As I return from LaCrosse, Wisconsin, site of the 2015 MD27-D2 District Convention, my thoughts focus on the elements that made the convention ‘super,’ and what made last week and the one that lies ahead for Kathy and me an emotional time.
First, my time with the Lions of Wisconsin was another “top of the mountain” experience. From the moment that PID Art Marson and DG Shawn Redington intercepted me at the airport, I knew that I was in great hands. The receivers stayed on the field as they took my luggage and passed it forward for our first down at the Candlewood Suites hotel.
The next morning, PID Art, DG Shawn, and his partner in service, Lion Amy Erickson were ready to go at 8 am as we left LaCrosse and drove to Madison to visit two statewide projects that are close to the hearts of Wisconsin Lions: the Restoring Hope Transplant House and the Lions Eye Bank of Wisconsin.
The “Hope House” began as a club project, but later expanded to become a statewide Lions initiative providing inexpensive lodging in a clean and supportive environment—a virtual “home away from home”—for transplant patients and their families waiting to receive or recovering from transplant surgery. The Wisconsin Lions have been involved in tissue transplants since 1953, but Hope House first opened its doors in January, 2013. The current initiative under the leadership of executive director, Lion Cindy Herbst, and PID Peter Cerniglia (2001-2003), chairperson of the capital fund campaign is to expand the facility from 5 to 16 rooms. The sleeping rooms reminded me of what I would expect to find when staying at the home of a family member or friend. The public spaces were comfortable and homey, understandably designed to give family members the space needed for personal and family conversations associated with the various stages of recovery or decline with which they were experiencing. The Lions of Wisconsin are providing a wonderful service through this project: Touching the lives of transplant patients and their families and providing hope and support. As Lion Cindy explained: “All of our guests come as complete strangers and so many leave as dear friends. It’s a credit to the environment created by those who stay with us and the compassion of the transplant community.”
From there, we went to the Lions Eye Bank of Wisconsin where the executive director, Lion Dick Hauser and community relations specialist, Lion Rick Daluge explained the important role that Lions have played in creating a state of the art facility for receiving and processing eye donations. The facility is currently being remodeled and when the improvements are made, efficiency will be enhanced. I was surprised at the technology being used to improve communication within the eye bank, and the commitment of the employees was very evident. As we left the building, I read the following message from an anonymous source that really touched me:
When we returned, to LaCrosse, the preliminary activities at the convention were getting
underway at the Lunda Center on the Technical College campus near the hotel. We took a time out for supper with members of the District’s leadership team, PID Dr. Edward Cordes (1996-1998) who represented Lions Kids Sight USA for LCI and spoke at the convention.
Lion Lee Vrieze, president of the Wisconsin Lions Foundation and his wife also joined us for dinner.
When we arrived at the Lunda Center, a bluegrass band was performing, a euchre card tournament was underway (I wasn’t in the tournament, but I played a few hands for fun), pins were being traded, displays about Lions charities and activities were set up, and I had an opportunity to meet and talk with many of the Lions who came to the convention.
The convention planners planned several team huddles for me with different groups so that I could share the playbook of current LCI initiatives and listen to their questions and concerns. The Council Chair and seven of the 10 District Governors from Wisconsin were in attendance at the first down, as was International Director Karla Harris. Because of our schedules, IDs are not often able to be at the same place at the same time. But schedules allowed for ID Karla and her husband, Clarence, to attend; and we really enjoyed having some time to talk and build our friendship as Directors.
In addition to the Council of Governors, I met with club presidents and the District 27-D2 cabinet. The Lions of District 27-D2 are very committed and active. Their district has a net, +8 members at this time, due in part to the chartering of a new club in October. The District leaders for 2015-2016 were elected: DGE Gary Daines, 1VDGE Jim Olson, and 2VDG Patrick Hart will do a great job of “strengthening the pride” as they plan for the year ahead.
From my perspective, the district is striving to improve its use of social media and the session I attended on ways to use Facebook and Twitter to promote Lions’ fundraisers and service projects was very impressive, due in part to the effective presentation made by Lion Dawn Redington, a young Lion serving as the technology chair for the district.
One of the highlights of the convention for me was inducting two new members—Kyle Seibert (UW-LaCrosse Lions Club) and Rhonda Staats (LaCrosse Lions Club)—as part of my presentation at the luncheon. Their inductions represent #14 and #15 for me as part of my official convention visits.
Another highlight came at the conclusion of the convention when I went over to thank the musicians for their entertainment and I “just asked one” of them if she had ever been asked to be a Lion. She told me she had been thinking about it because her father had been a Lion. I was shaking her hand when she told me that, so I held on to her hand as we walked across the room to PID Art Marson. As I made a lateral pass and put her hand into his, he made a spectacular catch and pulled out a membership application from his pocket. It wasn’t long before she was agreeing to join and was making plans to be at the next LaCrosse Lions Club meeting on February 11th. “You never know ‘til you’ve tried!”
But now, let me share with you the events of this past week and their effects on Kathy and me. The untimely death of one of our close friends, and a teaching colleague at Shanley High School—Randall Rustad—from a heart attack confronted us with feelings of loss that are nearly overwhelming. Randall experienced the massive heart attack on January 24 when we were in Rapid City, SD. After conferring with the doctors, the decision was made to take him off life support on Thursday the 29th and he died on Saturday morning January 31, 2015, while I was in LaCrosse.
The outpouring of support for the Rustad family reminds us of the strength of community in times of loss. The parallel support for Kathy as one who shared the disciplinary love for the social studies and taught side by side as departmental colleagues with Randall for nearly 30 years has been equally touching and much appreciated. As the Lions of District 27-D2 in Wisconsin learned about our loss, they showed their genuine concern for Kathy and me. I really appreciated their expressions of support. If you’d like to know more about Randall, and how students and friends regarded him, go to Facebook and search for Randall Rustad—An American Hero.
The funeral precedes our departure for the next convention in Corvallis, Oregon. We are thankful that we can be present to honor our friend and support his family before we leave. In my remarks to the Lions we meet when we visit different districts and parts of the country, I talk about how we show love to others. One of the ways is by our sense of touch. Thank you to all of the Lions and friends who have reached out to touch us with your kind words and expressions of love.
–ID Lion Robert Littlefield