(This article was adapted from a talk given by PDG Paul Russell at the club's 70th Anniversary celebration in August 2013. Lion Anne Weber performed background research.)
The Lakeville Lions Club was sponsored by the South Bend Lions Club, organized on June 28, 1943, and chartered on August 11, 1943. The South Bend Tribune reported that more than 200 people attended the charter presentation at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Lakeville on August 17, 1943. The charter was presented to Lakeville Lions Club President Albert L. Wagoner by District Governor Charles W. Haight of East Chicago. Speakers included Congressman Robert A. Grant of South Bend, and South Bend Lions Club President Donald L. Adair. Lion W. W. Waterson of the South Bend Lions Club acted as toastmaster, and Rev. John B. Shaffer, pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, gave the invocation.
It appears that the Lakeville Lions Club was organized by local businessmen and farmers who were involved with the St. Joseph County 4-H Fair. The 4-H Fair had moved from North Liberty to Lakeville in 1935, and had been jointly sponsored by the St. Joseph County Agricultural Society and the Lakeville Businessmen's Association. Our charter president, Albert Wagner, was an officer of the St. Joseph County Agricultural Society, and several of our charter members were local businessmen who may have belonged to the Lakeville Businessmen's Association.
The Lakeville Lions Club was chartered in 1943 and apparently became the sponsor of the 4-H Fair the following year. Several of our charter members and the Lakeville Lions Club itself are mentioned in newspaper articles about the 4-H Fair held in Lakeville in 1944 and 1945. In 1946, the 4-H Fair moved to larger quarters at Playland Park in South Bend.
The club was chartered during World War II, and activity reports from that period indicate that the club held patriotic meetings, entertained service men, and participated in salvage drives and war bond drives. News stories from the 1940's reported on the men of Lakeville building parks, roofing houses, cleaning up after fires, and performing other acts of community service. None of these articles mentioned the Lakeville Lions Club by name, but given the fact that most of Lakeville's younger men were off at war, it seems likely that at least some of the men involved in these projects were members of the Lakeville Lions Club.
Our club exists for one purpose: community service, but it takes money to support community service projects, and we've had a variety of fund-raising projects over the years. We've had a food booth at the 4-H Fair since 1944, the same year that we took over the sponsorship of the 4-H Fair. We don't know what the first food booth might have looked like, but for many years, it was a portable building that was taken to the fairgrounds in pieces, assembled on-site, used for the duration of the 4-H Fair, then disassembled and stored off-site until the following year. The current food booth that we all know and love was built in 1979.
Old activity reports indicate that the club held its first fish fry in 1949. Proceeds from that first fish fry were $70. For more than 70 years, the fish fry and the food booth at the 4-H Fair were our principal fund-raisers, but the club has held a variety of fund-raisers over the years. We've had fruit sales, candy sales, and honey sales. We've sold brooms and light bulbs and coloring books. We've had chili suppers, chicken dinners, spaghetti dinners, and pancake breakfasts. In 1945, we sponsored a WLS Barn Dance. During the 1951-52 Lions year, we sponsored a barbershop quartet parade. In the 50's and 60's, we sponsored an annual tractor pull. For several years, we sponsored a golf tournament. For a few years, we held a bicycle ride. In 2013, we published and sold a cookbook. In 2016, we held our first tenderloin fry, and it has grown larger in each subsequent year. The money we've raised through these events has been used to support a variety of community service activities.
We have been involved with Scouting since 1945, when we sponsored both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. We currently sponsor a Boy Scout Troop and a Cub Scout Pack.
The local schools have also benefited from Lions service. Over the years, we have sponsored banquets and awards for athletic teams and outstanding students, provided funds and labor to build or repair athletic facilities, supported school clubs, and provided scholarships and student loans for local high school graduates.
