ALACHUA — Over 80 years ago, in 1931, members of the local community in Alachua decided to join a charity and service organization known as the Lions Club. The organization had been founded in 1917 near the end of World War I when Chicago businessman Melvin Jones formed a club to address the social and health issues in society. Starting with his local business club, Jones told members that they should reach beyond business issues and address the betterment of their communities and the world. He then contacted other similar groups throughout the United States, convincing them to combine their efforts to make a larger impact.
The new club established their main duty as "unselfish service to others." Within three years, they had over 6,400 members in the U.S. and Canada. While their service was directed toward helping their local communities, they also addressed diseases and social issues on a more global scale. Their efforts focused on several particular areas of service. Over the years, they added other global causes and now work on issues involving diabetes, childhood cancer, hunger and environmental issues. Today, the organization has grown to more than 1.4 million members in 200 countries.
Although Alachua was not the first Lions Club Chapter in Florida, it was one of the earliest when several businessmen decided to follow the tenants of the Lions in 1931. However, there were no national records to verify the club as officially part of the organization. In December 1939, the local club notified the Lions Club that they were disbanding. But only a month later they contacted the national organization to petition to join the Lion's Club officially, and that became the official start date for the Alachua chapter.
The Alachua Lions Club is now celebrating 80 years of serving the local community including sponsoring Boy Scout Troop 88 for over 80 years. The Lions Club provides the clubhouse and financial assistance to the troop so that anyone who wishes to be a scout can participate. The club also provides their adjacent property for the downtown baseball fields, tennis courts and basketball courts to the youth of the community. Each year the Lions also provide two Santa Fe High School students with a two-year college scholarship.
In relation to the goals of Lions Club International, the local chapter provides eye screenings, glasses and/or eye surgeries to anyone who qualifies. They also provide free diabetes screening and assistance to anyone needing hearing aids.
On Jan. 23, 2020, Alachua Lions club members held an anniversary dinner to celebrate their 80 years of service to the community of Alachua and as a part of Lions International to the worldwide community. Past International Director Stacey Jones served as keynote speaker with District Governor Buddy Wells bringing congratulations from District 35-L. They were also presented with a Proclamation from the City of Alachua, which was presented to the club by Alachua Mayor and Lion Gib Coerper.
Alachua Lions also host the oldest continuous fundraising event, the Cattlemen’s Banquet, which they have sponsored since they started. On March 24, 2020, they will have their 81st Cattlemen’s Banquet with an expected 450 people in attendance. The event will be held at Alan Hitchcock's Santa Fe River Ranch at Valley View.
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