Lion June 2013 : Page 30

Adept Adaptation Club finds its niche in a Wyoming outpost by Kate Meadows Pinedale bustles with a western vibe. Photo courtesy of the Town of Pinedale

Adept Adaptation

Kate Meadows

Club finds its niche in a Wyoming outpost

On a crisp, cool Saturday in Pinedale, Lion Thomas “Tiger” Jaskolski hawks $50 raffle tickets outside of Bucky’s Outdoors, a Polaris snowmobile and ATV dealership in the Wyoming town. The drawing for a 2013 Polaris snowmobile is still a couple of months away. As he does every year, Jaskolski gets an early start on ticket sales.

The biggest fundraiser of the Pinedale Lions, the raffle typically nets $20,000. The club uses the funds to buy eyeglasses and support two high school scholarships. Jaskolski, the brains behind the original idea, has headed up the event for 23 years.

“Once you’re committed to being involved in the community, everything just falls into place,” says Jaskolski, 77, who joined the club in 1980 four years after it chartered.

This is the Pinedale Lions Club: a hearty group of 32 members who hold Easter egg hunts in spring snowstorms, feed perfectly grilled pork tenderloin to half-marathon runners and host eye exams at the local elementary school, at times discovering eye problems in children that parents never knew were there.

It’s a club that’s creative, capitalizing on the unique characteristics of the community–its snowmobile culture and rural lifestyle–to thrive.

“Pinedale is a small town,” says Ric Stott, a repair shop owner who has been with the club for more than 20 years. “It’s isolated, and therefore it’s very close-knit. People pretty much work together.”

Nestled high in the Rocky Mountains about 70 miles south of Jackson Hole, Pinedale only recently topped a population of 2,000. The nearest Wal-Mart is 100 miles away, as is the nearest railroad. There is one high school, one grocery store and no stoplights. The names of local businesses cater to a hardened western, outdoor-oriented culture: the Cowboy Shop, the Cowboy Bar, Stockman’s Restaurant, the Wrangler Café, a fly fishing emporium, the Great Outdoor Shop.

Pinedale is an odd, charming mix of civilization and backwoods ruggedness. Mountains peer over it, and sage brush creep around it. Moose often wander harmlessly in its parks and sometimes down main streets, forcing pedestrians to run when the beasts get frisky. Ranch hands and roustabouts roam a downtown marked by western facades and knotty pine.

The Lions club is the place where residents turn to get plugged into the community. It was true of Jaskolski 32 years ago, then a newcomer to town who was looking for a way to fit in. It was true 20-plus years ago of Stott, who says he wasn’t a real big joiner but wanted to participate in an organization that served people. And it’s true of the club’s new president, Jon Gibson, who moved to Pinedale just three years ago and was immediately impressed with the club’s community involvement.

“The people are fantastic,” says Gibson. “The kids have a strong work ethic. Pinedale’s a first-class town.”

According to Robin Blackburn, the half-marathon’s former director, the Lions club is not only a joy to work with but it also plays an essential role in upholding the morale of the community. “The most important thing is that when the Lions say they’re going to get involved in something, you get a wholehearted commitment,” says Blackburn. “It doesn’t matter what it is, they’re ready to get involved 110 percent.”

Blackburn easily picks up on one of the club’s hallmark strengths: its undying enthusiasm. “They all have a huge smile on their face [when they’re volunteering],” she says. “They do some fabulous things.”

On the same day Jaskolski sells raffle tickets outside the Polaris dealership, First Vice District Governor Mindi Crabb is at the other end of town, near the finish line of the half-marathon race. Lions slow-cook pork tenderloin to feed hungry racers once they finish.

Crabb, who became the first female president of the Pinedale club in 2010, describes herself as “a chronic dogooder.” She recently returned from Florida, where she gave a presentation on how Lions clubs can remain relevant in their communities.

The key is diversity, says Crabb. That means attracting young people, more females and both long- and short-time residents of the community.

