The Waconia Lions were all set to mark their 75th anniversary last year. Then the coronavirus hit, cancelling plans for many organizations.
Now the Lions are giving it another go with a “75th + 1” anniversary celebration scheduled Saturday, Oct. 2, at Sovereign Estates Winery, 9950 North Shore Road in Waconia. The event begins with a social hour at 4 p.m. followed by dinner, entertainment and program starting at 5:30 p.m.
Last year, we carried a three-part series on the local Lions long history of service. As a refresher, here are a few highlights.
In July 1945, a Lions International representative named Tom Sheridan met with a group of interested men at Waconia City Hall. He presented detailed information regarding the Lions Club organization and what it can do for a community. Businessmen and professionals in Waconia had long recognized the need for a civic organization to promote and improve the city, foster the goodwill of its citizens, and capitalize on Lake Waconia. Commercial clubs had been started at various times, but met with little success.
Following the presentation, an immediate vote was taken, and a show of hands among those in attendance indicated a desire to proceed with organizing a Lions Club in Waconia. Temporary officers were elected and a follow-up meeting was scheduled for Aug. 2, 1945.
Word spread quickly and following two more organizational meetings the Waconia Lions Club received its charter Oct. 2, 1945 at a commemoration at the high school The event has headlined in the Minneapolis Tribune with some 260 people in attendance, including members, wives and visitors from other Lions Clubs.
The newly formed Lions club included 85 charter members and turned out to be one of the largest in the region.
Club growth and service
In the early years, Lions members note, the Waconia Lions Club operated almost like a Chamber of Commerce, or a branch of the city.
At the time of its formation, the local Lions Club recognized a community need for house numbering, street signs, mail delivery, road improvements and garbage disposal services. The club quickly formed special committees and went to work on all of these projects.
The club sponsored “Operation Cherry Tree” in the late 1940s to remove dead trees and brush that had grown along the south shore and beach areas of Lake Waconia after the level of the lake fell drastically in the 1930s.
The club helped establish recreational opportunities like Lakeside Park, now Lake Waconia Regional Park, Island View Golf Course, and Lions baseball field and grandstand.
The Lions also funded a $20,000 gazebo construction project in City Square Park, along with other improvements like park benches and veterans’ memorials. In cooperation with local businesses, the Lions also sponsored an annual Christmas lighting contest that drew statewide attention.
The Lions recognized the importance of good health care in the community, and pledged funds to support the building of Ridgeview Hospital. Members have continued to support the hospital with additional equipment and supported other community health causes, like sponsoring blood drives and providing eye glasses for those in need.
The club also supported children’s initiatives, including a children’s Christmas party, with a visit from Santa Claus, free movie matinee and gift bag. Also, a Carver County Fair Day for underprivileged children from Camp Manakiki (also known as Pillsbury Camp) that operated for several years.
And Waconia Boy Scout Troop 327 has been sponsored by the Waconia Lions Club since the troop was organized and received its charter at a Lions meeting in February 1946.
The Lions today
“The motto of the Lions Club of Waconia is “We Serve,” the same motto as every other Lions Club.” For over 75 years, and now with over 100 members, the Waconia Lions continue to come together in the spirit of service to give back to the local community, the region and the world.
Locally, the Waconia Lions Club sponsored two memorial trips to Washington D.C. for area veterans in 2007 and 2018, and annually ships Christmas gifts to deployed military personnel.
Also, every December, the Waconia Lions Club donates hundreds of poinsettia plants to residents in local Waconia nursing homes, assisted living residences, care centers and other senior housing.
For kids, each year the Lions hold an Easter egg hunt and parade, and each summer a “Take a kid fishing day,” furnishing all equipment, boat, instruction, meals and awards.
From a health perspective, the Lions club is a sponsor for the Relay for Life event held annually to raise funds in the fight against cancer. And for 45 years the Lions have partnered with the Red Cross to sponsor blood drives in the community.
The Lions also are a major sponsor for the annual Fourth of July fireworks over Lake Waconia, stage a free document shredding event for the community, and for over 40 years hosted a wild game dinner with music and silent auction as one of the Lions’ largest fundraisers each year. You will also find Lions selling brats and running concessions at the annual Carver County Fair and Waconia Rodeo to raise funds.
In turn, the Lions donate a lot of money in the community each year to various groups and causes.
In recent years, the Lions donated nearly $200,000 to Lions Field improvements, which led to Waconia hosting a very successful 2021 Minnesota State Amateur Baseball Tournament along with Hamburg and Chaska.
During their 75-year existence, the Waconia Lions have donated funds to local and world causes in excess of $2 million.