Lion April 2013 : Page 26
ISSUE 10 10 Projects Too Good to Ever End These projects are so popular or needed they may last forever. Fair Thee Well In 1949, a handful of Berlin Lions in Connecticut gener-ously put up their businesses as collateral. The club boldly purchased 120 acres and threw up a few tents. Just like that, the Harvest Festival, an agricultural fair that ran from 1882 to 1919, was back in business. The fair grew each year, and the Lions constantly improved their property to accom-modate the larger crowds and added attractions. They dropped in sewer lines, paved access roads and constructed nearly 20 permanent buildings, some with complete kitchens. Today the area’s farms are mostly gone, but the gargantuan Berlin Fair has been of the state’s largest for many years. Berlin counts 20,000 residents, and the fair seems to have that many attractions: blue-ribbon livestock, apple pie contests, quilting contests, frog jumping displays, baby contests, nail driving contests, tractor pulls, pig races, bull riders, mountain bike stunts, comedy and juggling acts, concerts and midway rides. The three-day fair is such a big deal in town that schools close the Friday it begins. Minis-ters pray for sunny skies because churches and groups such as fire departments and veteran’s groups sell food or goods that generate a good chunk of their annual fundraising take. Everybody in Berlin seems to visit the fair. “It’s like a re-union. College kids see their old friends. You expect to see people you know,” says Diane Jacobson, club president. The 140-member club begins meeting weekly for the October fair in April. “Most everybody [in the club] helps,” adds Jacobson. Fairgoers in the 1960s buy their tickets in Berlin. 26 LION APRIL 2013
10 Projects Too Good to Ever End
These projects are so popular or needed they may last forever.<br /> <br /> Fair Thee Well<br /> <br /> In 1949, a handful of Berlin Lions in Connecticut generously put up their businesses as collateral. The club boldly purchased 120 acres and threw up a few tents. Just like that, the Harvest Festival, an agricultural fair that ran from 1882 to 1919, was back in business. The fair grew each year, and the Lions constantly improved their property to accommodate the larger crowds and added attractions. They dropped in sewer lines, paved access roads and constructed nearly 20 permanent buildings, some with complete kitchens. Today the area’s farms are mostly gone, but the gargantuan Berlin Fair has been of the state’s largest for many years.<br /> <br /> Berlin counts 20,000 residents, and the fair seems to have that many attractions: blue-ribbon livestock, apple pie contests, quilting contests, frog jumping displays, baby contests, nail driving contests, tractor pulls, pig races, bull riders, mountain bike stunts, comedy and juggling acts, concerts and midway rides. The three-day fair is such a big deal in town that schools close the Friday it begins. Ministers pray for sunny skies because churches and groups such as fire departments and veteran’s groups sell food or goods that generate a good chunk of their annual fundraising take.<br /> <br /> Everybody in Berlin seems to visit the fair. “It’s like a reunion. College kids see their old friends. You expect to see people you know,” says Diane Jacobson, club president. The 140-member club begins meeting weekly for the October fair in April. “Most everybody [in the club] helps,” adds Jacobson.<br /> <br /> 110-Year-Old Pumpkin Lovefest<br /> <br /> There’s something about a pumpkin. Not the tastiest fruit, nor the most adaptable for baking or cooking, often irregular, squat and splotched, they nevertheless seem to demand our allegiance. The sturdy orange sphere conjures up the alluring fall season and its mercurial but not-yet-frigid weather. A pumpkin is something to rally around. Versailles in southeastern Indiana has been doing that since 1902. The Versailles Pumpkin Show attracts a bustling crowd of 15,000 on a fall Saturday; Versailles has a population of just 2,100.<br /> <br /> The Versailles Lions Club chartered in 1942, and Lions have run the festival since the 1940s. Versailles is a country town, but pumpkin farms are not abundant. So in years past Lions grew pumpkins and gourds to decorate the festival. Last year local Amish also grew pumpkins that Lions bought.<br /> <br /> The five-day festival is a panoply of eye-popping pumpkins. There are the pumpkin prince and princess, the pumpkin pie eating contest, a pumpkin baking contest, a pumpkin decoration contest and the 90-minute parade, a procession of floats, bands and, of course, pumpkins. The big attraction, pun intended, is the Giant Pumpkin contest. Lions use a crane to hoist the contenders on an industrial scale borrowed from a factory. The pumpkins weigh as much as 760 pounds.