Fifty years ago, then 37-year-old Jim Stone was working for the New York Telephone Company when a colleague recommended that he join the Seaford Lions Club — a casual, then all-male group of residents and business owners interested in giving back to the community.
Stone, a Massapequa resident who attends Seaford Methodist Church, said he decided to give the Lions a try — and the decision changed his life.
After being interviewed by three Lions who told him about the club, Stone, the founder of All Weather Temperature Control, a family business in Copiague, went on to devote his life to the organization, moving up from secretary to treasurer to president. The 87-year-old recently celebrated his 50th anniversary with the club.
Although it has changed a great deal over the years, Stone said, the Lions Club is still going strong — and will celebrate its 70th anniversary next year. It is one of 34 clubs in Lions Club International’s District 20-K2, which services Nassau County and Bermuda.
“We were charged by Helen Keller in the 1920s to be the knights of the blind,” current President George Brennan explained. “A lot of our core mission deals with eliminating blindness around the world, improving sight and vision impairment.”
The organization offers vision testing for youth and works to prevent river blindness, caused by water contaminated with water-borne bacteria. It also focuses on diabetes and children’s poverty, Brennan said, as well as promoting literacy, preserving the environment and helping out during natural disasters.
To celebrate the club’s 70th anniversary, it is working to recruit a total of 70 members. It now has about 55.
“It’s a play on numbers, but we believe that the club is good, and we reach into the community on so many levels,” Brennan said. “By expanding the amount of members, we will expand our reach into the community and we will serve the community that much better.
“We have a bunch of people who have been threatening to come to a meeting to join,” he joked, “but sometimes you have to nudge them a bit. But once they come, they stick with us.”
A common misconception is that the club is intended for older residents, but those of all ages who live, work or own a business in Seaford are welcome. The group meets on the first and third Tuesday of each month from September to June at Runyon’s. The club has benefited from an influx of new, younger members who are parents of students enrolled in the Seaford School District. Some district administrators are also faithful members.
The club helped found the nonprofit Lions Eye Bank For Long Island in 1986, which works to fight corneal blindness. Nancy Kohler, a Seaford resident and a Lions Club member for over 15 years, is a member of the Eye Bank board.
“I always wanted to find a charity that I could believe in and know that my money was going to what I thought it would,” Kohler said. “That was the beginning of the end: Once I went to a meeting and met all the lovely people who were so passionate, giving and philanthropic, I was hooked.”
Kohler alone has made over 300 trips to hospitals and health centers to deliver corneas to those in need. To date, she said, the Eye Bank has provided over 13,000 corneas for sight restoration on Long Island and throughout the metropolitan area.
Seaford resident Donald Paulson, who encouraged Brennan to join the club, said he discovered the organization at around age 50, as a parent of students enrolled at Seaford High School and Shared Decision-Making Committee member.
At around the same time, Paulson said, his father was diagnosed with macular degeneration. “So here was a charity that seemed to be a perfect fit for me,” he said. “I wanted to get involved with something that could help those who were going to be sight-impaired. So I was a perfect fit.”
Though the club has changed greatly since Stone got his start, he said he was grateful the Lions were still doing good work after all this time. “A lot of organizations burn out after a certain time,” he said. “The old-timers retire or pass away and the younger generation doesn’t get involved. I was taught from a very young age that if you take from a community, it’s your responsibility to give back to that community. . . . It’s been a great feeling to be involved and see so many exciting things happen throughout the years. It’s great to be a Lion.”
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