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Tucson Downtown Lions Club History

Chartered April 26, 1923

The Tucson Downtown Lions Club (TDLC) was chartered April 26, 1923, under the name of the Tucson Lions Club, it being the only Lions Club in Tucson. Although it preceded the Phoenix Lions Club in starting its organizational drive, it was actually chartered a week later, thus making it the second Lions Club in Arizona.

Fifty-four Charter Members
Paul J. Cella, PresidentGrayson N. Kefauver, Lion Tamer
Victor Gore, 1st V. P.Francis K. Carson, Treasurer
Arthur J. McNeil, 2nd V. P.Lucien E. Wyatt, Director
Nathan G. Lynn, 3rd V. P.Chas. A. Peterson, Director
Arthur A. Schwartz, SecretarySiesel H. Mathews, Director
Dick Ingersoll, Tail Twister
Henry E. AnayaHamilton KettleHenry M. Sebley
Maurice M. BloodworthJ. George KineLouis M. Shannon
Glen A. BroomeEvert E. KleinGeorge B. Skinner
Herbert F. BrownOrris P. KnightCharles H. Stewart
James G. BrownGorm LoftfieldC. Russel Taylor
John W. BuchananJames MacMillanTom F. Thompson
F. Hal BurnsJohn MalloryJ. H. Thornber
John CassidyBen MathewsJoe Werbeck
Paul ClokeB. Z. McCulloughRoy R. White
W. S. CunninghamIvan L. McWhorterShirley C. White
Joubert DavanportJohn MenehanEldred D. Wilson
Oscar DavisC. B. PerkinsRoy Wollam
Ed DunlapElmer S. PetersJ. Ernie Woods
Ralph S. HawkinsK. Berry Peterson
Newman F. HauswaldJohn Ramidge

Notes and Activities

Herbert Brown, President 1925-26, one of Southern Arizona’s top contractors at the time, built what is now the old Pima County Courthouse with its famous dome.

In 1928, the Tucson Lions Club broached the idea of a highway to Mt. Lemmon, from the south where the road is today, albeit with some improvements. At the time, the only road to the mountain was a very narrow, treacherous one through the town of Oracle on the northwest side of the Catalinas. President Pete Waggoner provided the main thrust behind the project. The Tucson Lions enlisted the help of General Hitchcock and the highway today is known as the “General Hitchcock Memorial Highway.” The government had a Federal prison camp between Tucson and Mt. Lemmon and the General was instrumental in having prison labor do the work on the road.

During the Great Depression the Club fell on hard times and only a few members could afford to keep up attendance. Frank A. Putter, President 1931-32, is said to have paid the Club’s bills and financed their activities when the Club membership was reduced to four or five members.

At this time, work took the place of money and Lions’ wives, as today, were helping in all endeavors. At Christmas time, the Lions put on a big party for the children at the Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind, furnished games, food, entertainment, and gifts. Also, each holiday season, the Club had a large Christmas tree put up in front of the Fox Theater on Congress Street. Traditionally, the Club provided a Santa Claus and gave out gifts and food for the needy children of Tucson, of whom there were many.

Another project, started in 1943-44, under the leadership of President John I. Reilly, Jr., was the School Safety Patrol. They organized a patrol of students whose responsibility was to slow down traffic in the vicinity of the schools. The committee, which met each week in the evening at Safford Jr. High School, furnished the members of the Patrol with uniform belts, special badges and Lions pins emblazoned with “Safety Patrol.” To raise money for this project, the Lions held a yearly dance called the “Save a Life Ball” in the Pioneer Hotel Ballroom.

The major service activity of Lions everywhere is in Sight Conservation and work with the blind. For the Tucson Downtown Lions Club this has meant donating money and equipment to the St. Elizabeth of Hungary’s Ophthalmic Clinic, as well as helping to organize and equip a dispensary for eyeglasses at the Clinic. The facility was dedicated in memory of Bern Van Der Kirk, Past President and Chairman of the Sight Conservation Committee for many years. Member Lions also serve on the Board of Directors at the Tucson Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which receives financial support from the Club also. This facility was dedicated by Lions International President Robert J. Uplinger and was the culmination of the efforts of all Tucson Lions Clubs, including the Downtown Club who provided the initial funds to purchase the property. Until closure of the Arizona Lions Eye and Tissue Bank, members were active in financial support and in securing Eye Wills. With closure of the bank, support has been redirected to the University of Arizona Lions Eye Clinic here in Tucson.

