Monticello Lions Club celebrates 80 years of community service

In May 1971, the Monticello Lions Club celebrated its 30th anniversary with a dinner at the Youth Center. From left are Vaughan Hulse, Jr., Lions International director; and charter members Ed Cox, Frank Shimanek, Earl DeShaw, Joe Messerli, and Lyman Perkins. (Express file photos)

The Monticello Lions have been conducting children’s vision screenings for 20 years now. KidSight is one of the Lions Clubs’ biggest recipient of donations. This photo appeared in the Express in March 2008 when they screened 134 kids, age 6 months to kindergarten. From left are member Neal White with the camera and Shelley Cullum with her son Alex. Back row are members Dennis Joslyn, John Sauser, and Kevin Adams.

Lions Club member and Blood Drive Coordinator John Lacock gives blood on April 20 at their blood drive in Monticello. Since the blood drives started, over 2,100 units have been collected.

In 1951, the Lions Club built a permanent food stand at the fairgrounds. In 2012, they expanded the stand and kitchen area. The Lions food stand during the fair is the club’s biggest fundraiser.
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     The Monticello Lions Club hit a milestone on May 2: The club’s 80th birthday.

     On May 2, 1941, Carl Ganote, a representative of Lions International, organized 31 professional and business men in Monticello into the Monticello Lions Club.

     Charter club officers were: Dr. Earl DeShaw, president; Cecil Goettsch, vice president; Frank Shimanek, secretary; Paul Schuetz, treasurer; Rev. Arnold Thalacker, Lion Tamer; Glenn Jones, Tail Twister; and Directors James Read, Glenn Jones, Ray Echternacht, and M.B. Leonard.

     Meetings of the original Lions Club were held upstairs over Goudy’s Café (which used to be the Gamble Store), and is now Cherry Bomb Tattoo on E. First Street. Later, meetings were held in various members’ homes when membership dropped due to those entering the service during World War II. In the mid-1940s, membership and meeting attendance grew again, and meetings were moved to the Legion Hall. In the early ‘50s, the club moved its meetings to the Community Building. Over the years, other meeting sites included: the Youth Center, the Monticello Country Club, Loop’s restaurant, and the Heights Supper Club.

     Today, the Lions Club meets in the vacant Citizens State Bank building on W. First Street.

     The purpose of the Lions Club is to foster a spirit of fellowship and understanding among all peoples of the world and to promote the principles of good government and citizenship. The club also encourages active interest in the civic, commercial, social, and moral welfare of the community.

     The Monticello Lions Club contributes to and supports many local and regional activities through his fundraising efforts:

     • Scrap metal drive, which ended after 79 years.

     • Community swimming pool. The club raised money for the pool and even provided maintenance in the late 1940s and beyond.

     • KidSight, which provides free eye care for local school children.

     • Red Cross Blood Drive, which has secured over 2,100 units of blood.

     • Post-high school scholarships, which the Lions have been providing for 48 consecutive years.

     In 1943, the Lions Club manned a refreshment stand on the track at the fairgrounds. In 1944, they relocated “up the hill” (to the midway) with a larger tent. IN 1951, they built a permanent structure where they serve thousands of fairgoers during the Great Jones County Fair every July.

     In 2012, the stand was expanded to include more shaded seating and a larger kitchen area.

     In 1941 when Dr. DeShaw accepted the club charter, he was quoted as saying, “Modestly do we hope that someday it may be said of Monticello that it is a better place in which to live, to work, and to play by virtue of her Lions Club.”

     Dr. L.C. Perkins wrote about the history of the Monticello Lions in the Monticello sesquicentennial book, published by the Monticello Express 1986: “It can truly be said that Monticello’s Lions early rise to ascendancy in community leadership and have met their every goal and justified their highest expectations. They are a credit to their international organization and to the City of Monticello. They have ‘writ their name large’ on the city’s history.”

     And the Lions continue to make history in Monticello.

     Phil Larabee has been a member for 30 years.

     “The Monticello club is looked at as a strong club in Iowa,” he said. “We movers and shakers.”

     Larabee sits on the Iowa Lions Foundation Board of Trustees.

     Larabee’s path to the Lions Club and in overseeing the scholarship effort is ironic… During his junior year of college at the University of Nebraska, Larabee was having some vision issues.

     “We didn’t know what was going on,” he said.

     So he was sent to the University of Iowa optometry department. When he walked in, he saw the Lions Club logo. The Lions Foundation contributes to the efforts of the University where eye sight and hearing are concerned.

     Larabee’s father served his country in the Army for six years. In 1953, his father earned a scholarship to attend college. He gave the money back and left college to help run his family farm when his father (Larabee’s grandfather) became sick.

     “It was his dream to make sure his three kids graduated from college,” Larabee said fondly, “so they could advance in their career and lives.”

     Lions give several scholarships a year to a Monticello senior. One, in particular, the Phillip Freese Memorial Scholarship, goes to a student planning to attend Kirkwood Community College. (Freese is the late nephew of Art and Sharon Kromminga, who were both active in Lions Club.)

     The scholarships range from $500 to $1,000.

