By Trevor Busch
Celebrating 81 years of dedicated service to the community in 2016, over the decades Taber Lions Club members have quite literally poured their hearts and souls into making the town the very best that it could be.
The local club estimates that over eight decades, the monetary value of the club’s contributions to the community have topped $2 million, and club members have collectively contributed an average of six man hours per day for 81 years, totalling some 175,200 hours.
“Over the past 81 years, this town would not be the town it is if it wasn’t for us, and other groups, too,” said club member Wayne Baker.
Organized in March 1935 and initially sponsored by the Lethbridge club, 20 men formed the Taber Lions Club, with inaugural president Jim Douglas. The Lady Lions Club was formed in February 1953. Over the years, the Lioness chapter and many volunteers have helped the club to achieve its goals.
The Lions pledge has been a hallmark of the club’s dedication to the community throughout its decades of service:
“I pledge allegiance to my Country, and to the cause of peace throughout the world. I believe in the principles of Lionism, as contained in the ‘Lion’s Code of Ethics’. I am proud to be a Lion, dedicated to the service of others.”
Lions are one of the largest service clubs in the world, and in 2017, Lions International will be celebrating their centennial, and have set a project goal of helping 100 million people.
Currently on target, some 20 million have been helped so far. A charter member of the local club, Ted Allen, was at one time the oldest serving Lion in the world shortly after celebrating his 100th birthday.
“He had the longest service record of any Lion in the world,” said Baker. “He was a member for 79 years when he passed away.”
During the dark days of the Great Depression, the Taber club was involved in a series of fundraisers to assist the needy, and many donations were made by the members. One of the club’s first projects was the construction of shower facilities in the M.D. of Taber Park.
“In August 1937, change rooms became a reality at the river bottom, because that’s where people used to go swimming,” said club member Joe Orban, who joined in 1966.
Another project the club was involved in included a ‘kiddies’ park and wading pool in 1942, as well as contributing to the construction of the original curling rink and hockey arena (pre-1950s structure) with buildings that originally came from Claresholm.
“The first curling rink, and hockey rink — it was an open-air rink — was located on property that my family owns now, the laundromat,” said Orban. “That’s where the curling rink was, and that’s where the hockey rink was. The Lions Club played a major part in donations to that rink, and helping build it and supporting it.”
Early fundraising efforts for the local club were supplemented through the organization of Mirthquake, which featured games of chance and other activities. Other events included dances, kissing booths, and the Lions concession. The club was also involved in car bingos, with the vehicles displayed on the sugar factory grounds.
“It (Mirthquake) was games of chance, kind of like a mini-casino,” said Orban. “It went on for a number of years until the gambling laws changed. It was a major fundraiser.”
According to Orban, in 1946 at the conclusion of WWII, the Lions purchased former drill halls in Lethbridge which were used to construct the first Community Centre, which featured a curling rink and arena, and cost approximately $250,000. Fundraising began in 1949, and the structure became a reality by 1951.
At the time, some members of the club actually co-signed the loan with the town. The Lions operated the concession in the facility, which was eventually destroyed by fire on Jan. 1, 1970, and was later replaced by the present structure.
“When the first community centre was constructed, Taber Lions was instrumental in acquiring the buildings from the prisoner of war camps in Lethbridge that had been used during the war,” said Orban. “The buildings had originally been built in 1941. The hangars were dismantled, transported to Taber and re-assembled again.”
The club was always involved in supporting the needy, youth, sports, and community projects in general, such as the Taber Memorial Swimming Pool, which was constructed by the club in 1948.
“The Lions built the first pool in town, by the railroad tracks, right where the museum is now,” said Baker. “Those were the change rooms for the pool, and the pool was east of there.”
Current projects for the club include the eye bank, hearing aids, dog walk, diabetes, school awards, CanTabs Aluminum, casinos, highway clean-up, sandbag sales, Cornfest, the rodeo parade, the Lions cook trailer, tents, Christmas tree sales, community Halloween celebrations, and the annual hospital telethon.
The local club has been a major contributor ($10,000 plus) to the M.D. of Taber Park, parks and playground equipment, the food bank, Safe Haven Women’s Shelter, the Children’s Wish Foundation, Clearview Lodge, the Berry Patch, the Lethbridge Regional Hospital’s retina camera project, Taber Cares (High River flooding), bicycles and medical and firefighting equipment for Chile, fuel for STARS ambulance at the hospital, the Community Centre, and the Taber Golf Club.
Club members have also been involved in supporting bartending for events, the duck race, toy raffle, operating the arena concession for more than 50 years, organizing Good Neighbour Suppers, Ken McDonald Memorial Sports Park, mint sales, Lions Foundation of Canada, Lions of Alberta Eye Bank, Lions Youth Camp, Lions Youth Exchange, Linden View care facility, Heart and Stroke, Scouts, air cadets, Royal Canadian Legion, Kiwanis, Rotary Club, Elks, Moose and Women of Moose, various churches, the Knights of Columbus, Jaycees, Taber and District Chamber of Commerce, the Town of Taber and the Canada Day millennium project.
“We’ve collected used eyeglasses in this community for at least 35 years,” said Baker, who was visibly emotional about this aspect of the club’s work. “That’s one of our major projects. Lions itself has a recycling facility in Calgary — the only one in Canada — where they grade the glasses, package them and send them to places that request them. They’ve sent glasses all over the world. We collect them and contribute them, probably 1,000 pairs per year from this community alone.”
The club is always looking for new members. Those interested in joining can contact Ed Martin (403-223-1407), Kevin Fedoruk (403-223-1760), Baker (403-223-2411) or Orban (403-223-2272). The Taber Lions Club meets the second and fourth Tuesday of every month, September to June, at the Heritage Inn at 7 p.m.