Writer / Travis Wagoner
Lions have been roaming Middletown since 1971. Motorists may have noticed the Bright blue and gold signs that stand out from the traffic at intersections. There’s also a large capital “L” in the center of the sign that might pique curiosity. But it’s the roaring lions featured on both sides of the sign that may cause one to wonder, “What does that sign mean? And why the lions?”
Those signs are there to let people know that members of the Lions Club International are on the prowl in the neighborhood and ready to serve their community.
Founded in 1917, Lions Clubs International is a volunteer organization dedicated to community service. With 1.4 million members in 201 countries, the Lions Club International is the largest civic organization in the world. There are more than 5,500 members and 210 Lions Club chapters in Kentucky.
One of those chapters is in Middletown. The Middletown Lions Club was chartered by Lions Club International in 1971 and sponsored by the existing St. Matthews Lions Club. The first meeting was convened in May 1976, and the club’s charter night was held on September 18, 1976. There are currently 34 members of the club.
“We Serve” is the motto of all Lions Club chapters worldwide. The Middletown Lions Club lives up to that mission of service by focusing on the areas of youth, hunger, environment, diabetes and a hand-up to help those in need.
Organizations served by the Middletown Lions Club include St. Mary’s Center, Eastern High School, Kentucky Harvest, Salvation Army, Dare to Care, Eastern Area Ministries, the WHAS Crusade for Children and Visually Impaired Pre-school Services. The Lions also contribute to a heating assistance program for area residents during the winter months.
That commitment to service is what keeps Martin and Kay Mills of Douglass Hills involved in the Middletown Lions Club.
“That service-oriented attitude makes the club special,” Martin says. “You just want to give back to people who really need it.”
In addition to its service work, the Middletown Lions Club coordinates and sponsors numerous community events throughout the year. The Lions serve breakfast at Wayside Christian Mission on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, and provide coffee supplies, eating utensils, napkins and salt and pepper. Also, over the past 15 years, the Lions have contributed more than $30,000 to principle debt reduction at Lions Camp Crescendo to provide services for children with disabilities.
Annual events include Bowling for Sight in February and a golf scramble each June. The golf scramble has been held for 40 consecutive years and attracts about 100 players. The proceeds go to causes the Lions support.
The Middletown Lions Club has participated in Light Up Middletown for years. Club members add to the festivities in anticipation of lighting the city Christmas tree by providing complimentary sandwiches and grilled hamburgers, hot dogs and bratwursts, as well as coffee and hot chocolate.
Concerts in the Park are popular events held at Wetherby Park one Sunday evening per month from March through October. In partnership with the City of Middletown, the Lions grill and serve bratwursts, hot dogs and burgers and musical acts perform at the all-ages concerts.
One of the club’s longest-running service endeavors is providing eye screenings each August at the Kentucky State Fair. The Middletown Lions Club helps chapters from across the Commonwealth provide free screenings for glaucoma, nearsighted (myopia) and farsighted vision, and lazy eye (amblyopia). In 2018, 2,448 adults and 1,002 children received eye screenings at the fair.
“We started with a table at the fair where people could sign up to donate their corneas to the eye bank,” Kay says. “It’s evolved into all Lions Clubs in Kentucky coming to do vision screenings.”
Based on the results of the screening, an eye exam might be warranted. If someone can’t afford an exam, the Lions Club gets involved, Martin adds.
The organization’s commitment to sight conservation began in 1926 when Helen Keller attended the club’s conference in Chicago. She challenged conference attendees to be Knights of the Blind.
“Vision is a priority no matter the location,” Martin says. “For example, the Lions Club got involved and helped pretty much eradicate river blindness.”
Onchocerciasis, also known as river blindness, is a tropical disease caused by infection spread by a parasitic worm. Symptoms include severe itching, bumps under the skin and blindness. It is the second-most common cause of blindness due to infection, after trachoma. It is transmitted through repeated bites by blackflies.
The Lions Club has also aided disaster relief efforts.
“When we have a tornado or other natural disaster in Kentucky, a Lions Club district governor can request emergency funds from the Lions Club International Foundation,” Martin says. “Right off the bat, they can send $10,000 to buy whatever supplies are needed – for cleanup, for hospitals impacted and more. The money is distributed by the local Lions Clubs, who know who really needs the money. They’re accountable for everything they give out. Kentucky has received more money coming back from the international fund than we’ve ever sent up to it.”
Lions were also among the first on the ground following the terrorist attack on New York City on September 11, 2001.
“Among the first responders were two Lions who were a married couple – a doctor and a police officer,” Martin says. “The wife is an anesthesiologist and asked, ‘Where do you need me?’ She was told help was needed to clear debris using a wheelbarrow. She and her team put their gloves on and got to work. The Lions Club was on the scene quickly. We had mobilized air-conditioned trucks to purify the air from the dust. They were there right away.”
Martin frequently wears a Lions Club lapel pin so people know help is available.
“People see the pin and come up and say they need glasses and can’t afford them, and that gets the conversation started,” he says. “It’s a network of people. If I were in Atlanta and got a flat tire and no help was available, I could look up the local Lions and call someone up and ask who is reputable in the area.”
Prospective members of the Middletown Lions Club are always welcome to inquire. The club meets at 6:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month at the Middletown Community Center. Club members range in age from early 20s to early 80s. Annual dues are $65.00.
“Our club is made up of people that are dedicated to helping without fanfare,” Kay says. “We are made up of attorneys, builders, business owners and executives, retired teachers, pharmacists, engineers – people from all walks of life.”
“Just jump in,” Martin adds. “It’s not a secret society. It’s an extended social group dedicated to service. If you walk into our club and say that you are service-oriented, you’re in. If there’s something really pressing in the community that we need to do, that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to serve the community.”