Hearing is another area of concern for the TDLC. Members collect and recycle used hearing aids as well as providing aids for many needy individuals. Major assistance is provided to the Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind. A major project is to provide state of the art computers for use by both hearing and visually impaired. During the 40's, Howlett Smith, a gifted pianist, was a student at the school. He often entertained at Lions meetings. The Club adopted him and raised money to send him to a music conservatory in the East. Lions Frank Putter and Jack Wilson were the organizers of this project, known as the “Howlett Smith Scholarship Fund.” The Club has provided scholarships to deserving students in three school districts.

The TDLC, as do other Lions statewide, support Camp Tatiyee, a camp for the handicapped near Pinetop, Arizona. Financial assistance is made available to the camp and campers, and individual members have also donated work and time in the upkeep of the facility.

About 1944, the TDLC organized, and with the Rodeo Committee of the Tucson Chamber of Commerce, what was known as “Big Hat Day.” Everyone in Tucson was encouraged to wear western clothing during the Rodeo season. The Mayor of Tucson, the parade committee of the Chamber, and many celebrities were guests of the Lions at the “kick off’ celebration. It was always a big day at the Pioneer Hotel, where the Club met until before Christmas, 1970, when an arson fire destroyed the landmark.

W. W. DuBois become District Governor of District 21 in 1947-48. Dewitt Gregory, a friend of Lion “Dewey” owned an airplane and piloted the District Governor to his official meetings all over the state. It was said that the airplane was so old that they were not expected to return from each visitation.

Until 1947-48 the Tucson Lions Club was the only Lions Club in Tucson. Lion Bill Wisdom thought that Tucson was large enough to have another Lions Club. A committee, with the help of District Governor DuBois, organized the South Tucson Lions Club, which thrives today. As a consequence, the Tucson Lions Club became known as the Tucson Downtown Lions Club to distinguish it from its sister club. Many other clubs were sponsored in Tucson as well as around District 21-B as can be attested by their charters.

From interest by several wives of Lions, the Downtown Tucson Lioness Club was chartered November 11, 1981, with 19 members. They very proudly joined the first Lioness District in the United States and the second in the world of Lionism. The TDLC is proud of sponsoring “our” Lioness Club. We remain so today as they continue to assist us in our many projects and are one of the few such clubs remaining in the District.

In 1947-48, The TDLC purchase 100 weighing scales with the hope of raising money. It cost one penny to get your weight. Committees were formed to secure the best locations all over town, to deliver the scales, to maintain the scales in working condition and to collect the thousands of pennies. Reminisces one long-time member, “We were really in the copper business.” The winning slogan for the project “A PENNY FOR THE BLIND, YOUR WEIGHT FREE” was the brain-child of Lion Jimmy Gobel. Success was immediate and the scales were paid for in the first year, but after three or four years, the work became tedious, maintenance costly and the scales were salvaged.

The TDLC went into entertainment in a bit way in 1948 when the Club sponsored and presented the world renowned Passion Play, “The Life of Christ,” produced by the famous troop of players from Germany. The troop had three camels in the play, which was held in Tucson High School, the only one in Tucson at the time. It was Rodeo season and the Rodeo parade was the same week, so the Lions talked the parade committee into entering the camels in the parade to advertise the play. Lions Bill Fitchett and Dan Kinerk rode two of the camels, the only time the beasts have been in the largest non-motorized parade in the country.

Prior to the year 1948-49, the Club did not offer any financial assistance to the incoming president to attend the Lions International Convention. The incoming president, the aforementioned Dan Kinerk, attended the International Convention in San Francisco in June 1947, and was so impressed by the magnitude of Lionism throughout the world that on his return, he convinced other members on financing future incoming presidents’ expenses to the Convention as a good investment in Lionism. Later a similar experience occurred when George Hagedon, as Cabinet Secretary, attended his first USA-Canada Forum. He was able to convince the Board of Directors to send the 1st Vice President to the Forum. Several have profited from the training.

The Eloy Well Baby Clinic was financially assisted by the TDLC for some twenty years. It was the favorite project of Lion Dr. Martin Withers, who donated countless hours to its success after he agreed in April of 1950 to serve that community several hours each week until such time as the Pinal County Health Department would handle the program. The Clinic was held at the Eloy Community Center until 1972 at which time it was moved to the first and third Wednesdays at the Eloy Lions Club building. An average of 35 to 45 people attended each week. The Clinic averaged providing immunizations to 40 babies and pre-schoolers each session. In 1971, a nutrition program was added. After giving intermittent financial assistance as early as 1957, the TDLC added the Eloy Well Baby Clinic to it financial assistance budget. The Clinic closed their account on April 25, 1977, when the Pinal County Health Department finally took over the program. Dr. Wither’s interest continued until his death and he collected articles of clothing for the children.

