my aid to the weak and my substance to the needy.
- To be careful with my criticism and liberal with my praise.
Fun & Fundraising
In addition to philanthropic involvement, Lions can be found at numerous local community events. “We participate in March Madness every year,” notes Weck. “We also support the World Affairs Council and select a local resident to receive the annual Outstanding Service Award.”
A range of community members are invited to be guest speakers during the club’s Tuesday luncheons at the Lariat Steakhouse. According to Weck, “We learn so much from our local communities. That’s why it’s important to give back where we can.”
When it comes to philanthropy, fundraising plays a major role in helping the Lions Club meet its goals. “One of our fundraisers is Candy Day, which helps us raise money to purchase the vouchers people use to buy eyeglasses and hearing aids,” Weck states. “You’ll see us standing out in front of the Kroger stores passing out candy and encouraging people to donate.”
Peoria club members also raise funds selling Peoria Area Dining Tour books for $10, and children and adults alike can contribute each time they give 25 cents for a sweet treat from any Lions Club gumball machine. “The machines have our name on them and can be found at local stores throughout the community,” says Weck.
Youth have been active volunteers in the Lions Club since the late 1950s, but as times have changed, membership has met a slow decline. “Our Peoria Lions Club membership grew to in excess of 130 members at one time, but today there are only 21 members,” says Hagel. “These clubs are becoming harder to sustain. It’s coming to the point in some communities where we are disappearing.”
Still, a lull in membership has not prevented Lions Club members from doing everything possible to engage the interests of adults and young people, primarily by word of mouth. “Word of mouth is huge,” Hagel claims. “We’ve also tried engaging people with new activities, such as tours of Peoria’s Flanagan House and holiday dinners. The West Peoria Lions Club hosts a Fourth of July Parade every year, and the Princeville Lions host a pancake breakfast for our Peoria Club.”
Individuals interested in membership can contact the Peoria Lions Club at the phone number or address below or attend the club’s weekly luncheon. “When you’re part of a community service organization, there are a lot of little things you never get credit for,” Hagel says. “But we continue to do what we do for special needs children and for others. They really appreciate us.” iBi
The Peoria Lion’s Club meets every Tuesday at 12:15pm at the Lariat Steakhouse, 2232 West Glen in Peoria. Individuals in need of eyeglasses or hearing aids should contact the Sight & Hearing chairman by mailing the Peoria Lions Club, P.O. Box 1492, Peoria, IL 61655-1492. For more information, visit peoriail.lionwap.org or call (309) 692-3946.