ELBURN – In late summer 1929, A.S. Phelps, who was responsible for the northern district for the International Association of Lions Clubs, visited Elburn to begin the process of organizing a club in town.
While no one in the area is still around who can recall that visit, there are thousands of people who have benefited from the formation of the Lions Club of Elburn, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year.
“My dad (Leonard), God rest his soul, gave the 50-year history of the Lions Club and I did the 75-year history, so our family and the Lions Club go back quite a ways,” said Dave Anderson, a Lions Club member since 1978. “My dad and Beverly Kenyon purchased the park where Lions Park is now in the mid ’50s, and prior to that time, I don’t know the exact date, but Elburn Days was a cooperative effort between the Elburn American Legion and Lions Club, but eventually the Legion backed out of it and Lions Club took it over.”
Initially consisting of just 15 members in 1929 and sponsored by the Lions Club of New Lenox, the Elburn Lions Club today boasts a membership of about 180 and features a 25-acre park that includes a spacious clubhouse, playground, ball fields and an open pavilion, all of which are located in the heart of Elburn and used by the community throughout the year for numerous functions.
“People will come in with an idea and bounce it off of people and we’ll make a lot of those ideas come true,” said Chet Cybulski, president of the Elburn Lions Club. “When people are interested in something, Lions will get behind them and we’ll work with them. That’s really the cool part of all the things we do.”
The hope was to commemorate 90 years on Sept. 14, which is the date that the Elburn Lions Club was chartered by Lions Club International in 1929. Since that date doesn’t work, the special event will take place on Sept. 7 with members doing their part to relive the era of its founding with a Roaring ’20s-themed dinner party.
“Because of the size of our space, we’re kind of limited to Lions members only because we can only fit so many people,” Cybulski said. “We plan on having a special dinner that will be a catered affair and we’re encouraging people to dress in period costumes if they can. And we’ll have some dance lessons for 1920s dances, so that will jazz it up, and a roaming magician and some other things.”
If any group deserves to kick back and give itself a pat on the back and celebrate its accomplishments, it’s the Elburn Lions Club, whose selfless volunteers put so much time and effort into so many events and causes for a club that has done so for longer than most people live.
One of its most notable fundraising efforts occurred in 1981, when local Lions sold 300 raffle tickets at $1,000 each for a bunch of great prizes, but more significant, the money raised helped build the Illinois Eye Research Institute at the University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago.
“We had the largest raffle for the cost of a ticket in the state of Illinois history,” Anderson said. “In fact, state legislature changed the raffle law because of it. We raised a quarter of a million dollars by selling 300 raffle tickets and we could’ve sold more.”
Anderson recalled WGN’s Bob Collins emceeing the raffle drawing.
“It was an all-day affair with lunch and supper and the drawing and Bob Collins arrived on a motorcycle,” Anderson said. “If you go to the hospital today, you’ll see that the entryway is named after the Elburn Lions Club.”
These days on any given weekend at Lions Park, you might catch the delectable scent of pork chops or chicken cooking at the park for company picnics, class reunions, anniversary celebrations, weddings and more. The club also continues to feature several annual special events – Elburn Days, the Fall Classic Car Show and Breakfast with Santa – as well as yearlong programming, including Lions for Literacy and Spaghetti Dinner Wednesdays.
“Volunteerism is such a huge part of this,” Anderson said. “Back when we were selling tickets, people would ask how we do this and our basic philosophy was that we’re always in debt. We’ve always felt if we kept ourselves in debt, we’d be active trying to raise money to get out of debt and it’s worked for us then and it still does today.”
While the tireless efforts have allowed the Lions Club to do so many wonderful things over the past 90 years, there will always be challenges and a need for others to step up and contribute. Cybulski said a membership drive is in the works and that the organization is interested in welcoming new members. Applications are online at www.elburnlions.com.
For now, Cybulski said members have been invited to dig through their personal mementos and photographs from over the years to share for the 90th anniversary celebration and that the club also will be digging through its files to see if it can uncover some especially cool photos from days gone by.
“There are certainly plenty of pictures from Elburn Days and the parades,” he said. “We’re encouraging everyone to bring out the memorabilia that they have and would like to share and we’re going to access some stuff to see what’s in there so we’ll have to see what we uncover.”
Source: The Daily Chronicle