     “This provides kids a chance to go on,” Larabee said of the financial assistance. “The mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

     Larabee said he enjoys the comradery when it comes to being a Lion.

     “It’s not just helping someone; you affect someone’s life,” he said of their mission. “Whether they’re in need of money, treatment, or preventative care.”

     John Sauser has been a Lion since 1989. He chairs the Iowa KidSight program, which provides free vision screenings for young children throughout Monticello and area school districts. KidSight is a joint project of the Lions clubs of Iowa, the Department of Ophthalmology and the Visual Sciences at the University of Iowa Stead Children’s Hospital.

     Volunteers like Sauser use a special camera to take pictures of kids’ eyes. Those 6 months to kindergarten are screened at no cost. The results are digitally sent to UIHC where trained staff interrupt the images. If any vision or eye diseases or issues are found, the families are referred on for further tests.

     This year marks the 20th anniversary of KidSight in Monticello.

     Sauser joined the club by invitation from Roman Welter.

     “I thought this was something I wanted to be a part of,” he reflected.

     Just last week, Sauser and fellow member Kevin Adams provided vision screenings for over 50 kids in Monticello. Since KidSight started locally, 2,265 kids have been tested, with 100 referrals for further eye exams.

     “This helps detect problems earlier,” Sauser said of vision tests.

     As for being a Lion, Sauser said he believes in the club’s mission of giving back to the community. Plus, he gets to work in the Lions food stand each summer!

     Kevin Adams has been a Lion since 1976. In fact, the Adamses have a long history of being Lions… Adams’ grandfather and father were both in the club, as were two of his uncles, his brother, and cousin Richard Wolken (who is still a member).

     “At one time, seven or eight of us were all in the club at the same time,” he joked. “As kids, we all had fun helping at the fair stand.”

     Adams joked that the Monticello Lions Club is the “club that likes to sell and cook.”

     They raise quite a bit of money annually through various community meals and the fair stand.

     Adams assists with the club’s support of the Iowa Lions Eye Bank in Coralville, the Cochlear Implant Clinic in Iowa City, and the children’s cancer center at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

     Adams said he is constantly amazed at the work the Lions clubs do in their support of the vision and hearing impaired and the medical services provided in Iowa City.

     Adams has volunteered his time and money to drive eye tissue not only all over the State of Iowa, but Wisconsin, too. The Iowa State Patrol used to drive eye tissue to its designated location until 2009 when it got to be too expensive for the state. That’s when Lions Club members all over Iowa stepped in to help.

     “Eye vision is how the Lions got started,” he said of the initial mission.

     In the summer of 2019, 30 Monticello Lions members were able to tour the children’s cancer unit in Iowa City, to see firsthand where their funding was going toward.

     In the last three years, $5,000 has also gone to childhood cancer at UIHC.

     “We try to make an impact with kids,” Adams said.

     With the Cochlear Implant Clinic, Adams said two local Monticello residents were proud recipients of implants, “basically at no cost.

     “You don’t have to be a Lions Club member to get an implant,” Adams offered. “It helps to improve people’s lifestyles.”

     Adams shared just how far $1 goes when donated to the Lions Club/Iowa Lions Foundation:

     • .3 cents to Education for the Blind Children

     • 4.3 cents to Cochlear Implants

     • .6 cents to Iowa School for the Deaf

     • 52.7 cents to KidSight

     • 1.1 cents to the Leader Dog Puppy Program

     • 2.6 cents to the Lions Hearing Aid Bank

     • 38.4 cents to the Iowa Lions Eye Bank

     John Lacock has been a Lion since 2010.

     Lacock coordinates the Lions blood drive twice a year (April and September), working with Nicole Miller with the Red Cross. The blood drive started in 2006. Lacock took over when Lion Gene Schipper passed away.

     “People know there’s a need for blood and it stays in the area,” Lacock said.

     Since the Lions Club started hosting the blood drive, over 2,100 units of blood have been donated, which is equivalent to 1,870 people/donors.

     “Our goal is always 70 pints/units,” Lacock said of each blood drive.

     The blood drive requires about a dozen volunteers/Lions Club members. It’s an all-day event.

     Miller said the Red Cross has been having blood drives non-stop, despite the pandemic, simply because there has been a need. Early on in 2020 and throughout, she said the needs wasn’t as great because there were less traffic accidents and medical procedures taking place because people were staying home. Now, society is trying to get back to normal.

     “Two weeks ago was our lowest collection in an entire week since COVID started,” Miller shared on April 20 at the blood drive. “We need to get back to some normalcy for blood donations.”

     The blood drive offers two different procedures: whole blood collection and power red, which are the red blood cells only.

     “It helps serve a community need,” said Lacock of the blood drive. “That’s what we do.”

     Miller praised the Monticello Lions Club.

     “This is my biggest community drive in my territory,” she said.

     Just like every other service club and organization, COVID has caused the Lions Club to rethink their fundraising efforts. In celebration of their 80 years of service to the community and beyond, look for their flier and self-addressed envelope inside the May 26 Monticello Express.

     The Lions Club meets every first and third Monday at 6:30 p.m.

     “We’re always looking for new members,” said Larabee.


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