In recent years, the Tucson Rodeo Food Concessions has been the major fund-raising activity of the TDLC. The 1951 Rodeo Program lists the Lions Club as concessionaires. The Rodeo Committee of the Chamber of Commerce only received $914 for their share of the concession proceeds in 1951. A new contract was negotiated in 1952. Lions Frank Putter and Pete Waggoner were involved in the negotiations with Ed Gayette and the Rodeo Committee. Until recent times, the chamber furnished the facilities and the Tucson Downtown Lions, the equipment, supplies, labor to run the concessions. Now our contract is with the Rodeo Committee. In 1980, the Club purchased a food concession trailer to be used at various locations. However, due to the difficulty in moving the trailer, including licensing, and other expense, it was located permanently for use at the Rodeo Grounds. It was even used for a movie filmed at the Rodeo grounds in 1980. Today, the trailer still serves, having been purchased by the San Manuel-Oracle Lions Club for their projects. From modest profits ($915 in 1951) proceeds grew. In 1981 with large crowds, four days of perfect weather, the profits were $13,138 each to the chamber and the TDLC. It should be noted that all Lions Clubs in the community, Lioness and many non-Lions work each year at the Rodeo Concessions assist the TDLC in this fund-raising activity. It takes about 125 people daily to provide for the many hungry Rodeo fans.

Our fund-raising activities have ranged far and wide. In 1970, the Club sold raffle tickets to the community for a painting by Lion Marco Murolo. The drawing was at the Multiple District Convention that year. After payment for the painting, all proceeds went directly to the Tucson Association for the Blind. Also in 1970-71, the Club sponsored the Don Cossack Chorus and Dancers for a performance at Palo Verde High School Auditorium and the Winter Follies show at the Rodeo Grounds. Annually, we participate in White Cane activities in January, to avoid conflict with the rodeo in February. We now sell “Entertainment Books” to the community, but with more and more organizations getting on the “band wagon,” sales are harder from all the competition. One of our more popular endeavors was done before Halloween, selling bags of candy. We used to buy it already bagged, but several enterprising Lions decided we could do better doing it ourselves by buying the candy wholesale. Annually, the wives held a pot-luck and we bagged candy. On good years, like 1969, the Charity Fund profited by $1200. We made a fun night of the activity and when we finished, we all took our share of candy to sell.

Other activities of the TDLC through the years have been participation in Naturalization Classes; the distribution of American Flags, with information pamphlets, to first graders in the public schools of the Tucson area. We also have handled food concessions at the Scout-A-Ramas and the Lipazzon Stallion Horse Show. The TDLC even moved its concession equipment to the Tucson Community Center during two Jerry Lewis’ Muscular Dystrophy Telethons. One of the features was having our president presenting the proceeds on television.

Many community activities benefited from Contributions from the TDLC such as the Agricultural Extension Service Program, Las Amigas de Las Americas; sending a blind bowler to attend a bowling tournament in El Paso; the Easter Seals Association to cover capital depreciation involved in a Handy Cab for the physically handicapped; providing the first money to the Tucson Fire Department to equip a paramedic vehicle, one of the first communities to form paramedics; Bobby Soxers Softball League; Pantano Little League; League of Women Voters; Arizona Daily Star Sportsman’s Fund; Handy-Dogs; Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts; YMCA and YWCA. We had the satisfaction of seeing lupita Hernandez, born without eyes, benefit from the largess of the TDLC for cosmetic surgery, providing computers to aid her communications skills and seeing her finally graduate from high school and then college with honors.

Lions projects have benefited also. We met our commitments to Campaign “SightFirst” and have a growing number of Melvin Jones Fellows, currently 20% of the membership. Since 1985 we have been an enthusiastic contributor to Leader Dogs for the Blind. In the Multiple District, we support the Lions Sight and Hearing Foundation, Lions Foundation of Arizona, Lions Camp Tatiyee and maintenance at the Melvin Jones Memorial in Fort Thomas, Arizona, birthplace of Lions Clubs International founder, Melvin Jones as well as the building fund. Within the District, we are a major contributor to Tucson Association for the Blind, C. Kirby Smith Youth Exchange Camp and the Lions Eye Clinic at the University of Arizona. In 1996 the club made a contribution to Lions Clubs International Foundation to the behalf of the flood victims of Rapid City, S.D. as well as to make a direct contribution to the Rapid City Lions Club. Again, when disaster struck the Pentagon and the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the club and individual members contributed to LCIF to aid in the relief efforts.

Because they find satisfaction and enjoyment in serving the less fortunate of their community, state, country and the world, the women and men of the Tucson Downtown Lions Club will continue their proud seventy-nine year tradition of service and carry it on into a brighter future.

With thanks to Compilers Lion Marlen and Lioness Jean Yoder, (April 1982), PDG George Hagedon (October 1997). Updated by Lion John Hart (2003), PDG John Hart (2007)