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Community service continues to make Lions roar

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It all started with a group of men with an idea, 50 years ago.

Now the Roberts Lions have grown into a community tradition, known for events, financial donations and upstanding citizens.

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All 69 current members will take some time at the end of this month to commend what has been, and look forward to their next 50 years as they celebrate their half-century anniversary. The Roberts Lions were made an official chapter on March 5, 1959.

None of the founding Roberts Lions members are still alive;.however, family members and friends of those founders continue to be leaders in the club.

It's been watching family members and friends in action as Lions that has spurred many Roberts residents to want to join the organization.

Dick Colbeth, a long-serving Lion, watched his older brother Seth join the founding group of Lions. Colbeth said he saw first hand the work the group did for the community and wanted to get involved in it himself.

Gene Hanson said he was around the Lions Club since he was young and helping his dad. He decided to join the club when an older member got sick.

"I thought, 'Who's going to fill their shoes?'" Hanson said. "It was either get involved or shut up."

Now, even the grandchildren of that first generation of Lions are signing up.

A few members in recent years joined just as soon as was allowed in the club rules - at age 18. Others have been part of the Lions almost three times as long as those new recruits have been alive. Around a table in the Lions Den on Saturday morning, five Lions had more than 200 years of combined experience.

Getting the young people and those new to the community involved is a continued effort these days, the older generation admits. Not only are the younger people wanted for hard labor but also for new ideas.

"Just because we've been around forever doesn't mean we've done it right," said Jim Winzer, who has been a Lion for 42 years.

New recruits are living up to the expectations they're faced with, the group agreed.

"I've noticed growth in quality. They jump in and take things over," Winzer said.

These days, the Lions welcome both men and women into the organization. That, however, wasn't the case until the early 1980s.

Allowing women into the club was controversial at the time, the group said. It was put to a vote and a large majority voted in favor of the change, Winzer explained.

The first official female Lion in Roberts was Mary Grupe. She went on to be the first female president and first female honored as a Melvin Jones Award recipient in the Roberts club.

These days, about 16 of the 69 are women, and they've made themselves known as strong members of the club.

"Women have made a huge impact on this club," Hanson replied, citing several active members and award recipients.

Roberts Lions have made themselves known beyond the local level. Many have received high accolades. Current president Ron Duffe served as an international director from 1998-00 and from 2000-01 as an international appointee.

Duffe and Lynn Steglich have served as district governors.

"A lot of clubs don't even have one governor," Mary Grupe explained.

Fifteen Lions have been honored as Melvin Jones Fellowship award winners. Melvin Jones was the founder of the International Lions Club. The Fellowship award is a high honor for Lions around the world.

"It was probably a high point for me," said Winzer.

The founding Roberts Lions were mostly businessmen. Their careers covered nearly every aspect of village life, including carpenters, a bar owner, a reverend, salesmen, a mason, a farmer, postmaster and the village president.

Today's Lions are a cross section of the community still.

"You wouldn't know the division in culture," said Winzer.

"Our strength comes from that," Hanson added. "We've got IT people to farmers. Everyone has their own set of skills."

"Everybody fits," Jim summarized.

Parts of the village this century were made possible by Lions back in the 1960s and 70s. Most notably is the Village Park and the Park Building, both established by the club. Once completed the building and park were completed, the Lions turned them over to the village.

"A few of us stood on the hill and looked down and said that'd be a good place for a park," Winzer explained. Getting it ready included infamous Lion Charlie Brown's first attempt at moving a building and community members helping to build the structures.

Today's Lions support or donate funds to about 26 projects and programs on international, state, district and local levels. Some local projects include the birthday calendar, funding four scholarships for St. Croix Central seniors and helping the scouts.

Their most visible projects are Good Neighbor Days during May and Love Baskets during Thanksgiving and Easter.

Coming up is the Wilson Foster memorial Pancake Breakfast on Sunday, April 5, from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. in the Roberts Park Building. Proceeds will be given to the Hazel Mackin Community Library Building Fund.

Don't count them out on adding new projects to the list either.

"It may be 50 years but this is just the beginning," Hanson stated.

To find out more about the Roberts Lions, check out their Web site at www.robertslions.com or talk to a current member. Interested people must be invited and nominated to join the club.

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