Club celebrates 50 years of service
By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
Chartered June 26, 1964, the Pierz Lions Club has literally been worth a million to its community. During its 50 years of existence, the volunteer organization has raised more than $1 million – all given to benefit the residents of Pierz.
“Pierz got to the point where they thought they should do something for the benefit of the community,” said Maurice Faust, a Lions member for more than 20 years. “The Lions from Brainerd got hold of Flip Spanier in the bank. He asked some of the other movers and shakers in town and they agreed they wanted to start a Lions Club.”
In its first year, the Club had 20 members, all men, who were for the most part businessmen. It would be 30 years before the Club welcomed its first woman as a member – Carol Hoheisel. Today, the Club boasts 72 members, both men and women, from various walks of life.
“The thing that’s nice about having men and women is that it makes a well-rounded club,” said incoming Lions President Harold Meyer. “Guys get one idea, ladies have another – get the two together and, by golly, you come out with some pretty good ideas. It really makes a difference.”
Following the motto of Lions International, “We Serve,” the Lions set out early on to improve the area for residents and visitors. Its first large project came in the early 1970s.
The city is home to a nine-hole golf course and park, set in a beautiful area where two streams come together. However, the area was used primarily by golfers, with not much for anyone else, Faust pointed out.
The Lions decided to build two shelters for public use, one of which is enclosed and has full kitchen facilities. Once the shelters were built, the Lions donated them to the city and now, the area is used for gatherings of all kinds – reunions, weddings, anniversaries, graduation parties and more. Today, there are four shelters at the park.
“Every person that uses the shelters spends money in town,” said Meyer. “They go down to the park, the shelters get used and they go uptown and buy something. Everyone in the area benefits.”
The Lions were instrumental in working with the Pierz Commercial Club to bring to life the annual “Oktoberfest,” which celebrates the city’s German heritage. Oktoberfest was first held in October, but it wasn’t long before organizers realized a warmer month would bring more people to the city. It has been held the third Sunday in August for most of its 30-year run.
“What strikes me is that so many of the groups in town pay a small amount of money for a vending site (at Oktoberfest) and for many of them that’s their only fundraiser,” said Faust. “The money they generate in their booth stays with them. I think that’s a great thing we’re doing for the community with the Commercial Club. It isn’t just the money we want for us.” It’s important, he said, to give other groups a fundraising venue.
“We bring in the crowd with the parade and activities and they all benefit,” Faust said.
Lions President Merlin Bruns pointed out how Oktoberfest has grown. Years ago, a week-long medallion hunt was added, and several years ago, the group started an early morning Oktoberfest Fun Run. It grew so much, the organization of the fun run event was turned over to Horizon Health. The Pierz Area Coalition (PAC) uses the celebration as a springboard for an alcohol/tobacco-free dance for teens the night before.
This year, since it’s the 30th anniversary of Oktoberfest, the Lions will donate two-thirds the cost of fireworks, with the city paying for a third.
About 20 years ago, the Lions donated $25,000 and worked with the American Legion to update the Legion ballpark, making it the first lighted ball field in the county, which allowed the city to play host to regionals for the Victory League. It remains one of the only lighted fields in the county.
The Lions aren’t just about big projects. They raise funds to benefit the community on a daily basis.
“One of the big things we’ve done in the last few years is give very heavily to the preservation of summer youth programs at the school,” said current Lions President Merlin Bruns. “It doesn’t cover the cost totally, but it really cuts down the cost to the participants.”
Meyer estimates the Lions give about $4,200 to $4,500 a year to the summer youth programs.
The Lions’ Tree of Lights, which shines at Billig Park each year, raises funds by selling lights in honor or memory of people’s loved ones. Those funds go to support the hospice programs at Horizon Health and Unity Family Healthcare.
The Lions are presented with formal requests for funds. As a group, the Lions decide where funds would best serve the community. Sometimes, the organization donates funds to people who have suffered a tragedy. “Someone whose home gets burned out,” Faust used as an example. “That hasn’t happened in a while.”
The Lions put on various fundraisers throughout the year, including Friday fish fries and breakfasts.
The fish fries have been a tradition in Pierz for many years, said Faust. “It started as a smelt fry,” he said,
Meyer said working on the fish fry events is a favorite for him.
“Making the potato salad, that’s a fun night,” he said. “We really get a lot of members to work at the fish fry.” While the Oktoberfest is another fun project, Meyer said the members are working in small groups on different projects. “With the fish fry, everybody works together,” making for a fun time, Meyer said.
For Oktoberfest, the Lions work with other organizations, which is also enjoyable. “We work together,” said Meyer, “There’s never anyone stepping on anyone else’s toes.”
A large portion of the Lions’ funds come from charitable gambling. While other organizations also have charitable gambling, Meyer said they are not in competition.
“We all work together,” he said, with organizations like the Pierz Fire Relief Association. Often other entities donate to some of the same projects as the Lions, adding bang to each other’s bucks. However, charitable gambling funds have dried up a bit in the last few years, Meyer said.
All the funds raised go to the community. Money to run the Lions Club comes from the members themselves through yearly dues and anything the “Tail Twister” can raise during meetings, charging members $1 for any off-the-wall thing he/she can think of. “Like whoever has a birthday that month may have to pay $1,” said Meyer.
Of course, the Pierz Lions support the larger projects of Lions International, such as the Lions sight programs for those at risk of losing their sight, eyeglass collections, hearing loss support and efforts to control and prevent diabetes.
“It’s a wonderful organization,” said Pierz Mayor Toby Egan. “I think everybody would agree with that.
“It’s really the members that make that organization great, it really is,” he said. “It’s just an unbelievable amount of volunteer time that those folks put in to help out the community.”
The Lions International website outlines its beginnings in 1917, when Melvin Jones, a 38-year-old Chicago business leader, challenged his own local business club to reach beyond business issues and address the betterment of their communities and the world.
Similar groups around the U.S. were contacted and an organizational meeting was held June 7, 1917, in Chicago, Ill. The new group took the name of one of the invited groups, the “Association of Lions Clubs,” and a national convention was held in Dallas, Texas, in October of that year. A constitution, by-laws, objectives and a code of ethics were approved.
Within three years, Lions became an international organization. “Since then, we’ve earned high marks for both integrity and transparency. We’re a well-run organization with a steady vision, a clear mission and a long and proud history,” the Lions website states.
The Pierz Lions will celebrate their anniversary Wednesday at Pierz Park. While not open to the public, those invited include Lions Clubs from a 30-mile radius, members of the business community and the Pierz City Council.
The Club will recognize some of its longest serving members, including Leon Flicker – 28 years; Rollie Hartmann – 31; John Hellie – 32; Herman Hoheisel – 47; Dale Janson and Jerry Marshik – 25; Otto Pelikan – 38; Daniel Sauer – 26; Steve Shelley – 29 and Frank Voigt – 32.
The Pierz Lions Club has been served by 40 different presidents; 27 members have been named Melvin Jones Fellows, the highest honor bestowed by Lions Clubs International; 10 members have earned the Helen Keller Award; five were named Hearing Research Fellows, three were recipients of the Diabetes Dream Catcher and three received the Top Dog/Can-Do Canine Award.
The Pierz Lions look forward to continuing its service to the community, which can only do so with community support
“Our success does depend upon community support,” said Bruns. “We can’t give dollars back unless people support us.”
Meyer echoed that sentiment. “If people don’t come and support our functions, we just have no money to give away,” he said. “It’s an easy way to support the community.”