The South Bend Lions Club is the third oldest in Indiana (after Indianapolis and Lafayette). It was granted a charter by the International Association of Lions Clubs on March 21, 1921. The Charter contains the names of 50 business and professional leaders of the South Bend area. The Club’s last charter member, Forest G. Hay, a 62 year member died March 12, 1980 at age 88. During its history, the South Bend Club has sponsored other clubs in Mishawaka, Clay Township, Lakeville, Walkerton, North Liberty, Rochester, LaPaz, Argos, LaPorte, and Michigan City. The Club has hosted state conventions in 1922, 1931, 1944, 1959, 1980, and served as co-host in 1973. During its time, the Club has been honored with the election of six of its members as district governors. Since being established, the Club has had 84 presidents and each of these administrations has left a legacy of accomplishment and service much too lengthy to chronicle here. However, following are some of the major community innovations and achievements that are recorded in our historical files:
To support our community and charitable efforts, the Club conducts fund raising projects throughout the year. As noted by the following listing, these fund raisers have been varied and numerous over the years (it should be noted that all proceeds from these fund raisers are devoted to our community and charitable undertakings):
- Conceived and formed the South Bend Civic Music Association (1926) and the city’s Junior Baseball Association (1944).
- In its early days, expended thousands of dollars constructing buildings at the former Boy Scout camp near Wakelee, Michigan and at Camp Darden on the Healthwin Hospital grounds. The Club also provided support to YWCA building projects.
- In the early thirties, the Club spearheaded the movement to build an international shrine dedicated to the French explorer LaSalle and raised $150,000 for its construction. Also, during the Great Depression, the Club joined with other civic organizations in sponsoring projects that raised monies for the City Unemployment Fund.
- The Club in conjunction with other area Lions Clubs initiated and supported the county-wide TTY hearing service prior to its becoming an established service now supported from a small fee collected as part of monthly telephone charges.
- Through special fund raising efforts, the Club donated specialized equipment needed by the area’s three school corporations for use by visually impaired students.
- The Club is greatly proud of raising and spending over $75,000 during the past several years to provide vision exams and eyeglasses to needy children and adults. The Club has also provided eye related medical equipment to the area’s health care facilities as well as financial support for local blind residents to obtain a leader dog and attend the Lions Club Leader Dog School. Subsidizing the cost of eye exams and glasses to needy residents of our community continues to be the club’s major service activity.
- Starting in 1984, the Club has awarded an annual scholarship (currently for $1000) to a graduate of one of the South Bend high schools. The Club is now negotiating with the St. Joseph County Scholarship Foundation to establish a perpetual endowed scholarship. This award will honor a long time member of the Club, William Ulbricht, who left a bequest to the Club with his desire that it be used to create a long-term community legacy for the South Bend Lions Club. The Club through its fund raising projects will donate additional funds sufficient to establish the endowment to support this long-term scholarship commitment.
- Other major projects supported by the South Bend Lions Club have included support of the Indiana Lions Cancer Control Program, QUEST Skills for Adolescents, Boy Scouts, Special Olympics, the Indiana Lions and St. Joseph County Eye Banks, State Lions speech and hearing services/projects, and statewide diabetes education programs.
- The Club has made numerous contributions to several local agencies serving the needy of our community in a variety of ways. Included have been the Red Cross, the Homeless Center, Hope Rescue Mission, Camp Milhouse, local food pantries, and several others. The Club for several years conducted a Christmas Party for the blind residents of the County. Club members over the years have volunteered as Salvation Army Bell Rings. The Club has donated funds to the local Reins of Life organization, which conducts a therapeutic equestrian program for people with disabilities.
- Since 1944, the Club has honored eleven of its members by naming them Melvin Jones Fellows and donating $1000 for each named Fellow to the Lions Clubs International Foundation to support special projects worldwide.
- Culturally the Club has sponsored fund raising events such as operas, musical concerts, and Passion Plays. Also, some not-so-culturally vaudeville shows, fun nights, and raffles. The Club has sponsored athletic fundraisers including professional football and basketball games featuring among others the Chicago Bears and the Harlem Globetrotters. For several seasons, the Club participated with the South Bend White Sox in sponsoring a baseball benefit game to raise funds for needy vision projects throughout the city and school districts.
- For approximately forty years the Club raised charity funds by sponsoring narrated travel films in O’Laughlin Auditorium on the Saint Mary’s College campus. Club members also raised monies by selling coloring books during the Saint Mary’s Christmas Bazaar. For the past several years and currently, Club members raised funds by providing ushering services for Saint Mary’s graduation weekend.
- The Club from time to times does special Candy Day Sales to raise funds needed for special one-time projects. The Club now offers annually a one-day Port-A-Pit sale to support our general charitable efforts. The South Bend Club also participates with the Mishawaka and Clay Township Clubs in an annual holiday fruit sale.
- Our current major fundraiser is the annual Continental Divide Bicycle Ride. The event (in its 9th year in 2007) is held in September and currently is based at Bendix Woods County Park. The ride features 10, 20, 40, and 60 mile routes through scenic roads of St. Joseph and LaPorte Counties. Riders are attracted from a wide area of northern Indiana. Southwestern Michigan and eastern Illinois including Chicago. As part of the event, a pancake breakfast is provided and prizes donated by local businesses are awarded.
The primary goal of the South Bend Lions Club is to aid and comfort the blind and near blind. However, from the above listings it is quite apparent that our charitable and contributory efforts extend well beyond this primary mission. While all too brief, this glimpse of the past should encourage today’s Lions to look with pride and confidence to the achievements of the future.
W E S E R V E !!!