<br /> <br /> Lions run a food booth at the festival. Items include pumpkin cupcakes, pies and rolls. The club now will run the festival from its new clubhouse. Well, like the festival itself, “new” does not exactly apply. Securing a grant, the club purchased a building more than a century old that formerly housed a drug store.<br /> <br /> <br /> Chicken, With a Side of Lincoln<br /> <br /> What do you get when you cook more than 2,000 chicken halves on four huge grills? A false alarm. Five years ago Elizabethtown Lions in Kentucky rose before dawn and fired up the charcoal grills at American Legion Park for their venerable chicken barbecue. Residents saw the billowing smoke wafting in the trees and called the fire department. The folks who dialed 911 must have been newcomers. Elizabethtown Lions have held their barbecue fundraiser for 70 years. The thousands of dollars raised support more than 40 local groups.<br /> <br /> The Lions can cook 840 chicken halves at one time. They know what they’re doing. “The key is to cook it on the rib side, the bone side. That won’t affect the meat. You don’t want the breast to dry out,” says John Zeitz, a past district governor. “The wings are tricky. You want to turn the wing under from the top, to make it come off the breast.”<br /> <br /> Elizabethtown is not just any town. Thomas and Nancy Lincoln lived in a log cabin here, and in 1809 their son, Abraham, was born a few miles away. Honest Abe turned out to be a picky eater: Mary Lincoln scolded the president for not finishing his dinners at the White House. But he did like chicken–fricasseed chicken, cut up in small pieces, fried with nutmeg and mace seasonings and served with a chicken-drippings gravy. Should the Lions serve up fricasseed chicken one year? Zeitz laughs. “We’ve tried variations over the year. But the public lets us know they won’t stand for any changes,” he says.<br /> <br /> Eggs Roll, History Unfolds<br /> <br /> Osawatomie Lions chartered their club in January 1938 and decided an Easter egg hunt in April would go over well. They were right. This spring will mark the 75th year for the Lions Club Easter Egg Hunt. Osawatomie in far eastern Kansas has less than 4,500 residents, but nearly 200 children ages 2 to 10 will dash out on a green lawn at the high school and scoop up 3,000 plastic eggs stuffed with candy. The children get to satisfy their cravings for sweets; needy families get to eat. Lions ask families taking part in the hunt to bring a canned food item for the Osawatomie Food Pantry.<br /> <br /> The request for a food item is historically apt. The hunt began during the Great Depression, a time when candy was a luxury, and families were asked to bring hard boiled, colored eggs to the hunt. “They found some in the park days later. You can imagine what had happened with them,” says Doris Ware, secretary. The child who found the most eggs received a live Easter bunny; the second place winner took home a softball.<br /> <br /> The egg hunt is not only old but downright historical. For years the hunt was held at John Brown Park. Yes, that John Brown. John Brown’s cabin stands a half block from the high school. Abolitionists battled pro-slavery forces in Osawatomie in 1856, and when it was over the latter looted and burned Osawatomie, which was left with only three buildings. In 1910, President Teddy Roosevelt came to Osawatomie to unveil his New Nationalism and government protection of human welfare and property rights. In 2011, President Barack Obama visited Osawatomie and spoke on the role of government.<br /> <br /> Christmas in Corbin<br /> <br /> Corbin Lions in southeastern Kentucky have been giving Christmas baskets to the needy for so long that the baskets once held live chickens. Lions handed over clucking fowls to the poor in 1949. Those gave way to frozen turkeys. Now because the turkeys wouldn’t thaw in time for a Christmas Day feast, the club delivers hams on Christmas Eve along with heaps of fresh fruits, vegetables, bread, drinks and even toys.<br /> <br /> Last year Lions and other volunteers delivered 250 baskets. The crew typically gathers at 6 a.m for a free breakfast at David’s Steakhouse, owned by Lion David Keck. Then they pack the boxes, load their cars and pickups and drive through Corbin, a hamlet of 7,000, and outside town onto dirt roads that snake through wooded hills.