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Fort Smith Noon Lions Club Celebrates a Century of Service

Fort Smith Noon Lions Club Celebrates a Century of Service

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On June 7, 1917 Melvin Jones convened representatives from 27 businessmen’s clubs in Chicago. They agreed to unite as “The Association of Lions Clubs” and to focus on community service.

Lions Clubs formed all over the country. Fort Smith’s club chartered on March 8, 1919. Its first meeting was held at noon on March 11, 1919 at the Hotel Main on Garrison Avenue. A newspaper story the following day lists about 25 charter members, many of them prominent residents. Their object was to encourage all kinds of civic betterment.

That Noon Lions Club is going strong today and at 2 p.m. March 8, will hold a Centennial Celebration at the Riverfront Pavilion.

Current member John Lyons has compiled some highlights of the clubs 100-year history. Reading club minutes and archived newpapers, he found a robust record of service.

Notable achievements

Early newspaper articles detail many activities of the club. In 1919, Noon Lions participated in the Victory Loan Campaign to sell bonds to pay off the nation’s World War I debt.

In 1920, the club took charge of decorating the Christmas tree for the Day Nursery, raising funds to furnish toys for 400 children. This was the forerunner of the “Angel Tree.”

In about 1921, the club began publishing a full page “Lion’s Edition” in the Southwestern American newspaper, all about Lions. Many members proudly advertised their businesses with a Roaring Lions logo. A great many Fort Smith businesses were represented by an owner or chief executive.

Lions become Knights for the Blind During the 1925 international convention, Helen Keller beseeched Lions to become “Knights for the Blind in the crusade against darkness.” Her eloquent plea provided Lions with their primary mission, up to today.

In 1930 Lions clubs began to promote White Canes and by 1956 every state had passed laws giving the blind the right of way.

In 1935, talking books for the blind were created and Lions helped distribute books and machines. In 1939, a Michigan club started a Leader Dog for the Blind Program. It is ongoing. In 1990, Sight-First was launched to curtail blindness. Within a few years, $182 million was raised for related projects in 89 countries.

Evolution of the Fort Smith Lions Club

By 1946, the Fort Smith Noon Lions Club had grown to 132 members. Its primary mission was to support sight by providindg glasses for children and adultss; collecting and distributing hundreds of used eyeglasses through Lions International.

Support also went to fund the World Services for the Blind, which opened in Little Rock in 1947. Persons facing sight loss were able to be trained to live fruitful lives and gain new careers. Mid South Sight and Hearing Services opened in 1942 and still assists people to regain the gift of sight and hearing in preventable cases. The club also supports a state diabetes awareness program.

Purchasing equipment for the School Safety Patrol has been a project for the Noon Lions since 1946, when they held a fundraiser with the Navy Band. Lions fund this project still, treating the students to an end of school year picnic.

The club started a live TV auction about 30 years ago, first with FOX TV and now with KFSM Channel 5. Each October, Lions collect money at Walmart doors for White Cane Day.

Supporting vision is an ongoing mission

Lions collect thousands of eyeglasses each year for the Southwest School of Optometry in Memphis. Students clean and catalogue glasses for use in mission trips. A Noon Lions member, Dick Smith, said the club is currently in the process of accepting a Walmart donation of an entire pallet of unused eyeglasses. ArcBest Freight volunteered to transport them to Memphis. This one donaton will provide more than 5,000 people with new eyeglasses. Many local vision clinics also help by collecting patients’ used eyeglasses.

Smith said that 75 percent of donated glasses can be repurposed to bring vision to a new wearer. Locally, Noon Lions support an adult eye exam and eyeglass program in partnership with Graham Optical, helping to arrange free eye exams for patients in need, and paying for the eyeglasses. Its children’s vision program, coordinated with the schools, has been in existence for at least 30 years. Lions assist all students who are referred for vision needs.

Lions take on more to help the community

Although sight conservation is the primary mission of Lions International, the Noon Lions take on more projects to meet needs in the Fort Smith Community, according to current president Barbara Dalke.

The club partners with Special Olympics, helping on an annual spring field day. Lions also support a local Boys & Girls Club basketball team. Each week, Lions go to Bonneville Elementary to assist students with reading.

“We serve,” she said, simply. “This is a hard-working club.” Every penny raised goes to sight preservation and community projects. The annual televised auction is its major fundraising tool. Lions also hold a rib sale, in partnership with cooks of the Fort Smith Barbecue Society, to sell tasty baby back ribs.

Over just the past few years, the current club has raised and distributed more than $100,000 to local sight work and other in-town agencies.

In recent years, the club has given back to the community with donations to causes such as the Children’s Service League, Children’s Emergency Shelter, Good Samaritan Clinic, the Clearinghouse backpack program for kids, Hope Animal Shelter and the Womens Crisis Center.

With a proud tradition and history, the Fort Smith Noon club has met every Tuesday at noon for 100 years. From the original 1919 meeting at the Hotel Main, the Noon Lions moved to the Ward Hotel on Garrison Avenue, the former Wyatt Cafeteria, the former Tradewinds Hotel, and the former downtown Holiday Inn. It now meets each week at Golden Corral restaurant.

After reviewing such a long history of service, researcher Mike Lyon reflected that all previous Noon Lions club members would be pleased with what today’s men and women members continue to accomplish through dedication and community-spirited work.

March 8
Fort Smith Noon Lions Centennial Celebration, a drop-in reception. 2-4 p.m. Riverfront Pavilion, 100 North B Street, Fort Smith, Ark.

This article appears in the March 2019 issue of Entertainent Fort Smith Magazine.

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