Sussex Lions celebrate their 75th anniversary
Talk to a member of the Sussex Lions Club and he will tell you his story — why he joined the club, what he does for it, what it does for him. But that same member would be quick to tell you that what makes the Lions successful isn't his particular contributions, but the power of the members working together.
"We come from many walks of life, but share a common purpose: We serve," said Sussex Lions Club President Ron Buschke.
Buschke's comments Saturday night capped a four-hour dinner and celebration marking the 75th anniversary of the club.
Born in 1939, it has climbed over the years to a membership of more than 100, the largest of the 47 clubs in its district.
The weekend party was attended by 158 people, including local dignitaries, Lions from neighboring clubs, Lion affiliates, spouses, and leaders at the district and national level, including Immediate Past International President Wayne Madden, who oversaw during his term the 1.3 million members of Lions Clubs worldwide.
Through fundraising events such as Lions Daze, golf outings, an annual car show, personal financial contributions and sweat, the Sussex club puts its total contributions at $1.3 million over the years toward countless programs, including flag football for youth; lights for Hamilton High School football and soccer fields; playground equipment, signs and buildings in community parks; Sussex Outreach Services; a robotics programs, among many other things.
More important, perhaps, are the ways in which the club has changed individual lives. Sight and vision improvement, for example, are one of the Lions' signature efforts.
Through the Lions Eye Bank of Wisconsin, Jerry Wille, treasurer of the eye bank and a past Lion district governor, said, "We gave the gift of sight to 500 people" last year. A few years ago, a Sussex woman was a recipient of cornea tissue transplants in both eyes.
The Lions role in the eye bank is not doing surgery, but providing transportation for the corneas — from the site where they are removed from donors, to the eye bank near the Madison airport, to the surgery centers where they are implanted.
"It's like a pony express," Wille said.
The strength of the Leos
To Wille, who belongs to the Oconomowoc Lions Club, one of the strengths of the Sussex club is its high school Leo Club community service program. Leo Clubs are not unique to Sussex, but here there are more Leos — 116 — than the 104 Lions.
Virtually all of the Sussex Lions are men, though women are allowed. Many women choose to become involved in the Lioness Club, which has about 40 members.
For Greg Mears, who will be the next president of the Sussex Lions Club, it is a measure of the size and strength of the club that in 75 years, no member has served more than one one-year term as president.
He describes the process of moving through the various posts below president as "like conveyor belt."
"You start as a tail-twister and you work your way up," through treasurer, secretary and three VP positions, he said.
While most of the Sussex Lions Club's contributions stay close to home, Lions Clubs in 208 countries and the Lions Club International Foundation broaden the reach of local clubs.
Madden, in his address to the club at the anniversary, gave a slide presentation depicting his heavy travel schedule in his year as international president. Italy, Colombia, Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, Cambodia, Haiti, India, the Philippines and Switzerland are just some of the countries he visited, in addition to many U.S. locales, to see Lions Club funds at work.
He attended the World Economic Summit in Davos, Switzerland; worked with Bill Gates; and met with members of Congress.
Some clubs struggle
Despite the strength of the Sussex club, other clubs in the district are struggling, and some in Milwaukee County have closed, said District Gov. Cary Kraemer. He made a plea for increased recruitment and the development of more leaders.
"We have guys that own businesses," Mears said, "guys that are retired, we have engineers, technicians, managers, bankers, we even have college students." Anyone can be a Lion.
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