After trying unsuccessfully to enroll Dr. Glenn Wheeler in the only guide-dog school in the U.S., Charles A. Nutting, Donald P. Schuur and S.A. Dodge of the Detroit Uptown Lions Club took matters into their own hands. If their visually impaired friend and fellow Lion couldn’t attend a school in New Jersey to be paired with a guide dog, a training center and canine companion would have to come to him.
While dogs have assisted the blind for centuries, modern dog training methods trace their roots to Germany, when thousands of soldiers returned home from World War I blinded from poison gas. As training techniques spread to other countries, including the U.S., demand for these valuable dogs grew. With a well-trained guide dog and instruction, the visually impaired could better navigate an increasingly busy world. The dogs could warn their handlers of everything from oncoming traffic to obstacles in grocery store aisles.
To help their friend and others like him, Nutting, Schuur and Dodge led their club in establishing a guide dog training school close to home. In the fall of 1938, the initial program graduated four student-dog pairs, including Wheeler and a dog named Hilda. Searching for a name for their new venture, three Detroit-area Lions Clubs held a contest for the entire Lions organization. The Coulterville Lions Club of Illinois submitted the winning entry: Lions Leader.
On April 4, 1939, Lions incorporated the Lions Leader Dog Foundation as a nonprofit, rented a small farmhouse for the operation in Rochester Hills, Michigan, and graduated its first official class at a cost of US$600 per team. A year later, the school dropped the word “Lions” from its name because the project was not an official program of Lions Clubs International, and the group wanted to expand its base of donors.
Known today as Leader Dogs for the Blind, the school has graduated more than 14,500 guide dogs since opening its doors. But its impact has been far greater. As one of the first service dog schools, it helped to popularize the idea of service dogs and started a movement by Lions to support training programs. By the mid-20th century, Lions were supporting guide dogs schools in the U.S, Italy, France and Germany.
The school’s training methods have changed over the years, and its programs have expanded to help those with hearing loss, diabetes and other health issues. But, its purpose has not altered. The center exists to provide help, not to make a profit. Although clients were once required to pay up to US$150 for training, the service has been free since 1958. Clients also receive housing and transportation while at the center. Today the average cost of training a dog is US$37,000, and Lions clubs and other individual donors and organizations provide all funding.
What started as an idea to help one man has turned into an effort that has helped many more. Currently supporting training schools in Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Norway, South Africa and the U.S., Lions are helping thousands of visually impaired people to find new independence—and often a new best friend.
Explore the exciting history of Lions Clubs International with our exclusive Touchstone Stories series.
Our Centennial Silver Dollar Coin in the perfect way to celebrate Lions’ 100th birthday, and while many of you have seen the limited-edition coin in person or in our new video, here are 5 fun facts you might not know about the coin!
ONE: The process of creating the coin from concept to finished product took nearly 6 years!
TWO: Sandy Spring Lions Club (Maryland, USA) proposed the idea
THREE: The “Lions Clubs International Century of Service Commemorative Coin Act” was signed on October 5, 2012.
FOUR: The coin’s design pays homage to LCI founder Melvin Jones and the association’s international family of Lions.
FIVE: Coin sales offer an opportunity to improve the lives of people around the world, with US$10 authorized to be paid to LCIF for each coin sold – up to US$4 million.
Coins are only available throughout the 2017 calendar year. Purchase yours today!
Glittering squares of gold on a lapel, shaped like lions’ heads or in the outlines of states. These emblems are colorful reminders of past accomplishments, international conventions or new friends.
Lions Clubs International pins come in all shapes and sizes today, but they were introduced in the late 1940s as disposable plastic parade giveaways. Those early emblems, called friendship pins, are now highly sought after by pin collectors and traders.
Trying to count up all of the different pins that have been produced over the intervening decades “is like trying to count grains of sand on a beach,” said Verle Malik of the Winchester Host Lions Club of Virginia. Verle publishes a series of handbooks cataloging the different kinds of pins, one of several catalogs produced by clubs and Lions around the world. Volume One of Verle’s handbook included life-size images of pins from every state and multiple district, and Volume Two featured specialty pins: prestige, mini, medallion, charm, stickpins, Lioness, Leo and variations on pins issued by states and multiple districts. Volume Three included international pins.
