In the grasslands of Africa, a group of lions is called a “pride.” The term “pride” also definitely fits when talking about a group of Lions that prowl the Preston area. The local Lions Club has been proudly serving since 1944, and on November 22, 2019, they held an open house for the community to help commemorate their milestone anniversary. The event included refreshments and various displays showing service projects that the local club helps with. On that evening, a number of the local Lions shared their reasons as to why they are so proud to serve their community.
The Preston Lions Club is a part of the Lions Club International organization, whose motto is simply, “We serve.” The very first Lions Club began in 1917, and the Preston club was chartered in November 1944. Each local club supports some of the service areas of the larger region or national club, as well as coming up with local projects.
Andy Bisek, president of the Preston Lions, said, “I’ve been in the Preston Lions Club for 25 years, and I originally started in Byron.” When asked about the various service projects going on, he added, “Here in Preston, we like to keep it as local as possible. We try to focus on the local needs.” Some of the programs supported by the Preston Lions include: Camp Winnebago, used eyeglasses/hearing aid collection, college scholarships, Trout Days breakfast, Preston Gooseflat Park, Peace Poster, Preston Trailhead Shelter, Breakfast with Santa, Adopt-a-Highway, Preston Fall Expo, third grade dictionary project (joint venture with Harmony Lions), seventh grade to Eagle Bluff, Fillmore County Fair parking, Easter Egg hunt sponsor, Leader Dogs for the Blind, and Special Olympics. The club’s website lists more programs and details.
Arnie Keene, a Lion since 1986, summarized his experience in the club, stating, “I was president twice, treasurer for nine years, and on the board for probably 30-some years.” He said the club currently has 34 members, and that it has historically stayed around 40 members. But, Arnie added, the club is always looking to add new members. Ken Stager, a Lion since 1998, agreed, saying, “We meet once a month. It’s the third Monday of each month, except for December. We don’t meet in December… So if anybody is interested in joining, they’re welcome to come.” The meetings are at 6:30 p.m. in the Community Room at F & M Bank.
Mark Peterson, president of the Spring Grove Lions Club, was on hand, and spoke about Can-Do Canines, a program supported by the Lions. He explained that Can-Do Canines, based in New Hope, Minn., is a nonprofit organization that matches specially trained dogs with people who experience disabilities. The program trains these service dogs in five different types of service: Hearing Assist Dogs, Mobility Assist Dogs, Diabetes Assist Dogs, Seizure Assist Dogs, and Autism Assist Dogs. Peterson shared an example he observed, in which a Diabetes Assist Dog approached its owner and put a paw on the person’s leg, indicating that the dog sensed the person was beginning to experience a low blood sugar situation. Peterson said the total cost of training a Can-Do Canines dog is around $38,000, but the only cost to the person is a $50 registration fee.
Every local Lions chapter holds a number of events to raise funds and/or help out in their local area through humanitarian volunteerism. And as explained by 5M1 Vice District Governor Matt Huggenvik, it is an ironclad rule within the Lions that 100% of funds raised must be used to serve the community. Any local club member events, such as the 75th Anniversary celebration, are paid for through member dues, rather than from service funding.
In May 2020, Carl Bakalyar will reach the impressive milestone of being a Lions club member for 60 years. When asked why he’s chosen to stay so long, Carl responded, “We’ve always been a service organization. On the logo it says ‘We serve,’ and that’s what we do… Anytime somebody needs something done, the first place they stop is the Lions Club. It’s an interesting group to be with. It’s a feeling of accomplishment when you’re helping the community.”
Carl’s statement sounds very similar to a famous quotation from Martin Luther King, who said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” Obviously, the members of the Preston Lions Club have a long list of ways to answer that question.