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Lions celebrate 75 years in Akron
By: JACQUELINE WATSON Review Correspondent, Staff Writer
It takes about 10 seconds for a stranger coming into an Akron Lions Club gathering to feel welcome and comfortable.
The camaraderie shared between the members is immediately contagious. Although the club members clearly enjoy just being together, the club’s main focus is serving.
The Akron Lions Club has spent three quarters of a century serving. These 75 years have been full ones for the Akron Lions Club with both changes and constants.
One constant has been service to the community. Some of the ways and organizations through which this service is offered have varied over the years, but never stopped. In fact, the number of organizations supported by the Akron Lions Club has increased over the years.
"We do a lot for the community…We’ve given over a million dollars in 75 years back to the community…It’s got to be well over that," pointed out 14-year member Tim Weiser.
Individuals and organizations they have helped, too numerous to be listed here, include anything from fire departments to Haiti disaster relief to the hearing or sight impaired to collecting food for Ephrata Area Social Services.
One group the Akron Lions Club has been partnered with for many years is Boy Scout Troop 57. The Lions have been sponsoring the troop for over 50 years. The troop responds to the Akron Lions Club’s generosity by helping with such things as highway cleanup and food preparation for club fundraisers. Weiser noted how his youth baseball team had always been sponsored by a Lions club, and when he was older, this helped interest him in serving with the Lions.
David Austin, Lions Club member for 20 years and current secretary, shared some of the history and different activities of the Akron Lions Club over the years. Early activities of the club included serving men in the military and returning veterans from World War II.
Member Warren Burkhart reminisced over how he first became involved in the 1940s with the Lions Club. As a returned World War II veteran, he heard of a free dinner for veterans offered by a Lions Club and decided to attend.
"After I came back from service, World War II… I joined in East Cocalico. They invited the veterans, returned veterans, to come in, and they offered free dinner. ‘Join the club. You don’t have to pay any initiation dues. You get the first year dues paid.’ I said, ‘That’s for me,’" Burkhart jokingly explains. He has been involved with the Lions Club organization ever since.
One change that the community can be thankful for is the club’s now locally famous toasted cheeseburgers sold at the Ephrata Fair. For many, buying an Akron Lions Club toasted cheeseburger is a highlight of the fair. This reputedly delicious meal has only been served to the public by the Akron Lions Club since 1982.
Originally the Akron Lions Club sold clam patties at the Ephrata Fair. These patties were not a success, and the club soon switched to a more traditional toasted cheese sandwich. Those volunteering at the stand would put a burger inside of the cheese sandwich as their own meal. Patrons passing by noticed the volunteers’ creation and requested the same. This special meal quickly became a standard at the Ephrata Fair Akron Lions Club stand which sells an average of 17,000 toasted cheeseburgers yearly. This highlights the fact that change can be a good thing, especially for those already looking forward to a toasted cheeseburger at the fair.
When asked the reason why they are members of the Akron Lions Club, the group is unanimous on the fact that it enables them to serve the community.
"We’re here to serve people. I believe in that, and like I said, it’s an extension of my church. That’s why I stay," said 43-year member Kay McEllhenney.
"To serve people in the community locally here. I feel it’s an extension of our church too," agreed seven-year member Marvin Nolt.
"Just to serve the community. To be a volunteer, to serve the community," simply stated 13-year member Bob Hoffman.
It was also pointed out by the members that the social aspect is another reason for being in the club.
"Plus there’s a bunch of great guys that I met, a lot of new friends this way," noted McEllhenney.
The laughter and workload is shared between members such as Burkhart, who has been a part of Lions Clubs for 65 years, and relatively newer members such as seven-year member, current club president Dennis Stauffer.
A special recognition walkway has been completed by McEllhenney in Akron’s Roland Memorial Park just in time for the 75th anniversary. The walkway provides a pathway leading up to the gazebo and is punctuated with commemorative bricks recognizing Akron Lions Club members who have achievements in one or more specific categories. The achievements are 15 years of membership, Lion of the year, the Melvin Jones Award or serving as a president of the club.
The walkway was officially dedicated at Akron Day in the Park on June 9. It is the latest step in numerous additions at the park that have been accomplished by the efforts of the Akron Lions Club. These projects have included the building of the majority of the structures at the park over the years.
As to other ways the club is acknowledging their 75th anniversary, Stauffer says they are going to continue doing what they have been doing in past years. This includes serving the community and increasing the club’s membership and output.
"Basically we’re not going to really celebrate. We’re just going to try to grow the club. That’s the goal every year, whether it’s 74, 75 or 100 years. We have to grow it," said Stauffer.
The club’s positive impact in the community can only continue as long as people are willing to join in the efforts. The Akron Lions Club is always willing to welcome newcomers to both continue and extend the service of the club. Anyone interested in becoming a part of this internationally respected organization should contact Stauffer at 314-6130. More AKRON LIONS, page A6