“Five hundred twenty-nine thousand six hundred minutes;
Five hundred twenty-nine thousand moments so dear;
Five hundred twenty-nine thousand six hundred minutes;
How do you measure, measure a year?”
The lyrics to “Seasons of Love” from the Broadway musical, Rent, captured our thoughts as the Directors, Executive Officers, and guests sang during the final dinner of the third 2014-2015 board meeting of Lions Clubs International at the Lobkowitz Castle in Prague, Czech Republic. As the song lyrics explain: How do you measure a year? You “measure in love, seasons of love.”
As Kathy and I leave the magical city of 100 spires—Prague, Czech Republic—we have a better understanding of why the Czech people are so proud of their history and cultural way of life, and why it was so important for them to regain their Czech Republic after the collapse of the Soviet Union. What a wonderful city, what wonderful people, what marvelous and generous hosts, what incomparable experiences were provided for the board members and their spouses/companions. We are so appreciative of representing the Lions of the United States (and Saskatchewan, MD5!) and will treasure the memory of Prague in our hearts forever.
The business of the board was significant and our days were full. The products of our efforts were noteworthy: We selected a host city for the 2020 convention, we continued our development of Centennial initiatives, and took steps to improve the integrity of district elections around the world, to name a few. The board committees reviewed the activities and work of all of the offices at the international headquarters in Oak Brook and had an opportunity to interact with division liaisons about all of the work being done on behalf of Lions worldwide.
International President Joe Preston took a moment during the first session to officially kick off the Lions Centennial membership campaign by inducting and presenting “new Lion” Kathy Littlefield with what may be the first Centennial membership pin, and me with a Centennial sponsor pin. Following the presentation, every member of the board received a sponsor pin and was challenged to invite a new member before Honolulu and wear the Centennial sponsor pin with pride during upcoming visits to conventions around the world.
During the LCIF meeting, Immediate Past President Barry Palmer recognized board members for their ongoing contributions. It was gratifying for me to witness at first hand the generosity of our international leaders as they continue giving to the LCIF as part of their philanthropic activities. My practice has been and will continue to be donating the financial gifts Kathy and I receive for visiting conventions to LCIF. We have a responsibility to support our foundation—especially if we are asking Lions around the world to do so.
Seeing Director Yves Leveille up and active following successful heart surgery earlier this year was wonderful. He thanked his “Team Yves” with t-shirts for filling in at conventions during his recovery.
In addition to the official board sessions and committee work, this Prague board meeting was special for Kathy and me because President Preston asked me to put together and lead an interfaith Service of Reflection and Renewal at the start of the week. Creating this service provided a wonderful opportunity for me to review the literature of the world’s major religions and spiritual perspectives.
In addition, when contemplating the presentation of the readings, writing the petitions, and planning the main message, my goal was to include directors from around the world as readers; and when asked, they were receptive and agreed to participate. Special thanks to IDs Teresa Mann (Hong Kong, China), Oya Sebuk (Turkey), Steven Tremaroli (USA), Eric Carter (New Zealand), Charlie Chan (Singapore), N. S. Sankar (India), Don Shove (USA), and Linda Tincher (USA).
To convey the main theme of renewal, three speakers shared personal stories and reflected on how Lions played a part in helping them and others to gain a sense of renewal of spirit, a renewal of physical health and strength, and a renewal of community: Special thanks to IDs Yves Leveille (Canada), Robert Rettby (Switzerland), and Carolyn Messier (USA).
Of course, music had to be part of the service, so two of the directors’ spouses—Marianne Tremaroli (USA) and Hanne Berntsen (Norway)—sang a beautiful duet, “The Gift of Love”; I added a solo, “I Believe in Springtime” following the stories of renewal; and everyone sang the familiar, “This Little Light of Mine,” adding with the verses some of the familiar actions learned by many of us as children. The music could not have had its intended effect without the outstanding accompaniment provided by ID Cindy Gregg (USA). Cindy is a remarkable musician and she willingly practiced at all hours despite her own busy schedule of meetings.
The response to the service from those who attended was very positive and humbling. It is always gratifying when others appreciate something you have created as being meaningful for them.
