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Roaring through the years

Published 12:05am Sunday, March 24, 2013

Ironton Lions Club celebrates 9 decades of community service


The Ironton Lions Club has provided the community with dedicated civic volunteers for 90 years.

The club has raised money through a variety of activities for a multitude of events and causes. The Ironton Lions distributes approximately $20,000 in aid and charity each year.

As the club celebrates its milestone anniversary, members look back to the past that laid the foundation for the club’s continued success in helping to support its community.



The Ironton Lions Club was founded Dec. 19, 1923, just six years after Lions Club International began in 1917. The 18th club to set down roots in Ohio, the Ironton club has a long history of community involvement.

Joe Jenkins, former Ironton Lions Club president and a Lion since 2001, said he has been proud to be a member for more than one of the club’s nine decades.

“I was invited to attend one of the meetings and it didn’t take long to realize what a great organization this is,” Jenkins said. “It is a great networking opportunity for members, but more importantly the things we do are a huge benefit to the community.”

The Lions Club has many key focus areas. Serving youth, providing disaster relief and meeting humanitarian needs are common community involvement areas many organizations cover, but the Lions Club has one focus that sets it apart from many other community-driven organizations: vision.



Ever since Helen Keller attended the Lions Club International Convention in 1925 and challenged the club to become “knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness,” the club has worked to fund research and programs dedicated to saving sight.

Lou Pyles, another former club president and member since 2002, said the Ironton Lions Club embodies this aspect of the mission through various means, including funding vision testing, glasses and eye surgery if needed for children under 18 years old, used eyeglasses donations to send to children in other countries and the purchase of seeing-eye dogs for those who need them.

“We fully sponsor sight dogs from Pilot Dogs Inc. in Columbus,” Pyles said. “We also sponsor the person receiving the dog to go there and stay for a month to learn how to properly take care of and interact with their new companion. These are professional people who work everyday, and instead of staying home and decaying these dogs allow them to go out to work and shop.”

Pyles said the club used to donate to Pilot Dog Inc., as many Lions Clubs do, but years ago she and other club members got together and said, “instead of buying the tail, let’s buy the whole dog.” And since then the club has sponsored four dogs, which cost more than $8,000 each.

One of the fundraisers the Ironton Lions Club uses to help fund their saving sight programs is the Haunted Tunnel.



The Haunted Tunnel is the club’s largest fundraiser. Converted from the former State Route 75 highway tunnel, the spooky event has provided entertainment for the community and raised funds for nearly two decades.

The tunnel is open for four weekends, but the work that goes into getting it ready for the public spans many months, Jenkins said.

“There is a lot of behind the scenes work that usually starts in the late spring,” Jenkins said. “We round up the volunteer labor, look at expenditures and, well let’s just say it is a lot of work.”

Jenkins said the club also takes the time they use setting up the Haunted Tunnel to help maintain the surrounding area, which includes a walkway and scenic overlook. He said one of the club’s community outreach programs is to keep the area presentable for the public.

The club does not just put on the same show every year. Jenkins said a lot goes into shaking things up to provide new entertainment for returning customers. A lemon to lemonade story, Jenkins said vandals badly damaged the tunnel in 2011 but instead of the admitting defeat, the Ironton Lions stepped up and made the tunnel better than ever.

“There was just so much that needed to be repaired and replaced so we decided to really do a complete overall,” Jenkins said. “We turned a lot around, redid a lot of things and it gave us the opportunity to really create a new event. We have received a lot of positive comments from the community.”

Jenkins said the Haunted Tunnel not only receives visitors from Ironton and Lawrence County, but families from all over the Tri-State to take part in the experience.



The Ironton Lion Club’s dedication to the community goes far beyond the International focus on vision issues and even entertaining families at events like the Haunted Tunnel, Pyles and Jenkins both said.

“We truly serve the community,” Pyles said. “My best experience with the Lions club was probably when myself and other members got together and set up playground equipment at the Open Door School. It was a Saturday and pouring rain, but well worth it.”

Pyles said the sun came out as soon as they were finished that day. A little hard work never hurt anyone though, she said, and providing a place for the students to be able to go outside and have fun is what the club is all about.

The club is also actively involved in supporting various local organizations, Jenkins said. He said the Scouts, Little League, Relay for Life, the City Welfare Mission and the downtown food pantry are just some of the groups or causes the club donates time and funds to. He also said the club creates scholarships for Ironton, Symmes Valley and Rock Hill students.



Jenkins said the club is still going strong after nine decades, and the only thing he could think of to help improve the club is perhaps some more fundraisers to benefit programs and events.

“I think we do a good job with what we have now, but we could always use new members,” Jenkins said. “We’d certainly welcome new people with new ideas and goals.”

The Ironton Lions Club meets every Tuesday except the last Tuesday of each month, at the Ironton Giovanni’s at noon. They meet at 7 p.m. the last Tuesday of the month.

Jenkins said the club encourages anyone seeking a good community oriented organization to come out, attend a meeting and hopefully join up.



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