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VILLAGE VINE: Gurnee Lions Club celebrates 60 years

Most people are aware that service organizations exist, and many can even list a few of them. However, most people do not know how these organizations operate, and even fewer know about their history.

Lions Clubs International is the world's largest, oldest international service organization. It began in 1917 in Chicago when Melvin Jones, a 38-year-old business leader formed a small networking organization with other businessmen. Their purpose was also to find ways of helping their communities. The club soon was joined by similar clubs from Indiana, and in 1920, Lions became an international club when a Lions Club was established in Canada. Today, Lions clubs are found in every country in the world.

In 1925, the Lions Club found its true calling when Helen Keller addressed the Lions Club International Convention in Cedar Point, Ohio. She challenged the Lions to become "knights of the blind." Since then, the main focus of Lions Clubs has been to help the blind-sight impaired and deaf-hearing impaired. Other areas of service include working with youngsters to prevent drug abuse and promoting volunteerism.

Lions Clubs are organized by districts, which are numbered. Since the club was founded in Illinois, this state is "multiple district one." Because there are so many clubs in the state, District 1 is subdivided into many smaller districts that have a letter attached to them. Chicago is District 1-A. Lions Clubs in Lake County are in District 1-F.

On April 5, 1954, the Gurnee Lions Club was officially chartered as a new club in District 1-F. At its charter night, members and guest of the newly formed club learned of the meaning behind the name and emblem of the club. The name was chosen by Melvin Jones because he felt that the lion stood for "strength, courage, courage and vital action." L-I-O-N-S also stands for "liberty, intelligence, our nation's safety."

The Lions emblem shows two lion heads, one facing backward (the past) and the other facing forward (the future). Originally a men's-only club, the Lions have welcomed women as Lions for more than 20 years. (I have the honor of being the first female member of the Gurnee Lions as well as the first female president of the club.)

The Gurnee Lions Club has done many things to help the community as well as fulfilling their duty of "blind activities." The club has provided many people in need with eye exams and glasses, hearing exams and hearing aids, eye operations, and various machines/aids to help the sight impaired to read. The club has sponsored the Lions Mobile Hearing Clinic, where free hearing tests are given to the public.

Another activity supported by the Lions is Camp Lions, which offers a camping experience for blind and deaf children. Leader Dogs for the blind and various service dog programs are also supported by Lions Clubs.

The Gurnee Lions Club has done many things that fall under the community service category. For instance, the Lions helped Gurnee when the village first began a house-numbering program. They also helped erect the first street signs. Members of the club built the first beach house at "The Pit" ( Gurnee Beach at Gowe Park ), and along with the Gurnee Women's Club helped organize the Warren-Newport Public Library.

The club has given scholarships to deserving young people, and is probably most well known for building the bandshell at Viking Park. Officially named the Arthur Welton Bandshell, it was built entirely by volunteers and given to the park district at no cost to the taxpayers.

As members celebrate their 60th anniversary, the Gurnee Lions Club is accepting new members. Interested persons are invited to attend a club meeting to learn more about the group. They meet at 7 p.m. on the third Monday of the month at Village Hall.  See you there!         

Nancy Long writes about Lake County’s history and more from her home in Gurnee.

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