Another joyful memory of Prague will be the Directors’ Chorus. This time, we sang: “Strengthen the Pride,” “Seasons of Love,” and “What a Wonderful World.” Over 20 IDs and spouses joined together and it was clear that they were enjoying themselves. Again, ID Cindy accompanied the chorus and deserves much of the credit for helping everyone to sing with confidence. We are already talking about singing in Honolulu and as more and more directors enjoy themselves, the size of the chorus continues to grow. Being the director of the chorus has been exceedingly fun for me and it has helped to build community and friendships among the board members.
While we worked all day, many special events for the board members and spouses to enjoy were scheduled in the evenings.
To name a few, on Monday night, after walking across the famous Karlov (Charles) Bridge with all of its statues and displays, we arrived at a beautiful restaurant—the Mlynec—on the water’s edge just under the beautiful St. Vitus Cathedral.
On Tuesday, at Host Night sponsored by the Lions of District 122, over 120 Lions from Czech Republic and Slovakia came together and provided a buffet with traditional Czech food and drink, as well as entertainment. At our table, we sat with ID Murigan and his wife, and we were fortunate to have an English-speaking Czech Lion and his wife—natives of Prague—and a couple who had traveled over five hours from Slovakia to be with us.
They were gracious and kept our plates and glasses full, as well as happily dancing and singing along with the entertainment. We were introduced to many significant Czech and Slovakian Lion leaders, heard a blind pianist who performed Elton John songs, were enthralled by a blind female vocalist singing opera, and were heartily welcomed by a local group of folk singers who made the time pass quickly.
On Wednesday, the dinner at the Sarah Bernhardt Restaurant was delicious and the surroundings elegant in their art deco splendor.
The entire event at the Sarah Bernhardt restaurant had a dramatic effect on Kathy.
But the magnificent event on Thursday night left us nearly speechless. It was a formal event, so everyone looked their best, and we traveled by bus to the St. Vitus Cathedral—the focal point of all of Prague. The local committee arranged for our group to have full access to the cathedral and an organist played the entire time we were there. Unbelievable.
Then, the Lobklowicz Palace was spectacular. The palace was actually reclaimed by its original owners after the fall of the Soviet Union and is now the private residence of a noble family that was displaced.
The ballroom for our dinner was gorgeous and we had the honor of sitting at 1st Vice President and Mrs. Yamada’s table. President Joe and the Executive Officers awarded the Ambassador of Good Will medals to 2nd Year Directors and Board Appointees who had not previously received them. They were all smiles as their photos were taken in such a special setting.
On the final day of our stay in Prague, we were encouraged to be casual and enjoy Family Day.
First, we took a tram ride on an antique streetcar—complete with concertina performer—to a riverboat tour.
Following the boat ride,
we traveled by bus to the Strahov Library and Cathedral of the Assumption where we enjoyed a vocal and instrumental performance and took a walking tour in one of the oldest, and still active libraries in central Europe.
Kathy will tell you more about the tours in the somewhat restricted areas, from her perspective; but seeing books written in the ninth century A.D. and looking at globes from the 17th century was pretty amazing.
At our final luncheon at the Vinarna Restaurant, a group of local musicians entertained us with Czech folk music and we ended the festivities with a shot of what the Czech’s call “medicinal” and “good for digestion.”
On our final night, while some of the directors had already left for speaking engagements in conventions across Europe, a group of first year directors and spouses from the United States and our fellow director from New Zealand and his wife decided to go out for a casual dinner in a nearby restaurant.
Kathy and I are so fortunate to have become such good friends with our fellow directors. Just as we were told by our PID mentors, the Lions we serve with on the Board of Directors will become friends for life . . . and that is what they have already become!
Kathy has written up some of her observations about our time in Prague:
“Old Town Prague is the heart of the city of a little over one million people. It continues to grow in diversity as well as in population. In Old Town, there are many churches, palaces, and monuments that date back to the 900’s and early Middle Ages. Perhaps this area of Prague better than the other neighborhoods best represents its reputation as the “City of Spires.”
And cobblestones. A mix of Romanesque, Baroque and neo-Baroque, and of course Gothic architectural styles make it unique. Our hotel was located in Old Town so we walked daily through this historical venue and always with a local guide.
