When a group has been around for a half-century, it might be easy to take it for granted. But the Woodbury Lions Club has stayed relevant and important to the community's well-being by continually coming up with new projects that address current needs.
When the club started in 1969—just two years after Woodbury became a city—the founding Lions didn't waste any time making an impact. In those days, Woodbury had to rely on neighboring communities for a vital public function: ambulance service, which could take as much as a half-hour to arrive. So the Lions created an ambulance council to purchase one.
Part of the lasting appeal of groups like the Lions is that members gain a sense of purpose from doing things that better their communities.
A 10th anniversary party with first president Gaston Vandermeerssche.
“The reason I am involved is that absolutely everything we do benefits the community,” says Laurie Currell, a past president who has been a member since 2008. The Lions' current projects include supporting eyesight and hearing health, local food shelves and the Feed My Starving Children program, the International Peace Poster contest and scholarships for local high school graduates.
In a conversation with Woodbury Magazine several years ago, former Lions member and past president Paul Wernimont recalled the origin of the Lions' annual garage sale. Back in the mid-'70s, a proliferation of garage sale fliers and signs became a source of complaints. “There were a number of us in the Lions Club who worked hard to try to maintain ... the small town atmosphere that characterized Woodbury at the time,” Wernimont said. “The garage sale problem was a small-town situation that needed a small-town solution.”
That was the genesis for what would become the Lions' largest annual event. “The main goal was as a local service activity—to reduce the summer-long flier and sign problem, but also to provide an added service to individual Woodbury homes.” It's now a major fundraiser, with more than 500 families participating.
The local landscape includes plenty of tangible evidence of the Lions' impact: public facilities they funded (or helped fund) and built: Woodbury Lions Bandshell in Ojibway Park, the Lions Veterans Memorial on the city hall campus (a joint effort with the Woodbury VFW and American Legion) and park shelters at Powers Lake and Carver Lake. One Lion who played a major role was former Woodbury resident Dick Krumm. Krumm, who now lives in Wisconsin, joined the Lions in 1982.
“A friend invited me to a meeting and it just seemed like a good fit for me and my volunteer work. I had been very involved in the St. Paul Jaycees for several years, but I was what they call an 'exhausted rooster' after age 35, and I missed those activities. At one point I thought I might drop out when some of the older guys left, but I stuck it out and got involved in some pretty good things.”
Looking back, Krumm, an architect, is most proud of his mostly pro bono work in designing the veterans memorial, along with “a lot of good friendships.”
One current challenge for the club is recruiting new members to replace older members who drop out due to age, Currell says. “We have been relatively successful, but we need to continue recruiting new members who want to support and give back to the community.”
One of the Lions' current initiatives is the KidSight Woodbury program, which offers training and equipment to help parents and schools identify possible vision problems among infants and children up to 6 years old. In a year and a half, the program has screened more than 1,500 kids and referred more than 100, according to Matt Johnson, the Lions' current second vice president.
KidSight is the kind of program that has helped the Lions stay as relevant as ever. Jim Curnow, a 37-year member, says the KidSight program has “re-energized” the membership. “When I heard about it, it excited me. It's a chance to do something really impactful.”