The 2015 District A-2 Lions Convention in St. Catharines (no apostrophe) was billed as the friendship convention because it brought together Lions Clubs, Lioness Clubs, and Leo Clubs. From the very start, this theme rang true because the message stressed by Lions District Governor Bill MacKenzie and the District Lioness President Susan Beamer (also a Lion) was one of bringing together the family of Lionism to promote our great association.
On this trip to Ontario, we met a new group of people who treated us like we were among their best friends. When we landed in Buffalo, Lion Alan and Lioness Susan Beamer met us. They served as our hosts for the weekend and they did a wonderful job making our visit fun and informative. Upon our arrival at sunset, Alan drove us through downtown Buffalo and across the Peace Bridge into Canada. Unlike lake drives in the United States, the highway we used followed right alongside the river leading to Niagara Falls. We arrived to a spectacular view of the falls from the Canadian side made possible by the unusual ice formations due to unusually cold weather. With the colored lights, steam, and very cold air, we enjoyed a unique perspective.
When we got to the hotel in St. Catharines (no apostrophe), District Governor Bill and Debbie MacKenzie were there to welcome us. We first met them in Toronto at the convention when I spoke to the Canadian caucus. Then, they came to my training session at the USA/Canada Forum in Puerto Rico. Their sincerity about wanting us to be their convention guests was heartwarming. Throughout the convention, they made sure had a great time.
On Friday, we had an opportunity to tour the area, taking in Garden City Growers, Inc., the largest greenhouse in the vicinity.
We walked down the main street of Niagara on the Lake and visited a beautiful hotel
that housed some remarkable portraits.
We went to the place where an amazing young girl, Annaleise Carr, left shore to swim a grueling marathon across Lake Ontario to raise money for her new friends at Camp Trillium. As told by her biographer, Deborah Ellis, “what kept her going through the cold water, the exhaustion, and the terrifying night swim was the thought of those kids and their families that she was helping.” In August of 2012, she was the youngest person to cross Lake Ontario, breaking the record set more than 50 years earlier.
When we returned to the hotel, we enjoyed the opening festivities with a march of the club banners and skits by clubs and candidates running for district offices.
There were many funny moments, but the contrast between the two candidates running for 2nd Vice District Governor became favorites for many.
A very special part of the evening was the induction of the new Leo Club members from St David & District Lions Club community. I had the honor to induct 18 young Leos and was given an opportunity to share my thoughts about the wonderful opportunities that lie ahead for those young people.
Saturday was a full day of meetings and programs. I had the opportunity to visit with nearly 100 Lions and answer their questions about the Centennial initiatives and what the International Board of Directors was proposing.
Kathy attended the Lioness meeting and learned about how the Lioness clubs were supporting the activities of their local Lions Clubs, as well as creating their own activities related to the theme “Open All Doors.” This theme referred to support for Women’s shelters in communities across the district. The Lioness Clubs made regular donations of money and items women would need upon their departure from the shelter.
The Lionesses had a little fun with me, as tradition called for the awarding of a very special corsage made from special materials to a male International Director. We had a good laugh and I followed directions and wore it through lunch.
Oh my! What a great time we had at the 50’s party at the luncheon. As you can see, Kathy and I found it easy to don appropriate clothing to fit right into the event. The decorations were so appropriate, the music set the tone, and we even enjoyed a quick dance before the program began.
I was asked to speak about the importance of recognition—and how creative recognition strategies can be an essential tool when trying to retain members who feel less than fully appreciated by their fellow club members. A reprise of my USA/Canada Forum training topic, everyone seemed to enjoy the special awards I gave to surprised recipients who couldn’t figure out how I knew so much about them . . . . Thanks, DG Bill!
Another special moment came when just a few moments before the luncheon I was able to invite a new member to join the Febulous Fenwick Lions Club. He had been asked many times before and successfully evaded having to give an answer. I just didn’t let it go, and he eventually said, “yes, I’ll join.” In his heart he always knew he was a Lion, and that was the key I used to help him arrive at the realization that it was about time that he acknowledged his true self. Because so many had been trying to get him to join for years, when they learned he had finally accepted the invitation, everyone in the room was pleased. His longtime friend, PDG Alan Beamer was his sponsor. As President Joe has said, “set your expectations and exceed them.” This is one case where persistence paid off and I am pleased to have added another Lion to our organization.
