This past weekend was a memorable one for me. I was welcomed warmly by the members of the North Star Lions Club in Bismarck, affirmed by the North Dakota Past District Governors Association, and honored to be the speaker at the 75th Anniversary celebration of the Mandan Lions Club. At every stop, the Lions who greeted me were supportive of my candidacy and pledged to attend or help to get other Lions to attend the MD5 Convention just five short weeks away.
The weekend began with a stop at the North Star Lions Club. The North Star Lions were great hosts and I enjoyed one of my favorite meals — “chicken and ribs.” Past District Governor Kevin Vannett and District Governor Elect Arlan Fetch joined me as guests. We had a lot of fun and Past Council Chair Brach Johnson and others offered words of support after I spoke to those gathered at the meeting.
The next day, several North Star Lions who had served as District Governors joined their fellow PDGs at the North Dakota Past District Governors Association meeting held in Bismarck. It was great to receive the encouragement of the PDGs; and on Saturday, they elected me as their next President. I look forward to serving my fellow PDGs. In addition, I was grateful to receive a pledge of financial support for my campaign. When I left the meeting, Lions were making plans for travel to Watertown.
On Saturday night, Kathy and I were guests at the Mandan Lions Club as it celebrated the 75th Anniversary of its chartering. Past International Director Bruce Schwartz introduced me and Lions from eight Lions Clubs were on hand for the celebration. In my speech, I spoke of my work as a college professor and how I have come to observe celebrations on a regular basis, as graduations occur every semester for those students who complete their courses and pass their tests. In this context, I spoke about how the Mandan Lions Club had passed a significant test of its own–the test of time.
In 1939, the world was on the brink of World War II, the people of the United States were recovering from the Great Depression, and the Mandan community was encouraging the development of service organizations to meet the needs of its people. In response, the Bismarck Lions Club sponsored the Mandan Lions Club on May 22, 1939.
Immediately, the Mandan Lions began a number of projects that have been the mainstay of their efforts over the years. They created a park and arboretum, sold Christmas trees and holiday decorations, sponsored a major high school wrestling tournament, to name a few. Remarkably, as new needs arose, the Mandan Lions responded with resolve to add to their efforts to help those needing assistance.
On all accounts, the Mandan Lions earned high marks for dedicated service, their loyalty toLions charities and other community needs, their support for youth programs, and their resiliency.
When I closed my speech, I read a letter that had been sent to the Mandan Lions Club . . . 40 years late. It came from a man who had been given the opportunity to attend Boys State due to the generosity of the Mandan Lions Club. However, he had not written his thank you note when his parents had asked him to, so he wanted to set things right by letting the club know how much their support had meant to him. It turns out that he ended up attending NDSU, learned about optometry scholarships, attended Pacific University College of Optometry in Oregon, and became a Doctor of Optometry, currently practicing in Wisconsin. Lions rarely know the impact they have on those they help. But the writer of the letter concluded: “You can’t really say where you get the courage to stretch yourself, to let go of the known and reach for your dream, but looking back there is no doubt that your gift to me helped me grow up.” Over and over, for 75 years, the Mandan Lions had helped young people “grow up” and make a difference in the world. This resonates with me. That’s what being a Lion has done for me.
Upon finishing my speech, the Mandan Lions had some fun. In a surprise move, following a challenge from Past International Director Bruce Schwartz, a member of the club found a scissors and clipped off a piece of his tie. Then, club president Lion Al Kuntz took the honor of cutting off my tie. Kathy said she never liked the tie I was wearing anyway! We all had a good laugh.
Once back home, my efforts turned to a local service project that I hold near and dear. Today, the Fargo Lions Club held its 12th Annual Speech Contest; and as coordinator of the event, I invited Lion Gayle Hyde from the Dakota NFL Lions Club to help administer the event.
The club has held the contest in honor of Laura Christensen Espejo, who worked with Fargo Cass County Public Health as a nurse with Healthcare for the Homeless. She was very committed to social justice issues, serving the “underserved population,” as she called them, with all she had. Laura died of cancer July 25, 2000, at the age of 39.
In 2001, a group of her daughter’s friends at Shanley High School initiated the Laura Christensen Espejo Speech Tournament. Over a three year period, Shanley students raised over $12,000.00, with profits going to local charities, including the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center and the Social Justice Fund administered by the FM Area Foundation.
In 2003, the Fargo Lions Club joined forces with friends of Laura in an effort to find a meaningful way to remember her life and work. The Fargo Lions Club Board approved the Student Speakers Contest which has been held annually. Since the inception of the contest, the Fargo Lions have awarded over $4,000.00 in scholarships to Fargo area students.
This year’s winners spoke about the challenges ahead for today’s young people; what makes North Dakota a great place for creating new opportunities for youth to serve their community, state, and country; and the value of community service. Michael J. Lepine of Shanley High School (2nd from left) won the contest and received a $100 scholarship. Ben Olson of Davies High School (2nd from right), and Marria Iwuchukwu of South High School (far left) received $75 and $50 scholarships respectively.
The students were so appreciative of the opportunity to participate and the Fargo Lions were impressed with the poise and ideas expressed by the three finalists. We will never know the full extent of the legacy we leave behind us as Lions; but every time students speak up and share their ideas about how to make the world a better place, we Lions know that our world will be in good hands. I am so thankful that the Fargo Lions value this project that empowers young people in our community.
–Lion Robert Littlefield