Making a Difference: Double vision? Two Lions Clubs in Craig champion eye health
February 24, 2017
Craig — Two of the community's oldest service clubs have a single focus — ensuring that kids see clearly.
Lions Club International was started by Chicago businessman Melvin Jones in 1917 making the parent organization 100 years old this year.
Club lore has it that Helen Keller set the mission in 1925 when she asked the service clubs to be "knights for the blind," said Craig Lions Club Treasurer Al Shepherd, a 40-year member of the club.
Craig Lions Club was chartered on December 14, 1944 by early captains of industry including George Kimble and Lloyd Dupree, who were both newspaper men; Judge Ralph White; attorney George Pew; dairy owner Art Woodbury and banker F.M. Pleasant.
At first the club served as a Chamber of Commerce.
"Community leaders invited businessmen from Denver to come in on the train and visit and help the community," Shepherd said.
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Notables, such as school Principal Rodger Little and State Farm Insurance Agent George Lewis chartered the second club, the Cedar Mountain Lions Club, on May 15, 1960.
They wanted to offer an evening club for men who were unable to meet during the day.
"Our big thing is our fundraisers to take care of little kids and families… We pay for glasses or eye surgeries," said Cedar Mountain Lions Club President Tony Maneotis.
The clubs have also:
• Supported glaucoma testing
• Provided financial assistance to the elderly for cataract removal
• Organized the 9 Health Fair the first 33 years of the program in Craig
• Supported international efforts to fight eye disease in countries such as Africa
The clubs continue to:
• Provide eyeglasses for those with low or fixed incomes
• Collect used eyeglasses, through local optometrists' offices for redistribution overseas
• Support the Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Bank in Denver
• Contribute financial assistance to eye surgeries including eye transplants
• Provide twice-annual eye screenings for over 600 area children from birth through first grade
"About 10 percent of children come up needing eye care. If we catch any problems with these kids before age 6, things can be done for them," Shepherd said.
Both clubs raise funds with food and fun to support the cause. All money raised locally goes back into the community, Shepherd said.
"We cook hamburgers, hold pancake breakfasts and all the money made stays in the community," Maneotis said when describing the Cedar Mountain Club's fundraising activities.
The Craig club sells breakfast during the Colorado Mine Rescue Contest. And every other year they bring the Culpepper & Merriweather Circus to town.
The Craig Club also used to sell fresh Christmas trees, but as club members aged they became unable to physically handle the trees. So tree sales were transferred to the Rotary Club of Craig.
Both clubs have roughly a dozen members that are not as young as they used to be.
"I'm in my eighties and I need help. We need younger people to take care of this job," Shepherd said.
Attracting younger members has been a challenge.
"We need to involve the younger people, as it's not an old people organization," said Craig Lions Club President Kristi Shepherd.
At first club membership was restricted to men. Lions International welcomed women in 1987, according to lionsclubs.org.
The idea of sitting next to women in a meeting was unsettling for some Craig Lions members, but after the first lady (Alice Rigney who worked at the hospital) joined the club attitudes changed, Al Shepherd said because "they make things work and get things done."
Cedar Mountain, the newer club, is old-fashioned. Its charter doesn't allow women to join.
"When I joined it was strictly men. Now, during events, when we need help, our wives have stepped in," Maneotis said.
Craig Kiwanis Club, is also a gentleman's only club. The local Kiwanis chapter was started as a result of Lions Club rules.
"Right at the end of World War II a lot of young men coming back whose fathers were in the Lions Club. Sons could not join the Lions Club and so they started the Kiwanis Club," Al Shepherd said.
Many service clubs find recruiting new, young members difficult.
"Younger people are not joining organizations. All the organizations are dwindling. When someone dies, no one replaces them," said Craig Lions Club member Doug Wellman.
The two clubs have contemplated merging.
"It's something we are looking at for the future," Maneotis said.
If the Lions Clubs were to disappear the community would lose valuable free services.
"Without Lions Club, children would no have early testing," Shepherd said.
Lions make a difference.
"What we do is important. The service is available for nothing," said Craig Lions Club Secretary Jane Hume.
Both clubs welcome new members.
Craig Lions Club meets at 6 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month at the Colorado Northwestern Community College Community Education Center (Bell Tower Building) at 50 College Drive in Craig.
Cedar Mountain Lions Club meets at 6:30 p.m. on the first Tuesday of the month. To learn more call club President Tony Maneotis at 970-826-1472.