Floral Park chapter continues to be a village cornerstone
Ever since its incorporation in 1925, the Lions Club has continued to leave its impressive paw print all around the Village of Floral Park. At the corner of Tulip Avenue and Woodbine Court is a lovely pocket park named for the late Lion Al Levy. The Floral Park Little League can directly trace its roots to the efforts of club historian Ray Carson, a Lion for 58 years and going strong. And there are numerous other charitable endeavors the Floral Park Lions have been involved with for decades, adhering to the club motto, “We Serve.”
Twice a month, the Lions meet at Crabtree’s Restaurant where club business is discussed and this close-knit group catches up with each other. In the cheery backroom of this local eatery, sunlight streams through the rear glass doors that look out over the outdoor dining garden and bounces off the salmon-colored walls. Conversation veers from the upcoming Swing Into Spring Golf for Charity Tournament slated for Monday, April 30, at North Shore Towers Country Club to jocular anecdotes about legendary ’50s sex symbol Jayne Mansfield’s brief stint as a Floral Park resident.
The largest international service organization, the Lions Club was founded in 1917 by Chicago businessman Melvin Jones as a means of addressing the betterment of local communities and the world at large. Famous members over the years have been polar explorer Admiral Richard E. Byrd and President Jimmy Carter. One of the organization’s main missions is to focus on the needs of the visually impaired. It’s an objective that dates back to a speech Helen Keller made at the 1925 International Convention at Cedar Point, Ohio, where she challenged the Lions to become Knights of the Blind in a crusade against this affliction.
“In Floral Park, we collect up to 2,000 eyeglasses around the village every year and supply them to people who might not otherwise be able to afford it. Then there’s the Guide Dog Foundation program we are involved with, which runs for about two years and costs around $5,000 or $6,000 dollars to socialize these animals before they end up getting paired up with someone,” explained outgoing president Bill Greulich.
“We also run the Lions Eye Bank, and one of our members is actually a driver who helps get donated corneas to where they need to go,” added current Lions Club vice president and current chamber of commerce president Theresa Whalen. “The club also supports members and their own personal charitable endeavors like when my daughter was raising money for Sloan-Kettering.”
One of the longest-running tie-ins the Lions have with the village is a scholarship program that dates back to 1948-1949. Named for George Allen, a former principal of Floral Park Memorial High School, these grants are awarded to students of that school and to date, more than $150,000 in scholarship money has been handed out. Other worthy causes the Lions throw their collective weight behind are the Hance Family Foundation, the local Masonic Lodge holiday party, the Society for St. Vincent de Paul, toiletry drives, the Walk for MS and the Special Olympics Polar Plunge. Incoming president John Mansfield (no relation to Jayne) has only been a Lion since 2004, but he’s also become heavily involved in donating his time and efforts into health awareness.
“I’m on the board of the Diabetes Education Committee. One of the things we get to do is send kids to summer camp at Camp Jacobson at Robin Hood.” In all, the Floral Park Lions Club raises between $10,000 to $12,000 a year that go to needy Floral Park residents and organizations.
As Carson pulls out a plastic bag brimming with Lions-related mementos archived over the years, it’s clear that this chapter’s roots have been inescapably entwined within the soul of the village over time. Trading pins, newsletters and faded black-and-white group shots are quickly passed around the table as was a paper placemat salvaged from one of the organization’s long-running spaghetti dinners that dates back to the 1960s and is festooned with logos of organizations and merchants like the Floral Park Police Department, Thomas F. Dalton Funeral Home and Sewanhaka Travel.
“In the past, one of the ways we would raise money with these spaghetti dinners was to have many of the local businesses buy boxes that we’d print up on the placemats,” explained the octogenarian.
The Floral Park Lions Club has between 55 and 60 members with a 60/40 female-to-male gender ratio. When members are inducted they receive a pin, Code of Ethics and a membership certificate. There are conventions held on the district, state and international level with the latter’s upcoming event slated to be held in Beijing. A chapter’s board consists of a president, three vice-presidents, a treasurer and six committee members along with specialized club functionaries called Tail Twisters and Lion Tamers. The former is a de facto sergeant-at-arms charged with assessing fines for dress code violations and various grievances, with the money going into a fund used to help defray the cost of attending conventions. Lion Tamers do advanced prep work for meetings with tasks that include setting up the gavel and gong that the president uses to maintain order at the meetings.
The club’s current Tail Twister is Raul Calvo, a sprightly Cuban refugee with a shock of white hair and a quick wit who came to the Lions in 1998 and was brought into the fold by one of the pillars of the community. “I was sponsored by retired village justice, Judge Roderick Minogue,” recalled Calvo. “He was a lawyer, and a lieutenant in the military who fought in World War II.”
Like many service organizations, maintaining membership is difficult as older members are dying off and younger people aren’t gravitating toward joining up as they once did. But if these younger generations got to experience the genuine affection, support and respect that reverberate throughout this meal, they might just seek out one of the current Lions to find out more about getting involved with this lauded organization.
“One of the best things about this club is the relationships you make,” Whalen pointed out. “I’ve never met a bad Lion and this group is some of the most loving and caring people I’ve ever met. Everyone here is family.”