Lions Clubs International celebrates a century of service this year and has grown to be the largest service organization in the world. Melvin Jones founded the club on June 7, 1917, and now 100 years later, there are over 45,000 clubs and more than 1.3 million members in 203 countries worldwide.
Jones, a Chicago businessman, asked, with regards to his colleagues, "What if these men who are successful because of their drive, intelligence and ambition, were to put their talents to work improving their communities?"
Lions clubs across the world operate under the motto: "We Serve."
In 1925, Helen Keller beseeched Lions to become "Knights of the Blind" and her eloquent plea provided Lions with their primary mission. The Lions started the Leader Dogs for the Blind in 1939. Women were invited to become members in 1987.
From focusing on vision, Lions Clubs International now addresses, diabetes, hearing and service dogs. In 1968, Lions Clubs International Foundation was established and this addresses the needs of people around the globe who are impacted by disasters such as floods, earthquakes, tornados, wildfires, etc.
The Park Rapids Lions Club received its charter on June 23, 1954, at a meeting held at the Park Rapids Municipal building. Sponsored by the Wadena Lions, the club was chartered with 20 members and elected Robert Brown as their first president.
For 63 years, the Park Rapids Lions continue to serve the community and join this year in celebrating the international club's 100th birthday. The Park Rapids club currently has 47 members and since 1954 has provided volunteer services and financial assistance to those in need throughout the Park Rapids area.
The Leader Dogs for the Blind is one of the major programs to receive club support. Since 2007, the club has contributed about $10,000 to this program.
While the focus internationally is on sight related projects, locally the club contributes to projects such as spring leaf and lawn litter pickup and disposal, scholarships for local high school seniors, Headwaters 100 Bike Ride, financial and volunteer support for Kinship, Food Angels Backpack Program, fountain and tree planting at Depot Park, Hubbard County Food Shelf, piano project, eyeglass purchases for people unable to pay, specialized tricycle for local youth, hearing aids for local youth, ditch pick up, Salvation Army bell ringers, pre-Memorial Day cleanup at Greenwood Cemetery, and many more.
The longest lived community project sponsored by the Lions is the annual spring leaf and lawn litter pick-up on Community Service Day. This project began in the spring of 1974.
To help support the many projects one of the club's major fundraisers is the Park Rapids Lions Garage Sale, this year on Saturday, June 3, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Local vision related projects include vision assist reading machines for persons with eyesight issues and used eyeglass collection boxes at local businesses. Local Lions members also build wheelchair accessible ramps for local residents.
The Park Rapids Lions over the past 30 years have made financial contributions to many community facilities, recreation and betterment projects and community activities. They contribute with dollars spread out around the area, as well as provide manpower to numerous community events each year. They support programs to benefit youth in the area and help support school programs.
Fifteen local Lions in Park Rapids have received the distinguished Melvin Jones Award for outstanding dedication and service in the Lions organization.