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Wadena Lions Club

Wadena Lions Club was chartered in January 23, 1922. (photo submitted)1 / 2
Annual Lions BBQ hosted each summer at BN Park in Wadena. Members pictured are Matt Van Bruggen (far left) Jon Johnson (middle) and Cory Oehlke (right). (photo submitted)2 / 2

"You can't get very far until you start doing something for somebody else" - Melvin Jones, Founder of Lions Club International

If you've ever wondered what the Wadena Lions Club is all about, that quote sums it up better than the long list of community service projects and dollar totals donated to numerous organizations in the groups 95-year history of willingingly serving its community.

Neil Hutson has been with the Lions for about three years and said he joined because he feels it's important to be apart of something that gives back.

"I've been apart of this community my whole life, and when I moved back after I graduated from college I wanted to do something," he said. "When you're young you don't realize how much organizations like this do all around you when you are growing up."

The Wadena Lions Club isn't much younger than its parent organization, Lions Club International. According to their website, Jones, a 38-year-old Chicago business leader, felt it was important for others like him to look beyond just business issues. In 1917 he challenged his group, the Business Circle of Chicago, to work towards the betterment of their communities and the world.

After contacting similar groups around the United States, an organizational meeting was held on June 7, 1917, in Chicago, Illinois. The new group took the name of one of the invited groups, the "Association of Lions Clubs," and a national convention was held in Dallas, Texas, in October of that year. A constitution, by-laws, objects and a code of ethics were approved. Within three years, Lions became an international organization.

The Wadena Lions Club was chartered January 23, 1922 and had about 28 members that first year. It's first president was Harold Mason. And while times and faces have changed, the purpose and the dedication remains true to Jones's original vision. The betterment of their community.

The Lions Club, like many civic organizations, is out and about in the community so much it's easy to take for granted that it's there.

Nellie Wegscheid has been a member for nine years and her husband was a member before that, with perfect attendance for 28 years.

"It's a great organization to be apart of," she said. "They do so many different projects; diabetes screening, serving food at the Princess Warrior run, a turkey/beef barbecue, Community Thanksgiving dinner, scholarships. It's really a great thing to be apart of."

That long list of projects is exactly what might make it difficult for people to come up with exactly what the Lions do, according to Ryan Damlo. The Lions have fundraisers and give the money back to the community in various ways. That's one thing they do, and they do it well.

From 2011 to 2018 they've given $75,000 back to the community.

Other items on the Lion's busy to-do list include: school supply donations, roadside ditch clean up, the empty stocking fund, the Fair Oaks Christmas party, and vision and hearing screening.

"Vision screening is a huge part of the Lions Club, " Damlo said.

How did vision screening become so closely associated with the Lions? One catalyst may have been in 1925 when Helen Keller addressed the Lions Clubs International Convention in Cedar Point, Ohio, USA, and challenged Lions to become "knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness."

The Lions took on that challenge in many ways, both locally and nationally, including: raising money for leader dogs, collecting used eyeglasses, creating the Lions Vision Foundation, supporting camps for children and adults with impaired vision and assisting with research programs.

Damlo wants people to know that anyone can join and he would love to see more people come out and be apart of the Lions.

"Being apart of this is a great way to give back to the community, even if you can only come to a few projects a year, it's better than doing nothing at all," he said. "Remodeling the shelter was my favorite project because I was able to bring my son to help and involve him and now when he comes to the shelter he shows his friends where he painted."