<br /> <br /> It’s in giving that Lions understand the need. One year Mike Pawula, a past district governor, made a stop with his wife and son at a crude block house with a dirt floor. Six or seven children huddled near four couches pulled together in the center of the room. “There was no noise from any of them. We pulled out the toys, but their eyes were fixed on the milk. You just knew their bellies were empty,” says Pawula. “We left and when we were three or four steps away from the door, we heard, ‘OK.’ Then we heard a bunch of hollering. My son said, ‘I don’t care if I get a toothbrush for Christmas–I will appreciate it.’”<br /> <br /> Another time Pawula noticed a swirl of odd marks in the snow outside a very modest home with a coal stove. “I saw something hide under a bed out of the corner of my eye. A mouse?” Then he figured it out. “It was chickens. They had to bring them in so they didn’t freeze.”<br /> <br /> Many Lions and volunteers have delivered the baskets for years. Those who served as children now take part as adults. Pawula has put in 25 years. “It’s not Christmas Eve until we deliver the baskets,” he says. “We do our Christmas shopping as a family after that. You’re in a real good mood.”<br /> <br /> Roping In Customers<br /> <br /> Cowboys ride bareback, wrestle steers and ride bulls at the Elk City Rodeo. For 74 years the oil fields and farms of this western Oklahoma town of 15,000 empty out for three nights, and 15,000 roaring spectators pack the Beutler Brothers Arena. For most of the rodeo’s history Elk City Lions have staffed the busy concessions beneath the grandstands.<br /> <br /> The club first worked the concessions either in 1949 or 1950. Five years ago, as the rodeo grew, its organizers brought in a halfdozen new vendors, worrying Lions that their sales would slump. That didn’t happen. In fact, last year Lions had their best year ever. The 29-member club even had to recruit Canute City Lions and Elk City Lionesses to guarantee the 50 volunteers needed for its three stands at the arena.<br /> <br /> Rodeos make people hungry: last year Lions served 1,664 hamburgers, 1,650 bags of cotton candy, 1,000 boxes of popcorn, 904 hot dogs, 400 funnel cakes, 281 foot-long corn dogs and 260 barbecue sandwiches. Also dispensed were 81 pounds of nacho chips slathered with 32 gallons of nacho cheese, 42 pounds of Fritos mixed with six gallons of chili for Frito pies and 20 gallons of dill pickles. Patrons washed down the food with 8,566 bottles of water/cans of pop.<br /> <br /> Lions may be behind the counter but Lionism is front and center. A paper-mache lion stands regally atop a concession stand, and oversized Lions’ emblems are affixed to the others. The visibility among people heartily enjoying themselves can’t hurt recruitment. “We’ve had eight new members in the last four months,” says Lion Quenton Elliott, who runs the stands and as a boy attended the rodeo with his grandfather-Lion.<br /> <br /> Wheels Keeps on Turning in Overland, Missouri<br /> <br /> As a boy Andrew Julian hung out at the bustling fair of the Overland Lions Club near St. Louis in Missouri. “I was there for the rides, the food, to hold the hands of girls on the Ferris wheel,” says Julian, 28. He still rides the Ferris wheel, but he’s mostly solidly planted on the fairgrounds running the show as its chairperson. The Overland Lions Community Fair is 73 years old and counting. Julian predicts it will be around for its centennial. “I think so. I’ve got a lot of fairs to go,” he says.<br /> <br /> The club’s biggest fundraiser, the four-day fair has it all: carnival rides, games, contests, concerts and a variety of foods. This past year a 48-vehicle car show was added to liven up an afternoon. “If you see a sign for a car show around here [in Missouri], it’s like bugs to a light bulb,” says Julian.<br /> <br /> The town’s name is historically ironic. Aviator Charles Lindbergh once lived in town not far from Norman Myers Park, the fair’s site. “Maybe he did a flyover,” jokes Julian.<br /> <br /> Lions work closely on the fair with Mayor Mike Schneider (a Lion), churches and businesses. Last year the club recognized the importance of its partners by changing the name of the event from the Overland Lions Club Fair to the Lions Community Fair. The club also recognized the value of social media by taking real-time cellphone photos of the fair, posting them to the club’s website and linking them to Facebook and Twitter.<br /> <br /> The fair may be a septuagenarian, but some things never change. The kids still hang out in packs at the rides, and the adults gravitate to the libations. “The running joke is, ‘How’s the beer garden?’” says Julian. “They give their kids money for the rides, and they don’t see them again until they come back for more money.”