“These are friendship pins,” said Verle. “They were initially made to help you remember the person that gave it to you. You exchange them everywhere you go and pass them out to everyone you visit. Once you accumulate a few of them—the pin traders will appear.”
The biggest place to trade pins is the annual International Convention, but for Lions who can’t make it—or for Lions who want more opportunities to trade—there several large pin-swapping gatherings held throughout the year in Virginia; Pennsylvania; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Moline, Illinois. Smaller local swaps also occur regularly.
Pin swapping is a friendly affair, but there’s a strategy involved. “You’ve got to have pins to trade,” said Bob Showers, longtime pin swapper from the Packwaukee Lions Club in Wisconsin. “If you go down there with mediocre pins, you’re not going to get very many.”
There are a number of official pin trading clubs within Lions. According to Bill Smith, the founding president of the Pin Traders Club of Virginia, they’re eager to bring in new collectors. “When we find out a guy’s a new pin trader, he leaves [the swap] with far more pins than he came in with. We’ll give him a handful of pins. We’re just trying to hook him.”
Lions collect and trade more than pins. At the 1951 international convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the Lions International Stamp Club was officially chartered. Peter Keller, founder of the LISC and director of the American Stamp Dealers Association, authored a regular stamp collecting column in LION Magazine, calling stamp collecting “the King of Hobbies and the Hobby of Kings.”
Within a year, the LISC had members from five countries, collecting and trading rare or interesting stamps of all kinds. Since 1940, countries such as Cuba, the Philippines and Nicaragua have issued commemorative stamps featuring the Lions Clubs International emblem and past international presidents like Finis Davis of Louisville, Kentucky, who served from 1960-61, and Clarence Sturm from Manawa, Wisconsin, who served from 1959-60.
As with anything that Lions are involved in, fun and fellowship leads to service. In 2008, the Lions International Trading Pin Club led a fundraising effort among fellow pin traders and presented a check for US$100,000 to Campaign SightFirst II at the International Convention in Minneapolis the following year.
Trading pins and stamps is a hobby that’s entertaining and a celebration of Lions’ dedication to service. “I don’t golf, I don’t bowl,” said Bill Smith. “
Pins are my passion. And I’m not unique in that.”
Explore the exciting history of Lions Clubs International with our exclusive Touchstone Stories series.
In recent days, heavy rains in Colombia precipitated a massive mudslide in Putymayo Province in the southwestern portion of the country. Over 200 people are reported dead and many are still missing. In addition to loss of life, scores of people have been left homeless.
Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) has approved an emergency catastrophe grant of US$100,000 to allow local Lions to provide much needed first-response assistance of food, water, blankets and other supplies.
As this tragedy plays out in Colombia, our attention is also focused on areas of East Africa, where drought conditions are threatening a famine of epic proportions. LCIF, along with Lions in Kenya, Sweden and other countries, are working to provide aid to as many people as possible there.
Our centennial motto, “Where There’s A Need, There’s A Lion,” could not be more appropriate than in times of natural disasters when local Lions on the ground in disaster areas are able to put actions plans in place to provide much needed first response supplies of food, water, temporary shelter, and clothing.
Last month, LCIF surpassed the US$ 1 billion mark in grant giving. This was made possible because of your generosity. LCIF grants have changed the lives of millions of people. As always, your generous donations to LCIF enable us to respond swiftly wherever and whenever the need exists.
I know you join me in keeping all the victims of these latest natural disasters in your thoughts and prayers.
Lions Clubs International
The United Nations (UN) has made its first declaration of famine since 2011. A formal famine declaration means that people have already died of hunger. The combination of drought, insecurity and economic instability means that millions of people in Kenya, South Sudan, Somalia and other countries could face drastic food shortages by May 2017.
Rivers and wells have dried up. Livestock are dying and food prices are skyrocketing. Children are being forced to drop out of school and entire families are
migrating in search of food and water. Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) and local Lions are working to offer aid to as many people as possible. The Lions of Multiple District 101 in Sweden teamed up with Kenyan Lions of District 411-A recently to provide supplies to 600 families affected by the famine.
You can help support relief efforts in East Africa by making a donation to LCIF’s disaster fund. Be sure to note “East Africa Famine” to designate your donation for this disaster. Donations made to LCIF’s disaster fund are eligible for Melvin Jones Fellowship credit.
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