Throughout the world, Lions are known for their service to the blind and visually-impaired, and the Lakeville Lions Club is no exception. Over the years, we have paid for numerous eye exams, eyeglasses, and even a glass eye; our members have traveled to Guatemala, Mexico, and Haiti on eyeglass missions; our Operation KidSight early childhood vision screening project provides free vision screenings to approximately 1000 pre-school and kindergarten children each year; and through Operation SchoolSight, we assist school nurses with state-mandated vision testing for children in grades 1, 3, 5, and 8.
Lions are known for providing many types of assistance to people in need. Through the years, we have purchased wheelchairs and walkers, provided food baskets to needy families, sent kids to camp, helped clean up after natural disasters, participated in the Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program, and contributed tens of thousands of dollars to a variety of causes at the local, state, and international levels.
While most of our community service activities are designed to help people in need, some simply provide the members of our community with good clean fun. Over the years, these have included Halloween festivals, parades, and parties; Fourth of July parades and fireworks displays; Pictures with Santa; and our involvement in the annual Easter Egg Hunt at Newton Park.
While our primary focus is always the Lakeville community, we are also involved with Lions activities at the district, state, and international levels. As a result, the Lakeville Lions Club has been the home club of four District Governors.
- Lion Ken Isenberg, who passed away in 2012, served as District Governor during the 1970-71 Lions year. Past District Governor Ken and his wife, Eileen, were enthusiastic supporters of the Lions Clubs International Youth Exchange program and hosted several exchange students in their home.
- Lion Dave Court served as District Governor during the 2000-2001 Lions year. Past District Governor Dave served as a trustee for the Indiana Lions Speech and Hearing project for several years, and has chaired our Christmas projects for several years.
- Lion Paul Russell served as District Governor during the 2010-2011 Lions year. Past District Governor Paul has been a trustee for the Lions Cancer Control Fund of Indiana since 2006, and served on the Indiana Lions International Convention Committee in 2013-2016. With his wife, Lion Rose, he served as co-chair of the organizing committee for the 2016 Indiana Lions State Convention.
- Lion Vic Fischer served as District Governor during the 2015-2016 Lions year and as Council Chair during the 2016-2017 Lions year. He has served as co-chair of our Christmas projects for the past few years.
In recent years, the Lakeville Lions Club and its members have been recognized as leaders in community service by LION magazine, Lions Clubs International, and Lions Clubs International Foundation.
- In 2010, the Lakeville Lions Club was one of "Eight Great Lions Clubs” in the USA and Canada which were profiled by LION magazine.
- In 2012, thanks to the generosity of Lions Bob and Sharon Feitz, the Lakeville Lions Club planted more than 22,700 trees and was recognized by Lions Clubs International as one of the Top 100 Tree-Planting Clubs in the USA.
- At the 2013 Indiana Lions Mid-Winter Conference, Lions Clubs International Foundation recognized the Lakeville Lions Club as the #2 club in the state of Indiana in terms of total contributions to LCIF over the previous five years.
- At the 2013 Indiana Lions State Convention, two of our members were recognized by International President Wayne Madden for their individual contributions to Lionism. Lion Howard Heines received an International President's Medal for his work promoting the Dictionary Project throughout our district and the state of Indiana, and Lion Rose Russell received the International Leadership Medal for her work with Operation KidSight and as district newsletter editor.
- In 2016, the Lakeville Lions Club served as the host club for the Indiana Lions State Convention in Shipshewana, Indiana. More than 600 Lions and guests attended the convention, the largest turnout in at least 7 years. At the convention, International President Dr. Jitsuhiro Yamada presented an International President’s Medal to Lion Rose Russell, in recognition of her work at the club, district, and state levels.
- At the 2018 Indiana Lions State Convention, Lion Rose Russell was 1 of 7 Lions in the state of Indiana who were recognized by the Indiana Lions Vision Services Committee for their efforts in support of Operation KidSight, Operation SchoolSight, and other Lions vision-related projects.
We have been making a difference in our community and the world at large for nearly 75 years, and we believe the best is yet to come.
Updated: May 16, 2018