<br /> <br /> Showstoppers Keep Show Going<br /> <br /> The performances were from shows years ago, but people in Carthage still remember Chet Stout singing “Elvira” seated on his “commodeola,” a stage prop made from a commode seat and guitar neck, Bubba Clinton telling a tale about Mrs. E.B. Morrison, who was not pleased when she heard about it at church on Sunday, and M.P. Baker, a college president with an everyman’s sense of humor, ceremoniously tearing off toilet tissue when a joke bombed so the Rotarians had a cheat sheet to use the bad jokes in their own show. Since 1946, the Carthage Lions have put on the best little variety show in Texas. Produced and performed by Lions with an occasional assist from family and friends, the Lions Clubs Show is a blend of music, skits and joke-telling that packs the house year after year.<br /> <br /> The secret to the show’s success is that there are few secrets in a close-knit town of 6,000. This year’s show included a few good-natured barbs about the mayor’s hairstyle. One of the show’s Walk on Ads (skits performed by Lions about a business) lamented the fate of Big Tex, the iconic statue at the state fair that burned down; the skit pointed out that his demise could have been averted if he had patronized an air conditioner business. Throughout the show well-known community members show another side to them. “You get the local banker dressing up like he’s someone else–something not in character with a bank. People like that,” says Lion Jerry Hanszen, the longtime show director who hosts a local talk radio show.<br /> <br /> The closer to home the subject, the better. Carthage was the setting for the 2011 movie “Bernie,” where Jack Black plays a funeral director who murders an elderly woman. In this year’s show three church choir directors, imitating Black in the film, sang “Love Lifted Me” while on stage …well, you had to be there to appreciate it. But the show succeeds because while it approaches the line of bad taste it stays firmly on the other side. “If you could hear it at Sunday school, then it’s OK for us,” says Hanszen with a smile. And the show always ends in the same rousing fashion– with the crowd on its feet as the cast belts out “God Bless America” and “The Star Spangled Banner.”<br /> <br /> Dancing Queens– and Kings<br /> <br /> Four bucks gets you a seat at a lengthy session at the Chilliwack Lions Club Music and Dance Festival in British Columbia, Canada. The spectacle is, well, spectacular. Over 45 days nearly 5,000 youths from ages 6 to 21 compete. They dance everything from classical ballet to street-style hip-hop. The music competition features the piano, violin, strings, brass, woodwinds, bands, vocal and choirs. The stakes are high: top performers advance to provincial and national competitions.<br /> <br /> The club began the festival in 1947, the year it was chartered. Twenty years ago the festival was tottering, and the club considered shutting it down. But the event regained its footing, and its move to the new Chilliwack Cultural Centre a couple of years ago steadied it further.<br /> <br /> The renown of the festival’s judges boosts the allure of the competition. Among the judges have been Jeff Hyssop, who starred in “Phantom of the Opera,” and Michael Wood of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival orchestra.<br /> <br /> Staging the festival requires 550 volunteers and 16 festival personnel putting in more than 4,000 hours. Lions make it all come together. Many of the competitors have gone on to careers as performers and arts teachers. But for most excited participants and nervous but proud family members the moment in the spotlight, generating a lifetime of precious memories, matters most.<br /> <br /> Fish Wish<br /> <br /> A dot on the map, Catlin, Illinois, counts 2,000 residents. Droves of them come out for the Catlin Lions fish fry the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. “It’s the town’s social event,” says Jesse Mitsdarffer, 2011-12 president of the 24-member club. “We typically sell 300 pounds. People love their fish.”<br /> <br /> The fish fry began in 1944, just four years after the club chartered. The club has tried changing the menu, offering pork chops or barbecue as the main entree. But residents wanted fish. Fishing is a popular pastime in the area. Old strip mines now hold water and fish. The club works with Neptune Foods, which supplies the processed fish and even cooks it, assuring its uniformity and quality.