The Cambridge Area Lions Club has come a long way since its 32 founding members began meeting at Judd’s Supper Club in the fall of 1980.
Gene Jorgensen, a founding and still active Lions Club member, has been there for every step, including serving five terms as president. Today, Jorgensen is the only remaining active, founding member of the club.
The Lions Club is marking the 40th anniversary of its first meeting, held in September 1980. Its charter was signed in November of that year.
“I am very proud of the years I have been here, knowing how we started,” Jorgensen said.
Jorgensen, longtime club member and past President Gary Posorske and current marketing chairperson Carol Sapienza, recently shared their thoughts on the anniversary, the club’s past accomplishments and milestones met, and its future.
Sapienza is one of six officers that began their current, one-year terms in July. The other 2020-21 officers are President Rich Nelson, Immediate Past President and Membership Chairperson Don Mehltretter, Vice President and Treasurer John Sherman, Secretary Kris Runge and Tail Twister Veronica Heenan.
The club now has 46 members, including 16 women. The first female club president was Roxanne Schiller, elected in 2017.
Lions Club International was founded in the Chicago area in 1917 and now has clubs in more than 150 countries world-wide. Women were first allowed to join Lions Club International in 1986. Prior to that, they could join a Lioness Club, an auxiliary of the Lions. World-wide, Lioness Clubs are being phased out this year.
In recent years, local membership has steadily grown.
“We have acquired new members, and very good members like Carol,” Posorske said.
Over four decades, the club’s significant accomplishments have included raising funds to build a new shelter at Ripley Park and then donating it to the park. It began planting Christmas trees in Veteran’s Park in downtown Cambridge in the early 1990s and about four years ago planted a new tree, and it pays for the holiday lights in the park.
The Cambridge Lions were an active partner in organizing Umbrella Days activities in Cambridge. And in recent years, the club has gained a loyal following for the pizza it grills in Veteran’s Park during the Cambridge Arts Council’s Summer Concert Series.
The club’s annual fundraisers have included a bowling tournament held every spring and a variety of raffles, including a Valentine’s Day raffle held since the early 1990s.
Before management of the Cambridge Youth Center was taken over by the Cambridge Community Activities Program, the Lions Club provided support and volunteers to help run it. The Lions still give money to CAP every year to support its programs.
In line with the mission of Lions International, the Cambridge club has offered vision screening for Cambridge children for many years. It maintains a half-dozen drop-off sites in Cambridge to collect used eyeglasses and hearing aids and is committed to connecting those in need of further examination with an area eye doctor. And it helps purchase eyeglasses for local residents who need them. “The entire time we have been a Lions Club we have bought eyeglasses for anyone in the Cambridge School District who can’t afford them,” Jorgensen said.
The club also cleans up local roadsides, participates in school and community events like Reality Day for Cambridge High School seniors, and offers scholarships to graduating CHS seniors.
A decade ago, it spent $10,000 to build a handicapped accessible pier at the Cambridge Wildlife & Fishing Area on Lagoon Road, on the former site of the Village of Cambridge’s sewage treatment ponds.
The club has a 99-year lease with the village for a clubhouse building that is adjacent to the site’s fishing ponds, that once housed Cambridge’s sewage treatment operations. Extensively remodeled, the clubhouse is now the site of Lions Club meetings and also available for rent for private parties and gatherings. The fishing ponds and surrounding wooded acreage remain owned by the village as a designated public park, and the Lions Club donated the pier to the village soon after its construction was complete.
Founding club member Bob Hill was particularly instrumental in the construction of the pier and in securing and remodeling the clubhouse building.
Some of the clubhouse’s original sewage treatment plant elements were preserved for historical purposes, Jorgensen, Posorske and Sapienza shared in a recent quick tour.
“If you look over here you can some of the pipes,” that were purposely left in place, to preserve the historical character, Posorske said.
The three club members said 2020 has been a challenging year, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
An annual bowling night fundraiser was canceled abruptly, on the day it was to happen in March. The club is holding onto raffle prizes that had been given for that event, with plans on using them in 2021.
Sapienza further said that this year the Cambridge Lions has “kind of rearranged” its donations, that normally go to a variety of local organizations. Instead, it has directed the bulk of its 2020 donations, totaling over $5,000, to the Cambridge Food Pantry and to Badger Bank’s Everybody Eats campaign, which funds school lunches for families in need.
With many local residents laid off from their jobs due to COVID-19, “people are going to the food pantry more,” Sapienza said. “We just want to make sure they are fed.”
And the club’s 40th anniversary celebration, that had been envisioned to include a community cookout, has been shelved for now. “We were going to have people come down and maybe have brats…but we can’t do that now,” said Posorske, who joined the Cambridge Lions in 1999 and has since served as a local president and risen to leadership roles at the district, region and state level.
The statewide experience, especially, has been unforgettable, Posorske said.
“I got to know people from all over,” Posorske said.
Sapienza said she joined after it was clear that her husband, Joe, “was having a lot of fun.”
“I said ‘what the heck, I want to be a member too,’” Sapienza recalls.
The Summer Concert Series grilled pizzas are among the club initiatives Joe Sapienza has been heavily involved in in recent years. She said a desire to work together and to help on every level, from local to international, is high among Cambridge members. The motto of Lions International is “We Serve.”
“People are always willing to help, no matter what,” Sapienza said. “I think it’s inherent in what we do, they are just happy to help.”
“We don’t just care about ourselves; we want to help everybody,” Jorgensen agreed.