Ninety-seven-year-old Roy Gale knew from a young age he wanted to involve himself in community service, which he’s done for 57 years as the longest-serving member of Medicine Hat’s Lions Club.
“When I was about 10 years old, there was a little crippled boy who lives down the street. Every Saturday morning, I would take him in my wagon and I’d pull him up and down the streets of Medicine Hat,” said Gale. “From then on, I knew I wanted to help people.”
The Medicine Hat club, which has been around since 1950, is hosting a regional convention in celebration of the International Lions 100th anniversary on Oct. 21 and 22 at the Medicine Hat Lodge, which will attract about 150 delegates from across southern Alberta.
In addition to hosting the convention, the local Lions Club will be doing a highway cleanup and offering free eyesight tests to students.
“Our motto is ‘we serve,’” said James Higgins, another Lions Club Hatter. “When there’s a need, we try and step up and look after it if we can.
“It’s humbling to be able to fulfil those needs.”
Another Lion, Alan Bergen, said the group’s fundraising is of the utmost importance to fulfil its duties.
“Without funds, we can’t do much else,” he said.
With those funds, the club engages in its charitable endeavours, like donating sports equipment, funding the local college’s food bank and numerous other initiatives.
There are Lion’s Clubs in just about every country in the world, and its membership includes two former U.S. presidents — Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.
They have about 1.5 million members worldwide.
“The only service club that’s allowed in China is Lions International,” said Bergen.
Wayne Robinson, another member, said it’s because of the club’s apolitical nature.
“We’re not political, we have nothing to do with that, and they see that we’re a benefit to their citizens,” he said.
There are numerous other clubs in Medicine Hat dedicated to community service — the Kinsmen, Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs — and each serves a unique function.
“Every club has its own little niche that it fills,” said Higgins. “I think it’s just being part of the community with these other clubs that also do great work.”
Robinson said the Lions are unique because they don’t depend on advertising.
“Every cent they make goes back into the community or their major programs,” said Robinson, adding that the Lions have been recognized by the United Nations for its work.
In 2007, the Financial Times ranked the Lions Club as the best non-governmental organization to partner with, which Higgins said is a testament to the club’s stellar reputation.
Since there are Lions Clubs in most countries, each chapter is able to co-ordinate in case of emergency and arrange relief, whether it’s the Haitian earthquake in 2010 or the southern Alberta floods of 2013.
“We had $10,000 within 24 hours,” said Robinson of the flood relief.
“If one of your club members has problems and needs help with something, more often than not there are people that will step up and help out,” said Higgins.
“It’s like a big family. We help ourselves and we help others too.”