By David Fleet
It’s been a half-century since a group of local men gathered on a summer evening at Brandon High School to set the foundation for community service that benefit thousands.
The Ortonville Lions Club—chartered June 30, 1966 will be commemorated for 50 years with a dinner at 5:30 p.m., April 23 at the Flint Elks Club.
Ortonville native Karl Robinson recruited members and the club was co-sponsored by two clubs from two different districts led by Goodrich Lion Emery Bennett and Oxford Lion Don Awry.
“Ortonville was a community a lot like Goodrich,” said Bennett, now a Lion for 53 years. “The Lions were very active in Goodrich and it was a good fit for Ortonville, too. I’d been a Lion and helped Karl (Robinson) start recruiting members for Ortonville. The Lions attracted me because they are a non-profit and I really love what they do for the blind. When I saw those leader dogs for the blind and how they train them in Rochester it really impacted me. Today the Ortonville Lions have a lot of great members and they all should be commended on 50 years of service.”
Brandon Township resident Arnold Seelbinder, 89, is the only remaining charter member. Named second vice-president at the 1966 Charter Night, Seelbinder said it was service to the community that kept the club so successful for a half-century.
“We’d work hard at the White Cane sales along with other fundraisers—this community really responds to us,” he said. “Sometimes we’d meet in the homes of members, but most of the time it would be at the Old Town Hall in Ortonville. We have really good people that care and have fun all at the same time. Years ago they’d bring leader dogs to our meetings to demonstrate some of the work the trainers were doing. It’s amazing to watch the dogs work.”
Seelbinder said that Lions would often visit the Leader Dogs for the Blind facility in Rochester. Founded by three Detroit-area Lions Clubs members in 1939, the Leader Dogs for the Blind facility crafts programs for the visually impaired or Deaf-Blind with skills for independent travel, opening doors that may seem to have closed with the loss of sight.
“We’ve traveled all over the world, it seems we always are meeting other Lions,” he added
In 1987 the constitution of Lions Clubs International was amended to allow for women to become members.
Liz Rheaume joined the Ortonville Lions Club in 2003 and was the first woman president, serving from 2005-2009.
“I had friends that were members of the Lions Club—I was helping them with projects, so I joined,” she said. “It’s a very good group of people, a good mix who work well together. We have about a third of the club are women and some married couples that are Lions also.”
Wayne Wills, joined the Ortonville Lions in 1974 and served as president from 1979-80 and 2009-10.
“It’s all about giving back to the community,” said Wills, a local businessman for 43 years. “It’s a great chance to give back to the community. We are the largest service organization in world, but what we do locally is amazing.”
Ortonville Lions community activities:
Provide local eye exams and glasses for the needy; Support local senior center; Donations to the Ortonville Community Emergency Fund; Create food baskets; Sponsor little local league baseball teams; Provide vision screening for young children; Support leader dogs for the blind; Donate to the Beaumont silent children fund; Sponsor community Easter egg hunt; Donate to the Brandon High School Senior lock-in; Support local community parks; Donate to the Bear Lake Camp in Lapeer for blind campers; Donate to the Braille Beats Music Camp; Provide Brandon School District Senior Scholarships for 42 years; Donate to the Ortonville Christmas Toy Store; White cane sales, Mixed nut sales, Mint sales; Coordinate $10,000 cash raffle; Coordinate Septemberfest brat and homemade fries sales.