Lions Clubs International formed in 1917 and three years later Cedar Rapids had its first club, the Cedar Rapids Noon Lions Club. The club formed with 20 members on May 6, 1920, but the original charter is dated Jan. 15, 1921, with 58 member signatures. The actual charter night banquet boasted 91 members on Feb. 17 of that year. While Sioux City and Des Moines preceded us, the Sioux City club dropped its charter for a short period and that moved us to the second oldest Lions Club in Iowa.
A signature characteristic of the club has, from its inception, been a sense of humor and mirth. An article in The Gazette dated Feb. 18, 1921, captures some of the fun experienced by the attendees of the original charter night:
“There was not a dull moment at the Lions’ festival last night held in conjunction with the presentation of the charter. The best spirit of good fellowship and friendly feeling prevailed and the stunts pulled off were in character.
“R.W. Orcutt, the sedate and dignified president of the Sioux City Lions could not understand why the waitress persisted in omitting his plate at the dinner, and even took away the plate that his neighbor handed to him, and he was dumbfounded when after a public protest by Fred Poyneer the waitress responded that she had omitted Mr. Orcutt’s portion because he had been acting too ‘fresh.’ However, it was all a joke, and taken good-naturedly by everyone.
“Like embarrassment followed the reading of a telegram supposed to have been sent by the Des Moines bank of which he is vice president to Harry Schoen, President of the Des Moines Club, asking what he did with the sum of money that was found ‘short’ in his accounts. But the climax came with the entrance of a burley policeman and the ‘arrest’ of three cubs who had been found with an empty bottle in their possession that smelled as if it once had had a familiar acquaintance with ‘hooch.’ President John Burianek, Jr. was called to bail them out. It was an old stunt in Cedar Rapids, but as usual it went over with a bang.”
John Burianek Jr., president of Peoples Savings Bank and an active Mason, served as our first club president, Iowa’s first district governor and Iowa’s first international director. He was very much devoted to community service, and his experience in leadership with the Masons was helpful to the fledgling Lions International organization.
Lions Clubs International was started by Melvin Jones, who served for many years as secretary-general of the organization. His innovation was that Lions Clubs would be formed with the primary intention of being a service organization. The Cedar Rapids Noon Lions helped people in the city in various ways, but found a niche for themselves in 1925. At the international convention, Helen Keller challenged Lions to become knights of the blind, and that has been the major effort of Lions service and charitable work ever since. In 1934, Melvin Jones attended a banquet at the Montrose Hotel hosted by the club.
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Probably the largest undertaking of the club was spearheaded by “Cap” Hedges, who had a vision of a sporting complex for the city. Kingston Stadium and Veterans baseball stadium were the result. Kingston still serves as the main meeting place for municipal high school football teams, while the original baseball park has been replaced with the new Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Through the years the club has provided eyeglasses and hearing aids to thousands of people, hosted charity golf tournaments, entertainment programs, dinners, breakfasts, and provided leadership at the international, state, district and local levels. The Cedar Rapids Noon Lions Club is deeply involved with the Lions of Iowa signature program, Iowa KidSight, doing vision screening for children from the age of 6 months to 5 years. Club members screen almost 2,500 children every year in Cedar Rapids area day cares and preschools.
In 2016 the club bought $22,000 worth of kitchen and gym equipment to supply the Northwest Community Center. The club looks forward to resuming our weekly Thursday noon meetings at the Longbranch Supper Club when the COVID-19 lockdown expires. We also are looking forward to hosting our sixth annual Variety Show, rescheduled to September 2021. The 100-year celebration is set for Oct. 2, 2020, at Elmcrest Country Club. International Vice President Brian Sheehan will be our keynote speaker, and a fun evening is planned.
Gary Glockhoff is a past president, past district governor and current club director of the Cedar Rapids Noon Lions Club.