Wadena Lions to celebrate 100th birthday on Friday
Club was the second to be established in Lions District 5M-9
WADENA — When the Brainerd Lions Club was chartered back in 1921, it was the first to be established in what has become Lions International District 5M-9; the Wadena Lions Club was the second.
"Wadena is only the second club in the district to reach that milestone," said Jamie Huttunen, the district's current governor.
Huttunen, a member of the Bluffton Lions, is a Wadena-area native and graduate of Sebeka High School.
His term as governor is set to end on June 30, though he will be speaking at the Wadena Lions' 100th birthday bash this Friday, June 17.
"The Wadena Lions Club was chartered on Jan. 23, 1922, with 28 members," he said, adding that Harold Mason — the man behind the start of Mason Brothers in Wadena — served as its first president.
Currently, the local club has 53 members, he added.
District 5M-9, which includes 65 clubs and over 2,100 members in central Minnesota, encompasses the counties of Aitkin, Becker, Cass, Crow Wing, Hubbard, Otter Tail, northern Todd, Wadena and Wilkin.
Huttunen, whose term as governor began July 1, 2021, said that he has put thousands of miles on his car this past year, traveling to various events around the district, but he has enjoyed the opportunity to get to know so many of his fellow Lions.
"The reason why I first joined the Lions — I started as a member of the Sebeka club in 2009 — was because of their service work," he said, adding that Lions International supports more than 120 different causes in over 200 countries worldwide, and has a global membership of 1.4 million people.
Locally, the district focuses on a handful of programs. "We serve six global causes — diabetes, vision, hunger, the environment, childhood cancer and disaster relief," Huttunen said.
Service work was also what prompted Wadena Lions member Ryan Damlo to join the club 10 years ago. Damlo, who is the co-chair of this Friday's centennial celebration, said that "for me, it's about giving back and how we take care of our community."
Damlo said that because of their connection to the community, he and his co-chair Wayne Wolden wanted to have a celebration that included the public, so when they heard about a club in Rapid City, S.D., that held a community picnic for their centennial, they jumped on the idea.
"We'll be doing a whole hog roast, along with French fries and coleslaw," he said.
The celebration will be held in Wadena's Tapley Park, from 5 to 7 p.m.
"We chose Tapley Park because we (as a club) are trying to raise money for a new playground that's set to go in there," he said, adding that the parks board is trying to raise $70,000-$80,000 to raise for the project.
"We've pledged $2,500 as a club, and we're trying to raise another $2,500 (through donations," he said, "so we thought, what a perfect opportunity."
Though there is no set cost to attend, Damlo said, free will donations of $10 per meal are encouraged, with proceeds to go toward the playground project.
In addition to the picnic, there will be about a half dozen speakers, discussing various aspects of the club's history.
"We'll also be presenting some awards," Damlo said, "including Lion of the Year and our Distinguished Service Award.
"It's a big celebration, and we really hope our community can come out and join us," he said. "We're preparing food for 300-400 people, so we hope everyone will come out and enjoy the night with us."