St. Davids Lions celebrate 50 years of serving community
Don Slingerland says the St. Davids Lions hall has seen some additions and improvements during the last 50 years, and members have come and gone, but the club’s goals and the camaraderie among members haven’t changed.
Don Slingerland remembers meeting in St. Davids United Church 50 years ago with a nucleus of men who wanted to form a service club.
They had witnessed the values of the Niagara Falls Lions Club, and wanted to do something similar in their own community.
In short order, they had purchases a piece of property across the street from the church and had their first meeting.
The property had been part of the canning factory, and had a small farmhouse on it. With minor renovations, that became their first St. Davids Lions Hall, where the 44 charter members met twice a month.
They had each signed a bank note for $1,000 to cover the mortgage, he said.
“It made me nervous, because we didn’t have a lot in those days, but it was paid off quickly.”
And it wasn’t long before the Lions were bringing in enough money to begin spending it where needed in the community.
In those days, says Slingerland, they made up baskets for those in need at Christmas, and purchased eye glasses for individuals who had sight problems but couldn’t afford glasses.
People would come to them for help, and there was always a folder of requests to go through.
Since then, they’ve taken on dog guides as one of their major projects, have supported many minor sports teams and given out student burseries.
They support St. Davids School, and Lions international projects, mainly in the area of eye care.
Slingerland is the only one of the 44 men still alive and still a St. Davids Lions member.
He’s never been president of the club, never gone in for the “politics,” but has always been a contributing member. He’s missed only one carnival—this year is the 50th—and that was because he was recovering from a heart attack.
They also built a swimming pool on the property, and then gave that part of the property and the pool to the Town to maintain.
They raised money from an annual hunters’ stag they held—there were several fishermen and hunters in the club—from the carnival, regular fish fries, Christmas tree sales and other activities.
The main prize at the carnival, their major fundraiser, has been everything from a 10-horsepower outboard motor—Slingerland says his father won that and it still runs—a trailer, a boat, a car, and now, $10,000.
“When we were giving away a car, it got to the point that we were worried about whether we would be able to pay for it,” he said.
The hall has had two major additions to the original building, and many renovations. It’s been rented out for events from family reunions to weddings, and is in the process of another update to make it more attractive as a community centre.
The Lioness have also used it for their regular meetings for the last 35 years.
The Lions used to have the women of the St. Davids United Church cater their twice-monthly dinner meetings, but now the Lioness make the meal for one meeting a month and the other is provided by a catering company.
Other than the improvements to the York Road hall, and members who have come and gone—at one point membership was almost reached 100, and is now down to about 65—not much has changed. The core values remain the same, said Slingerland.
“Our motto is ‘we serve,’ and we do, in so many ways.”
That, and the friendship and socializing with a great group, are what attracts members, he says.
“This is my community, and being a Lion is a way to be part of it. And we always have fun at our meetings.”
Although the club has a larger membership than some, it still struggles, says Al Snider, twice president of the club and now ending a year as district governor.
He’s been a member for 33 years, and with his father George, brother Doug and son Richard all St. Davids Lions, he is one of the only three-generation members in his club.
Like Slingerland, Snider says the social aspect of the club is the main attraction, along with helping others, in the community and beyond.
Bigger clubs such as theirs attract members because they can do more, and having a club house is also an advantage.
But even with their membership, he said, their activities are curtailed out of necessity.
They still manage to put on the same carnival each year, thanks to a lot of help from family, but it’s a struggle.
“The more members we have the more we can do. People hesitate to join because they think it’s going to take up a lot of time, but if you want to do any kind of service, even an hour or two, whatever, that’s fine,” says Snider.
“If someone’s interested in service work, we’ll give them the avenue to do it.”