Knights of the Blind
Established in 1930, the Westfield Lions Club continues to serve others
Jeff Larrison went to school with the late Lion Bob Pickett’s daughter. At Pickett’s funeral, Larrison served as a pallbearer with members of the club.
“I really like Bob and thought it’d be a good thing to do,” he said about joining in 2006. “It wasn’t until a few years later I started recognizing the good we do in the community. It’s like my life turned into high definition.”
Joe Edwards became a Westfield Lions Club member in 1973 because a friend asked him to join.
Bob Benson joined in 1969 because the Lions Club in his hometown sponsored the Little League baseball team he coached.
“I thought, ‘There’s a club that does something for people, that pays it forward,’” he said. “It was also a chance for me to meet people after I moved here from St. Louis.”
All three men are active Lions and have served as president of the oldest service club in Hamilton County. Westfield Lions Club was established in 1930 and 83 years later, the 36-member club continues to focus on improving the community with its motto, “We Serve.” During the past five years, the Westfield Lions Club has donated $135,344.37 to its charities.
Larrison said the main fundraiser was the annual fish fry, which is held the first week of September. It is the longest running fry in the county – dating back 82 years. Fundraising changed when the club began a Texas Hold’em tournament. Lions Poker for Sight is held twice a year with the next tournament on April 19 and 20 at the Hamilton County 4-H Fairgrounds. The champion wins $10,000 and a custom leather champion jacket.
“It’s been very successful. Basically, we just give away that money (to charities),” Benson said, adding the total payout to players is more than $25,000.
Benson said other club fundraisers during his time have included turkey shoots, chicken barbecue, pancake breakfasts, ham and bean suppers, flower delivery, entertainment book sales and even Adirondack chairs.
The Westfield Lions Club was chartered in October 1930 with 21 charter members. They were Ralph Ackerson, Norman Beeson, the Rev. Fred Champion, W.P. Dugan, Charles Irvin, Roger Irvin, Robert Funderburgh, Hubert Horton, Marl Horton, Dr. E. B. Lemon, J.C. McMullan, Richard McMullan (present Lion Jerry McMullan’s father), Chase Mendenhall, Emmett Mendenhall, C.H. Million, Oliver New, Glen Stultz, Walter Sturdevant, Harry Talbert, Lant Summer and Morris Tomlinson.
For a time, the club’s future seemed uncertain. Some consideration was given to becoming a non-affiliated club, but in 1933 a special meeting was called at which time it was decided to continue as a part of the International Association of Lions Clubs. Some new members were added, and in 1934, the club sponsored the 100th anniversary celebration for the town of Westfield. The centennial was a great success, and from that time on the club has been active in the community, the district and the state level.
In 1925, Helen Keller challenged Lions to become “knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness.”
“We’ve kinda taken it on as a group – projects to help people counter blindness or help better with vision problems,” Benson said.
Westfield Lions are particularly proud of their eyesight program, which pays for an eye exam and a set of glasses for students in need identified by Westfield Washington Schools.
“In the past five years, 150 students that couldn’t afford glasses got glasses,” Edwards said.
Westfield Lions donates to numerous state funded eyesight organizations including recycling eyewear, eye and tissue banks, cornea transplants, the Indiana School for the Blind and leader dog training in Rochester Hills, Mich.
“It cost $40,000 to get a puppy through training and 62 percent wash out,” Dan Wilcox, district governor and past Westfield club president said. “It can get pretty expensive. Our dogs are trained for deaf and blind people – it’s the only facility in the country.”
The club also provides to community groups such as Westfield Washington Schools’ teachers through education foundation grant funding and students through scholarships, banquets and athletic and academic awards. Wilcox said the club donated $10,000 to help establish the Fallen Heroes Fund, which is designated to help cover costs for Westfield fire and police officer families in the event of a tragic accident.
For 27 years the club met in the Community Room of the Westfield Public Library, which is now the home of Cave Printing. In the beginning, meetings were held weekly on Thursday evenings, with Ladies (spouses) Night each month. Later, meetings were changed to the first and third Thursday evenings each month, the first being Ladies Night and the second being for club business.
In 1955, plans were drawn for a clubhouse to be built on land purchased from the town. With members doing about 80 percent of the construction work, the building was completed in 1958. In 1970, the building was enlarged to almost double the original size. A complete renovation of the kitchen area took place in 1973 and the roof and siding were replaced in 1995.
“This building is used by Lions and the community 265 days a year with Scouts, 4-H clubs and rentals for birthday parties, showers and auctions,” Benson said. “I can’t tell you how many churches were started here. From the community standpoint, this was the community center.”
“The Westfield High School senior prom was here in 1959,” Edwards said.
The Lions now face a problem as its clubhouse at 120 Jersey St. is in the heart of Grand Junction.
“We have to find a new home or meet at a restaurant,” Benson said. ”We have a little time to figure it out.”
The Westfield Lions Club was honored at the recent 2013 Indiana State Lions Clubs Mid-Winter Conference as the club with the highest total amount of donations during the past five years to the state club. International President Wayne Madden presented framed certificates of appreciation to the top three donor Lions Clubs. Westfield has donated $41,535 during that time, followed by Lakeville Lions Club ($21,490) and Brownsburg Lions Club ($17,680).
The donations Westfield Lions Club has made to LCIF were for disaster relief for the tsunami in Asia, two hurricanes and numerous tornadoes.
“We have also donated even more money to local charities in and around Westfield, along with scholarships to Westfield High School seniors. We provide free eye exams and glasses to any Westfield school student that can’t afford them,” said Jeff Larrison, Westfield Lions Club secretary and previous president.