“We don’t want to be just a bunch of old white guys,” she says. “Even one person can help revitalize a club.” Crabb alone has brought in 12 new members to the Pinedale club. She says the trick to roping in new members is, first, to simply ask. “More importantly,” she says, “it’s to share your passion for what you believe Lions can do.”

Crabb likes to get to know a person, develop a rapport and then suggest specific Lions projects that might appeal to that person based on his or her interests.

For the most part, members choose which projects and events to be involved in based on their own strengths and interests, says Gibson. That just might be the key to the club’s vitality when it comes to service: members serve in areas that excite them.

As president, Gibson says he tries to discern the club’s strengths and weaknesses. “We want to build on the strengths and eliminate the weaknesses,” says Gibson, a retired pilot who moved to Pinedale from California after falling in love with the town’s deeply embedded fur trade history.

Coordinating communication is also a focus for the president, to ensure volunteers show up when work needs to be done. “It’s not about the meetings,” he says. “It’s about the projects and the outreach we do.”

Member Randy Belton agrees, emphasizing that the meetings–which occur twice per month, one at 7 a.m. and one at noon, to accommodate working parents — are onehour long. “We get in. We get out,” Belton says. “The most important thing is being out in the community and doing.”

Belton, who has served in numerous leadership roles as a Lion since joining in 1997, knows firsthand the values of hard work and service. He was a Marine for 20 years before landing in Pinedale, where his wife’s family lives. His No. 1 love is karate, but he turned down an opportunity to teach that art so he could stay in the Rockies. He now owns a Carquest store, which he named Rebel Auto Parts.

This is a club that prides itself on being a bunch of doers.

“We don’t usually get time to sit down and watch community events,” says Belton, “because we’re too busy working them.”

In a community of only a couple thousand people (in what was once the nation’s least-populated county in the least-populated state), it’s easy to be apprised of what’s going on around town. Often multiple events are scheduled for a single weekend, and there’s a good chance the Lions club has its hand in all of them.

Still, keeping a club strong and working in a rural area doesn’t come without its challenges. Even with its new blood, it seems it’s those few faces that have been with the club for decades who continually fill the leadership positions. Belton has served as president three times. “We’re always pushing to get new members into leadership roles,” he says.

But it’s not easy. Crabb fears the Lions club as a whole is aging, and she’s determined to do her part to fix that.

In Pinedale, Jaskolski, Stott and Belton are regarded as the club’s icons. Everyone knows Jaskolski is the face of the annual snowmobile raffle. When he and his wife moved with their four kids to rural western Wyoming from California 30-plus years ago to open an auto parts store, it was hard to miss the local flair for snowmobiling. That’s what gave Jaskolski the idea to talk to a local snowmobile dealer, cinch a steep discount on a new machine and sell raffle tickets for the give-away. All these years later, he’s still hard at work.

Stott, who has lived in Pinedale since the 1960s, has found his niche as the local representative for the Lions of Wyoming Foundation. Belton, who in his off time is a volunteer EMT and firefighter, has started organizing a new annual high school basketball tournament.

It might be that the more years of service you put in, the bigger and more meaningful the payoff is.

Sitting around a table at one of Pinedale’s two locally owned coffee shops, Belton and Stott swap smiles over what was for them one of the club’s more memorable projects. In the 1990s, club members raised the money to purchase a custom motorized cart for a paralyzed little boy. Pinedale was poorer then, and getting the money was difficult. But the club persevered, ultimately giving the boy the gift of a lifetime: a way to get around.

Jaskolski recalls a more recent event, one of the club’s first opportunities to use its state-of-the-art eye-testing machine. The club was sponsoring free eye exams at the elementary school when a second-grader came in. He was nearly failing his classes. His parents had scolded him for being lazy and turning in poor work. But his eye exam told a different story: he simply could not see. He received a pair of glasses from the club, and quickly turned into an “A” student.

In a town where winters are long and familiar faces are easy to come by, the Pinedale Lions Club has staying power. It has established itself as a creative group of doers who aren’t afraid to get dirty, stand in the cold or step up to the plate. Here is rural living at its best: a small town where, in a hearty club of service-oriented men and women, big ideas take root.

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