A visit to Prague should begin with the Astronomic Clock Tower. Its design incorporates Christianity and European history along with astronomy. The twelve apostles serve as the hourly markers but there are also other features that demonstrate the knowledge and scientific understanding of a heliocentric solar system. The clock dates back 600 years and marks not only Central European time, but also Babylonian and Sidereal time. I do not believe there is one person living who can decipher all three variations. But it is beloved and only slightly damaged in W W II.
Prague suffered little physical damage in the Second World War so much of the original edifices still stand. However, the Communist takeover in 1948 caused more damage both physically as well as psychologically. The Communist “Realism” style of art, architecture and its propaganda covered up the facades of many medieval buildings. Consequently, much graffiti appeared. As part of the “Velvet Revolution” that started in the late 1960’s, the young rebels risked their freedom and their very lives by demonstrating against communism, culminating in the shocking presence of Soviet tanks in Prague’s Wenceslas Square. From our conversations with many Czech citizens, there is no greater hatred in the country than that directed at Russia.
Later, we were taken to the Cathedral of St. Vitus where we learned more about this “Good King.” When the “freedom” arrived in the late 1980’s, the Communist makeovers were ripped away, revealing beautiful neo-Baroque and earlier styles of architecture. There is a shrine/chapel to King Wenceslas in St. Vitus Cathedral. The Church was built in stages and features a Romanesque-styled rotunda, a Gothic cathedral, and various crypts where saints and royalty are buried.
To get to the Prague Castle and the St. Vitus Cathedral is a great walking adventure across the famous Karlov Bridge (Charles IV). As the second most famous landmark, the Karlov Bridge contains 21 arches, impressive statuary, again bearing great Christian symbolism and meaning. The 32 sculpted statues lining the pedestrian Karlov Bridge are tributes to saints and the suffering of Jesus. However, Prague also has a strong historical presence of Judaism and there are landmarks that represent the Holocaust in the Jewish sector.
We were part of an instructional program that took us across the bridge and into New Town. The Vltava River is busy with river cruises and tourism, but there are subtle reminders of the flooding that Prague has experienced in recent history. Walking back down from the church to the castle gave us another breath-taking view of Prague. However, I cannot fully appreciate the opportunity presented to us next: the Prague Castle is now privately owned by Lobklowicz family and Lions Clubs International negotiated an evening banquet for the Directors and their partners in service.
One of the great benefits of the year’s travel is the great friendships that are formed with people from all over the world. Imagine dining in a thousand year-old castle at a table with a couple from Norway, a couple from Switzerland (coincidentally a Robert & Cathy!), the future president of Lions International from Japan and his wife, Dr. Jitsuhiro Yamada and Dr. Toshiko Yamada, and a couple from Japan. That puts the “international” in Lions. It was spectacular to say the least. Certainly a highlight for this trip but there is more.
The spouses were treated to a Mozart luncheon in a subterranean theatre (the Boccaccio Ballroom) where an orchestra and two opera performers presented three acts of various Mozart pieces in a theatre that is restored and protected in perpetuity. Incredible.
Another opportunity we enjoyed was a visit to a well-known Marionette playhouse, the Manto Gallery, where a short version of Mozart’s Don Giovanni was performed. We were invited backstage to manipulate the puppets and take photographs with the players.
While we were entertained and treated to many special opportunities, we also participated in two educational seminars featuring Lions projects: an update on a hospital established in rural Kenya by the Lions of Europe (especially the Czech Republic). This facility has already been expanded twice. The other seminar was on the progress of a new medical facility in Prague known as the Lions Opthamologist Centre where much training, education, and public relations work is done.
Our itinerary was full, impressive, and extremely expansive in scope. The opportunities that I was presented with will give me a chance to pass along to my students personal insights from history, geography, and religion. I was extremely blessed to be able to participate in this wonderful adventure.”
To Conclude . . .
As we said our goodbyes to our fellow IDs, there were many hugs and good wishes for safe travels and happy days ahead. We agreed it wouldn’t be long before we were donning our Hawaiian shirts and singing on the shores of Wikiki Beach in June. And quite frankly, Kathy and I are looking forward to being together with them again in Hawaii.
I have written this blog during our flight across the Atlantic, and as we approach the United States, the ongoing work of being an International Director couple is already is upon us. We travel to Nova Scotia this coming weekend for a convention in Antigonish and we are looking forward to enjoying the hospitality of our Canadian friends.
Best wishes to all who serve!
ID Lion Robert Littlefield