At the time the Crookston Lions Club was chartered, on September 14, 1938, Lions Clubs International was only 21 years old. The Club was chartered with 30 members, including two transfer members.
Club meetings were held in the Crookston Hotel on the first and third Mondays; the Charter Banquet was held October 17 in what appears to be the basement of the old Methodist Church. Club organizers were E. Whalen and C. W. Bishop of the Grand Forks, North Dakota, Lions Club. Ira L. Clark of Woolworth’s Five and Ten was the Charter president.
The original roster shows that the members were a cross section of influential residents of Crookston at that time, including the municipal judge, Internal Revenue Service, clergy, sheriff, newspaper, insurance, funeral director, banker, dentist, gas and oil distributor and a florist.
The tradition of leadership by Lions Club members continues to this day, with a number of current members holding influential positions in the community.
The early years
Available material regarding the period from 1938 to 1950 is limited, and all of the early members are gone. Newspaper articles indicate that the Crookston Lions Club was active in the community from the start. One project that was quite successful was a minstrel show held at the Grand Theater during the late 1940’s. Although it would not be politically correct by current social standards, it generated significant revenue that was used to support Lions service projects.
Early club leaders included Dr. Harper Jung and Russell Maves. (Russell is not on the roster of Charter members but joined shortly after the club chartered.) Harper served as club president during 1942-43 and Russell was president in 1946-47.
Both continued to serve throughout their lives and received 50 year membership honors at the Club’s 50th Anniversary Celebration in 1988. Russell continued as an active member and was honored for 65 years of active service to the club in 2003.
Crookston Lions Club members have a strong tradition of service to the community, the district, and the world.
During the 1950’s, the club conducted an annual toy drive; local firefighters repaired the toys, which were then given to the Salvation Army to deliver to underprivileged families in the Crookston area at Christmas.
Other early projects included selling light bulbs door to door; selling candy during the Red River Valley Winter Shows and playing softball against the Rotarians.
Page 2 of 3 - The Crookston Lions started the Crookston High School Athletic Banquet in 1952. Since then, hundreds of students have been honored, and listened to inspiring messages from coaches, educators and former college and professional athletes. This well organized and well regarded program, now known as the AAA Banquet, has been a part of the Crookston community for more than 60 years.
Other recent projects include building the picnic shelter at Highland Park; constructing a fence at a Habitat for Humanity home for a young child who is visually impaired, and planting hundreds of trees as part of the “Million Trees” campaign.
A history of leadership
Since its organization, Crookston Lions Club members have provided leadership in the club, and at the District and Multiple District Levels.
Henry Espe served as District Governor, 1957-58, Norman Arneson, 1974-75 and 1989-90, Wayne Swanson, 1995-96 and Jeannine Windels, 2009-10. In addition, several club members have served as Zone and Region Chairs and various other District offices. In recognition of their service, a number of club members have received a variety of honors, including Melvin Jones Fellowships and Helen Keller Awards. PDG Norman Arneson was elected to the MD5M Hall of Fame in 2005 and PDG Wayne Swanson was elected in 2008.
Crookston Lions have sponsored a number of new clubs in the District, beginning with Thief River Falls in October, 1938.
Other clubs sponsored by Crookston include Bemidji, 1939; Fosston, 1940; Fertile, 1956; East Grand Forks, 1963; Red Lake Falls and also Crookston Dawn to Dusk in 1975; and the University of Minnesota Campus Lions Club in 2010. The Crookston Lions are also the very proud co-sponsors of the Crookston Leo Club, chartered in 1991, which has won an unprecedented 22 consecutive International Leo Club Excellence Awards. The Club has also hosted or co-hosted the District 5M-11 Convention, most recently in 2012.
75 years of service
Today, the Crookston Lions are actively involved in the Ox Cart Days celebration in August, and have coordinated the Torchlight Parade for more than 20 years. The club has co-sponsored the Ox Cart Corn & Brats Feed since 2001. Other annual projects include: sponsoring a youth golf tournament; bell ringing for the Salvation Army; a blood drive; highway cleanup twice a year; serving pancake suppers at the nursing homes and the Care & Share Center; Home Delivered Meals; and the Peace Poster Contest.
Throughout the year, the Club collects used eyeglasses that are cleaned, sorted and distributed to third world countries. Thousands of pairs of glasses have been collected and made available to those who would otherwise have no resources to obtain corrective eyeglasses. The club also conducts fundraisers, and members individually donate to raise money to support the Minnesota Lions Vision Foundation, MD5M Hearing Foundation, Minnesota Lions Diabetes Foundation, Lions Clubs International Foundation, Project New Hope, Leader Dogs for the Blind, Can Do Canines and other Lions supported charities.
Page 3 of 3 - “Hoops on Halloween”, a three on three basketball tournament for students grades three to nine was started in 2009 by one of the club’s newest members and is now the Crookston Lions signature project. The tournament is held on the last Saturday in October and has been a success from the beginning. Attracting fifty-plus teams from throughout the region, the tournament is highly regarded by the young athletes and their families.
In 2017, Lions Clubs International will celebrate its One Hundredth Anniversary.
The Crookston Lions Club has been a strong force for good in the community and the world. We should, and will, build on the solid foundation that our older members have left for us, and continue to grow and provide needed services to those who need our help. As Helen Keller said: “alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”