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Lions take ‘We serve’ slogan seriously

Lions Club International’s slogan is “We Serve.” 

This year Lions worldwide are participating in Lions Club Internationals Centennial. Gov. Phil Bryant declared this past June 30 as “Lions Clubs Centennial Celebration Day.”

The Brookhaven Noon Lions Club was chartered in 1936, when the late Burton Davidson was elected as the club’s first president. At one time, the local club had more than 100 members. Today, the Noon Lions have around 40 members in the club.

Since that first meeting, Brookhaven’s Lions have worked hard every year to serve our local community.

Lions Club International was founded by Melvin Jones in 1917. This year marks 100 years of worldwide humanitarian service. Jones was a Chicago businessman who asked other businessmen to join and form a service club. Jones urged successful businessmen to give back to their community and find ways to help others. That’s how the “We Serve” motto came about.

Today, there are Lions Clubs in more than 200 countries across the world. More than 2 million men and women are active dues paying members of the world’s largest service organization. There are 46 thousand local Lions Clubs servicing their local communities.

Helen Keller challenged the Lions Clubs across the world to champion sight and hearing conservation. The Lions Clubs have taken that challenge to heart and the bulk of money raised by all the clubs goes to help hearing and sight impaired individuals across the world.

The Lions of Mississippi was established in 1920. 

Past club secretary-treasurer Joe Davis has been a member of the Noon Lions Club for 19 years, 16 as an officer.

“We, our club, has always worked hard to help the community. But, now, we’re looking for younger men and women to join. We need more young blood in our club to help us better serve Brookhaven and Lincoln County,” he said.

“I doubt any local service club in Brookhaven has more than 40 members,” past president Jim Hickman said. “And, unfortunately even with 40 members, it’s a good day when you have 20 members active and working in the club. Today’s young people think they are too busy to join a local service club, but they don’t understand how much they can help their community when they belong to one.”

Sight and hearing preservations are the two main service projects of all Lions Clubs. For over 25 years, local Lions Club members have set up sight screening days in every elementary school in Lincoln County. Each year around 3,000 students are given a basic sight screening exam. For those students who need glasses and can’t afford a professional exam, the Lions club will pay for both a visit to an optometrist and a pair of glasses. President Jim McKennon, a member for 16 years, says the club has paid for hundreds of eye exams and furnished glasses to needy students over the past 40 years or so.

This year alone they screened over 2,000 students with more than 400 referrals.

This is the second time for McKennon to serve as local club president.

“This is why we have fund-raisers. When you buy an ad in our program, participate in or go to the Lions Club Beauty Pageant, you’re helping raise money to buy eyeglasses and provide scholarships to Lincoln County students. We only have two major fund-raisers a year. Brookhaven’s Noon Lions started with a Water Carnival 75 years ago and we call it our Lions Club Beauty Pageant today. We have contestants whose mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers participated in the pageant through the years. Our other major fundraiser is selling pecans during November and December. The money we raise goes to help someone in our community.”

McKennon said they also provide money to the Mississippi Lions Eye Bank which provides needed donor retinas, lens and other eye tissues to those in need across the South. The Mississippi Lions Eye bank is one of the largest in the US.

Since 1936, the Brookhaven Lions Club has given back to the community in additional ways than just purchasing eyeglasses. They’ve purchased hearing aids and a Braille reader system for a local sight-impaired student. In the past 75 years, the local club has sponsored local youth baseball teams, and Boy Scout Troop 119 at the United Methodist Church. 

Currently, the club makes annual contributions to The Doll House on Hwy. 51 North, Berean Children’s Home, Brookhaven Animal Rescue League and Casa De Fay in Ecuador. The club also provides scholarships for local students to go to Copiah-Lincoln Community College and the Mississippi School for the Arts.

“For years, we’ve donated Care Bears to the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department and the Brookhaven Police Department. Law Enforcement officers give these stuffed toy bears to the children who are innocently caught up in the middle of domestic violence situations and criminal arrests of a parent or guardian. This was the idea of Lion Patty Perkins and we’ve done this for years,” McKennon said.

One of the oldest active members of the Brookhaven Lions Club is local businessman Dave Pace. He was ‘told’ to join the Lions when he moved to Brookhaven. His father was a long-time member of the Canton Lions Club and had served as president for a year.

“I’ve been a member of the Brookhaven Noon Lions club for 40 years. Back then we had more than 100 members. You had to wear a coat and tie when you attended every weekly meeting. They served a lot of turnip greens and cornbread, and we had a lot of fun. We worked, we raised money and spent it to help people who needed help, but we also had a lot of fun. I was a 22 year old just out of college. Where else in the world can you have lunch every week with the movers and shakers of the community? We had the mayor, an ex-mayor, always a politician or two, bank presidents and vice presidents and local community leaders. But we were all just Lions when we walked in the door and sat down to eat.”

Pace went on to say, “We started with a song. We had a tale twister who fined people for wearing the wrong color tie, or for wearing brown shoes one week and black shoes the next week. The fines were a dime. Everyone had a lot of fun. And we still served people here in Lincoln County.”

Past president Jim Hickman said, “People just don’t know how we help others. Once we had a woman that asked us to help her get a pair of glasses. We did all the paperwork, set her up with an appointment to see the eye doctor. But she wouldn’t go. We went to see her to find out why. She said she had a cancer on her nose and she couldn’t get fit for eyeglasses until the cancer was removed and her nose healed. She said she didn’t have the money for the nose surgery. The Brookhaven Lions Club provided the money for her cancer treatment and surgery and then bought her a pair of eyeglasses. That’s what we do, that’s why we are a service club and why we raise money. We are here to serve our community.”

McKennon said, “When you see those pecans at the local bank, buy a bag. Help the Lions Club and we will help others.”