Wadena Lions celebrate 100 years of service
They plan to recognize the momentous occasion with a community event later this year.
WADENA — The Wadena Lions Club has reason to celebrate in 2022, perhaps even more than usual, as their club has now been serving the community for 100 years.
The club was formed at the request of Harold Mason in January 1922. You may remember him as the man behind the start of Mason Brothers in Wadena. Mason was the first president and stayed on with the Lions until his death in 1960. So after serving nearly 40 years, the Lion’s asked a 20-something Harry Harrison to take Mason’s spot in the club. At that time the club only took in one member from each business. And you had to be asked.
At the time Harrison didn’t much care for that way of running a club, but he agreed to join and, well, he’s been a member for over 60 years now. Harrison said his reason for staying on was largely the camaraderie that surrounds the club. He served as president and secretary of the club as well as a proud “rabble rouser” in the group.
“We did a lot of good for the community and we had a lot of fun,” Harrison shared. He said the club always had a hand in positive work in the community and one of his favorite memories surrounds a moment when the club was being recognized by the Staples Lions for working on a project with them.
As Harrison recalls, the Staples group came to the Wadena club meeting and presented them with a Lion figurine that was placed on the board table in front of then president John Hockert. Not long after the presentation of the gift, Hockert signaled the start of the meeting by grabbing the gavel and striking the bell. Only, he didn’t hit the bell, he hit the Lion, which was obliterated on the table before him.
“There was probably 15-20 seconds of silence,” Harrison recalls.
Harrison said there was always a little bit of friendly competition or smack talk between the Lions and Rotary clubs in town. But he agrees that the community can be thankful that both organizations exist.
“Between the two clubs we’ve supported one hell of a lot of things in this community,” Harrison said.
Wadena attorney and Lion’s club member of over 30 years Jeff Pederson said the club has always put service for the community at center stage and that’s what has kept it a vital part of the community for 100 years.
Pederson is proud of the work they’ve done with landscaping at the Wadena entry signs, playground installations, shelters, benches
“The biggest thing is just the consistency of being involved in the community,” Pederson said. “If there is a need, the Lions get called.”
Pederson said that seeing the Lions doing good things rubs off on people so that even those who are not members of a service group strive to do more for their community.
Another member of over 30 years, Wayne Wolden, said when he got in the club there were about 100 members. They’re now closer to 50 members, but they continue to serve and support in much the same ways through a variety of fundraising and service projects. Some of their big projects have included fundraising and building two shelters in Sunnybrook Park. They supported the construction of the Maslowski Wellness and Research Center and most recently pledged to support the new Tri-County Health Care facility.
Wolden said since he first started out in the club as a manager at Hardees, he has grown personally thanks to the leadership opportunities. An accountant by trade, and now working at M State, Wolden has used his skills to support the Lions as their treasurer for over 10 years. He said the club can be proud that every dollar they raise to give back to the community is raised by their own work, not charitable gambling. The club raises around $25,000 a year and gives it all back to the community.
“Every dollar we give are dollars we’ve raised. That self-sufficiency and not counting on others betting on it, has renewed all of our 50-plus members' drive to working hard for our community,” Wolden said.
Wolden looks at the late John Edinger and Bernie Pavek and current member Rick Johnson as three Lions who have had a profound impact on the community and him. Rick Johnson at one point served as the District Governor, a big deal for the Wadena club. The longevity of the members is a sign of the enjoyment that its members get out of the club.
“I just really have a lot of pride in our club,” Wolden said. “We’ve accomplished so much. I think we’re gonna blast into the next 100 years and hopefully remain vital and a good contributor to Wadena and the area.”
100 year event
Wolden and another member Ryan Damlo have taken on the job of planning for the 100 year anniversary with a community event possibly this spring. They aren’t letting the cat out of the bag about just what that might look like yet. But expect big things.
Want to join?
The Wadena Lions have met at several locations, including the Congregational Church, Commercial Hotel, Pine Cove Inn, Elks Lodge, VFW and Nite Owl. They currently meet at the Wadena VFW on the second and fourth Monday of each month at 5:30 p.m. Men and women are invited for membership.
And while times and faces have changed, the purpose and the dedication remains true to the founder's original vision. The betterment of their community.
"People don't join the Lions because they want to go to a meeting," Pederson said. "They join because they want to make a contribution, provide a service."
The current board includes Bob Keppers, president; Wayne Wolden, treasurer; Rick Johnson, secretary, and numerous board members.
What do Lions stand for?
Lions Clubs International is the largest service club organization in the world. Their 1.4 million members are serving locally and globally to help take on some of the biggest challenges facing humanity.
They serve to reduce the prevalence of diabetes and improve quality of life for those diagnosed; to prevent avoidable blindness and improve quality of life for people who are blind and visually impaired; to ensure all community members have access to nutritious foods; to sustainably protect and restore our environment to improve the well-being of all communities; and provide support for the needs of children and families affected by childhood cancer through impactful service activities.
Vision has been a focus of the group at an international level for nearly 100 years. 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. Over the years, the Wadena Lions Club has obtained four Leader dogs for people in the community, purchased many pairs of eyeglasses for students and adults in the area and collected about 150,000 pairs of used eye glasses for use in other countries.
Some of the other projects have included cleaning road-side ditches, building a playground by the pool and building three picnic shelters. The Lions also have a scholarship program at the school and have sponsored many youth programs. Area fundraisers have included fishing derbies, turkey barbecues, selling light bulbs and coloring books and selling survival kits for cars. They’ve most recently taken on tailgating fundraisers at football games and burger bash events at other school activities.
For over 50 years, the club has been visiting Fair Oaks Lodge to sing Christmas carols, and give gifts to all the residents at Christmastime. They are a major sponsor of the local Boy Scouts.
The list goes on and on and will likely continue to change and expand with the needs of the community.