Where There’s a Need, There’s a Lion

Walk down the street of a city, town or village in Door County, and you’ll likely run into a Lion. Not the roaring felines – these Lions are your friends and neighbors, and their common bond is Lions Club International, a service organization with more than 1.4 million members worldwide.

From Washington Island to Forestville, hundreds of Door County Lions take to heart the organization’s motto: “We Serve.” And because they serve, the rest of us benefit.

Door County is home to six Lions Club chapters: Sturgeon Bay (chartered in 1929), Washington Island (1935), Sister Bay (1952), Egg Harbor (1956), Brussels (1960) and Forestville-Maplewood (1963). The men and women who call themselves Lions volunteer at community events throughout the year to generate funds that support many local, state and national initiatives. The good news for Door County is that the great majority of the hundreds of thousands of dollars raised each year stays right here. 

The Lions organize t-ball in Brussels. Facebook photo.

At the Forestville-Maplewood Lions Club, fundraising projects include a golf outing, Sportsmen’s Night Out banquet, and a food and beer stand at the Door County Fair. Members of the Sturgeon Bay Lions Club help out at each event. 

The dollars raised benefit the community. Forestville-Maplewood club president Chris Sampo is especially proud of a new partnership with the Door County Parks Department to improve eight miles of the Ahnapee Trail.

“We’re working on the stretch that starts at the Door County line, all the way up to just past Maplewood,” he said.

Club members also donate their time. Mary Mueller became a Lion in 2007 and served as the Forestville-Maplewood club’s vice president and president. Her husband, Tom, was president of the Wisconsin Lions Foundation and served as a district governor.

“One of the things I really enjoy doing is vision screening with the kids at school,” Mary said.

‘Knights of the Blind’

The Door County Public Health Department conducts vision and hearing screening for kindergarten through 11th-grade students throughout the county, and Lions Club volunteers help to make that possible. Lions have supported sight programs aimed at preventable blindness since 1925, when Helen Keller spoke at the Lions Club International convention and challenged Lions to become “knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness.”

A few years after Jim Sanden joined the Egg Harbor Lions Club in 2001, he and other club members saw news stories that the county might be forced to stop funding vision and hearing screening in area schools. Egg Harbor Lions approached the county with an idea.

“We could work something out and provide the county with volunteers to do some of the work,” Sanden said.

After numerous meetings, the Door County Board agreed to continue the screening and hired Sara Neu as a public-health school aide to administer the program. For the past 17 years, Sanden and his volunteers have worked side by side with Neu and her team to identify students who are in need of eyeglasses or other vision and hearing care. Lions also help with the cost of eyeglasses for those in need. 

When Neu retired earlier this year, there was a concern that the screening program might again be in jeopardy. Katie Van Laanen, a public-health nurse with Door County Health and Human Services, said the public-health school aide position will be changing a bit, but hearing and vision screening will continue thanks to that valuable partnership with the Lions.

The Washington Island Lions serve up food at the Fly-in Fish Boil. Facebook photo.

Stocking the Shelves

Other Lions Club efforts that benefit families in Door County include keeping shelves stocked at area food pantries. Each Memorial Day, Lions Club members in Brussels rally the community to Fill the Float: packing the club’s large parade float with food donations. To help make Fill the Float a success, Lions bag groceries in advance at Marchant’s Foods so it’s easier for people to donate. The results are impressive.

“Every year we have to make two or three trips to the Maplewood food pantry with all the food and gift cards and cash that is donated,” said Kelly Tassoul, president of the Brussels Lions Club.

In Sister Bay, where Cori Shanahan is club president, Lions provide a tasty way for visitors and residents to benefit the community. Whether it’s a brat fry or a fish boil at Sister Bay’s popular Fall Fest, the Lions count on plenty of support from eager eaters.

“The Lions have a fantastic setup, and that’s where people line up to get their world-famous brats,” said Louise Howson of the Sister Bay Advancement Association. “For all Fall Fest attendees, it’s a tradition to stop at the Lions Club [booth] for a brat.”

