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ALACHUA ‒ After a two-year absence, the Alachua Lions Club held its largest charity fundraiser of the year to a packed house at Valley View, just outside of Alachua. The annual Cattlemen's Banquet is the longest continuous Lions Club fundraising event in Florida, with all profits from the banquet supporting charitable sight, hearing, youth and community service activities. The Alachua Lions Club is a member of the International Lions Club, a global organization whose charitable mission is to serve others.

It all started 1940. The Alachua Lions Club sought to bolster Alachua High School Future Farmers of America (FFA) students in their quest to raise a steer for auction. Lions Club members attended the auction and drove the bidding higher. Not only did their winning bid cover the FFA's cost, but it also provided additional funds to the FFA.

Each year the event grew, bringing many of the area’s cattle ranchers, politicians and residents to the event. For years the event was held at the Alachua Woman’s Club and attracted the attention of local and state officials as guest speakers including President Jimmy Carter, Florida Governors Buddy McKay, Lawton Chiles and Bob Graham. Eventually the event outgrew the Woman’s Club and was moved to a bigger venue at the Santa Fe River Ranch. Due to Covid-19, the banquet was canceled for the past two years. But in 2022 the fundraising event came back strong with record attendance and was moved to an even larger venture at Valley View near Santa Fe River Ranch.

It was another fun filled evening of laughter and good food as nearly 400 people attended the event that was kicked off with a cocktail hour on the veranda overlooking rolling pastures dotted with sprawling oak trees. An event of this size takes months of planning as well as coordinating support from the 28 corporate sponsors who provided either funding or services for the banquet. The Alachua Woman’s Club sponsored a silent auction featuring an assortment of items and specialty wines available for bidding. Local businesses pitched in with Capital City Bank sponsoring the cocktail hour, Conestoga’s Restaurant providing the dinner’s Caesar salad, and Alan Hitchcock providing the steaks.  In keeping with tradition, the Santa Fe High School Chapter of FFA was on hand to assist as guests helped themselves to the choice aged controlled steaks, loaded potato casserole, salad and dessert.

A number of local and state politicians mingled in the crowd as well as city leaders, Alachua County Sheriff Clovis Watson, Jr., and police chiefs from High Springs and Alachua. When the doors opened to the main hall, guests were welcomed by Alachua Lions Club President and Alachua City Commissioner Dayna Miller. After a Pledge of Allegiance ceremony and an invocation led by Alachua Lions Club member Joel DeCoursey, Jr., the buffet line was opened. Longtime banquet grill masters led by Alan Hitchcock provided sizzling steaks to accompany the meal. The banquet steak committee has been grilling for years and announced this was their final go round as they are hanging up their tongs and aprons. The group was honored by the Lions Club with an award for their service over decades of Cattlemen’s Banquets

Former Alachua County Clerk of the Court J.K. “Buddy” Irby served as Master of Ceremony. Tribute was paid to rancher C.E. Ed Calendine as Miller presented his widow with flowers to the standing ovation of the entire crowd. A twist to this year’s presentation of the Cattleman of the Year award was the presentation of two awards due to the cancellation of the prior years. Longtime Lions Club member and banquet favorite Ralph Cellon did the presentation honors, handing out the awards. For 2020, the award went to longtime Alachua ranchers Tom and Buckley Shaw of Shaw and Shaw Farms. The 2021 award went to Marty Smith.

The evening’s keynote speaker was Chiefland’s Luther Beauchamp, a lawyer, author and professional speaker with a humorous slant, often employing self-deprecating humor referencing his short stature. His two books are entitled “I'll Try to Be Short” and “Legal Shorts, Not Briefs.” Beauchamp knew many of the guests attending and his jokes often included good natured jabs about them as well. And an appreciative audience laughed continuously throughout his entertaining presentation.

The Cattlemen’s Banquet is back and a bigger success than ever. “It has just been a blessing the past six months to bring it all together again,” said Miller as the crowd began to leave. “This was a great success for the Lions Club,” said former Alachua Lions Club President Jim Emerson. “We raised around $25,000 tonight for the charity causes we support. This will go a long way in improving people’s lives”

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