Hospitality rooms were numerous and even though some said they could feel their age, everyone seemed to have a great time. In fact, one entire hallway on the first floor was room-to-room hospitality. The Jordan Lions Club played a special role in the festivities, hosting its annual wine and cheese event in the Cabernet Room. A short time later, Lion Bill “One More” Crawford took many official photographs and the platform guests entered the banquet to “Strengthen the Pride.”
I really enjoyed speaking to those present because they were so receptive and interested in what I had to say. At one point, the lights dimmed throughout the room. I wasn’t quite sure what was happening and wondered if it were a signal that I had spoken too long. Fortunately, I learned later that it was just a powering down from 8:30-9:30 pm to save energy. Kathy and I gave out our gifts from North Dakota and friendship banners. As the evening ended, we found ourselves surrounded by new friends who made us happy that we were chosen to come to District A-2.
Kathy wrote about her impression of the convention:
“One program was especially relevant to me: A high school student name Neha Gulati spent most of the summer 2014 on an Arctic Expedition with nearly 80 other students and 49 of the world’s foremost Arctic scientists all studying global warming. Neha’s presentation of northern Labrador and Inuit villages near the Arctic Circle and even further north demonstrated the irrefutable evidence of the growing dangers of global warming and its effects on the environment.
Neha was sponsored by the newly-formed Grimsby Lions Club and this event was a life-changer for her. Now a passionate advocate for protecting the earth, Neha explained the detrimental changes in this part of the world within a relatively short time period. To see her photos of Inuit settlements abandoned because the native people cannot secure the resources that they need to sustain life was a powerful, scary realization. Two of her photographs were selected for an exhibit in Ottawa. Neha’s Arctic expedition opened many doors and she will participate in another summer program in 2015.
Another aspect of this convention that affirmed my convictions about the service performed by Lions was the commitment to sustain the two summer camps that the Lions support: Camp Trillium provides a camp environment for children affected by cancer; and Camp Huronda is dedicated to diabetes advocacy, education, research, and summer camp experiences. The Lions of this district just raised $ 110,000 to build a special cabin at Camp Huronda. LCIF provided a matching grant of $75,000 to complete the project.
At the Sunday breakfast meeting, I was asked to lead the convention in prayer and to share my experiences thus far as a “Partner in Service” of an International Director. I was pleased to be able to tell my story and reflect on the opportunities that I have had this year. I am extremely fortunate to be able to meet such tremendous people who make a difference in the work through their service.”
At the breakfast, two students who would be representing District A-2 in the Effective Speaking Contest sponsored by the Multiple District presented their speeches. One was in French, the other in English. Honestly, as I sat there listening, I was impressed with their topics and their poise. I must admit that the speech coach in me began thinking about things that would help the students to be even more effective. I felt I could even help the French-speaking student by giving suggestions about nonverbal communication and gestures. My support for student speakers will never be diminished. Speaking up for service is essential if our organization is going to find its voice in our second century of service.
As we left the convention, our new friends wished us well and promised to find us in Hawaii at the International Convention. We’ll look for them, too. We returned to Fargo-Moorhead and began planning for our next trip to Austin, Texas for Easter. Then, it’s off to Prague, Czech Republic for the International Board Meeting and all the accompanying activities.
Over the past week, Kathy and I have been thinking a lot about our friends: some are experiencing the loss of a family member, some have health issues that are compromising the quality of their life or the lives of family members, some are dealing with difficult situations at work, others are celebrating the joy of a new grandchild, or the approach of a special birthday or anniversary. Friends enrich our lives in so many ways: it is often hard to put into words how we feel about them. That is why—as often as we can—we try to show our friends through words and actions how we feel about them.
We continue to thank our supporters who made this opportunity possible for us. We will do our best to represent Lions around the world to the best of our ability.
To all who serve, we wish you well.
–ID Robert Littlefield