And at Marina Fest each fall, the Sister Bay Lions do more than offer delicious food: They have a boat-building tent and a pedal-tractor pull for kids.

“It’s always fun and very family- and kids-oriented,” Howson said. “Everything that they do, they put right back into the community.”

Dollars raised also benefit the Door County Secret Santa Program, which anonymously pays heating bills for families in need. There’s a Lions Club slogan: “Where there is a need, there is a Lion!”

Whether it’s Belgian Days in Brussels, Fall Fest in Sister Bay or the Door County Fair, you can’t miss the yellow-and-blue Lions Club brand. 

“You know you are at a Lions Club tent,” Howson said. “I don’t know if someone who buys a brat or a beer is aware to what extent the money they just spent is supporting our community.”

Kids Win

The Lions Club organizes boat-building for children at Marina Fest in Sister Bay. Photo by Rachel Lukas.

Many students in Door County benefit when they earn Lions Club scholarships, but on Washington Island, where life can be a little different, the Lions Club helped students in a way that was a little different.

Jeff Heal, club secretary, has been a Lion for about 15 years. The Washington Island club raises much of its money during the summer by renting and installing large tents for outdoor events.

In addition to scholarships, when the Washington Island High School boys’ and girls’ basketball teams were invited to a tournament on Michigan’s Beaver Island, the Lions stepped up by offering to match any donations to help raise the needed funds for travel and lodging.

“We had the money in about two weeks,” Heal said. “The kids got to fly over and meet similar kids from other islands. There’s a camaraderie between islanders.”

Granddaddy of Them All

Chartered in 1929 with sponsorship from the Manitowoc Lions Club, Sturgeon Bay boasts the oldest Lions Club in Door County. It seems only fitting that – like the Rose Bowl – the granddaddy of them all has a fundraiser involving roses.

According to club president Stewart Fett, the spring rose sale generates the most dollars, but there are many others: a partnership with the Door County Triathlon, serving food at the annual Therma-Tron-X employee celebration, dinner with Santa – and the list goes on.

Sturgeon Bay Lions donated money for new playground equipment at Otumba Park, provided financial support to Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Boys & Girls Club in Door County – again, an impressive list. Many community organizations benefit, and the club’s positive impact touches those of all ages.

“Our members participate in Adopt-a-Highway twice a year,” Fett said, “and we collect eyeglasses and hearing aids to be distributed at Wisconsin Lions Camp and in underserved countries.”

The Sister Bay Lions are a staple at Fall Fest. File photo by Rachel Lukas.

The Wisconsin Lions Camp in Rosholt, Wisconsin, is dedicated to providing quality camp experiences for Wisconsin youth and adults with disabilities.

“It’s free of charge to the campers,” Fett said. “The weeklong camping experience is for people who are blind or visually impaired, deaf or hard of hearing, diabetic, autistic or with other disabilities.”

The camp experience is possible because of Lions Clubs throughout the state. 

New Members, Please

The six Door County Lions Clubs have much in common. At the top of the list are dedicated members who care about their communities and their fellow residents. 

But the clubs also share a challenge: They need new members. The Sister Bay Lions Club, for example, has 55 members, down from 75 a few years ago.

“COVID hurt us,” Shanahan said. “For that couple of years, people got used to not attending meetings.” She said the club is doing “everything possible” to recruit new Lions. 

At the Forestville-Maplewood club, Mary Mueller said one key to bringing in new members is getting people involved with a particular project that they like.

Community leaders such as Howson know the value of the Lions Club and other local community-service organizations.

“Keeping their membership stable and adding new members is critical,” she said. “We all need strength in organizations like the Lions Club.”

As you walk around Door County and rub elbows with a few Lions, you’ll undoubtedly see the results of their efforts. Maybe you’ll play on new playground equipment in a county park, ride or hike an improved section of the Ahnapee Trail, or relax on a handmade picnic table at the Forestville Library.

Maybe you’ll see people expand their life with the help of a guide dog, children with new glasses or recent high school graduates furthering their education thanks to a Lions Club scholarship. The great generosity of Lions Club members is all around us.

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