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Lions Club of St. Joseph Island marks half century of service

From stacking firewood to expanding a community hall, the Lions have been roaring through community service on the Island for five decades

For five decades, the men and women of the St. Joseph Island Lions Club have served the people of St. Joseph Island with pride and satisfaction.

Over the years, the Lions Club's activities included environmental improvements, playground equipment installation, tennis court construction in Richards Landing, hospital equipment purchases and recycling programs.

Friday evening, the Lions club celebrated its anniversary with a dinner.

On Sunday, the service club hosted events for families beginning with a shortened version of its monthly pancake breakfast from 10 a.m. to 12 noon followed by an afternoon of outdoor activities behind the hall from 2-5 p.m.

The attractions included Entomica Insectarium with live bugs and butterfly display, the Hilton Union Fire Department, the St. Joseph Island Horticultural Society hands on activities, games of chance, cross-cultural projects, face painting and learn how to play disc golf.

Also on hand at the event was live entertainment, food items and a number of non-profit organizations offering information.

On June 26, 1972, the St. Joseph Island Lions Club received its Charter. Its sponsored club was Sault Ste. Marie Lions Club.

Its first executive board included President Art Bodley, Secretary Bill Pollock Sr., and Treasurer Dale Porter.

At the time, 36 men made up the list of members. Today there are 34 men and women.

Charlie Nelson is one of few of its original Charter members still active.

Nelson was 27-years-old when he heard about a Lions Club meeting coming up.

In a telephone interview, Nelson said

At the time, members held their meetings in its members' homes, Nelson told SooToday in a telephone interview.

“I went to learn more and joined,” Nelson said. “I never regretted attending. I’m very proud to be a Lion.”

Nelson said many are not aware of just how much the Lions Club did and continues to do for the residents of St. Joseph Island and beyond.

Lions help where there is a need.

In the beginning, they piled firewood, held blood drive campaigns, and bicycle rodeos, installed storm windows, did yard work, painted the children’s library, improved television reception at the then Matthews Memorial Hospital and held snowmobile races.

More than a decade passed and the Lions continued its volunteer work in the community.

“They wanted to do something of major proportion,” he said. “A number of items were suggested.”

Expanding the hall was on the list and Nelson was appointed the chair of the hall project.

One of the major fund-raising initiatives it undertook was the Hilton Community Hall Expansion Project, a fund-raising initiative the Lions Club was a driving force behind along with the Village of Hilton Beach and the Township of Hilton.

Established in 1896, the hall seated only 100 people and was not accessible to people with mobility issues.

“There was no place on the Island that could host large gatherings,” Nelson said. “A feasibility study was carried out. It showed there was a need.”

An inspection of the hall in Hilton Beach showed it was sound enough to expand so it was decided to renovate it rather than tear it down and build a bigger one.

The expansion project went over budget at a cost of over $408,300 not including the costs of the parking lot and landscaping.

Stevens Brothers began construction on the building in the spring of 1989 and it took about one year to complete.

The hall can now seat 300 people and is accessible to anyone with mobility issues.

Funding for the project came from grant monies as well as the Lions Club. The club's contribution took 10 years to pay off and came from various sources such as seasonal residents, spaghetti suppers, grant money, sale of Nevada tickets, pancake breakfasts, the pet cemetery, popcorn sales, food booths and donations.

Today, Nelson said the same construction project would cost about $1 million.

“You’d never think the population of Hilton Beach would take on such an undertaking,” Nelson said. “No one rejected the idea. There was full support and total commitment.”

The Hilton Community Hall is the heart of the community.

“A lot of people assumed the expansion has always been there,” he said. “The project brought a lot of people together.”

The Lions Club continues to make inroads in the St. Joseph Island community.

At one time the women had their own club, the Lionesses but, for the second year since combining the two clubs, the Lions have an all-women executive board.

Today, funds raised annually go to various community projects such as the loan of medical aid devices, maintenance of the William Wright Pet Cemetery, Friendship Arch and the Peace Arch (installed in 1996), school bursaries, financial support for national and international programs, Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides, visiting shut-ins, and maintenance of a memorial plaque within the hall.

Due to health regulations, COVID-19 temporarily slowed down the St. Joseph Island Lions Club's good work and fundraising mission. They were however successful in purchasing 44 tables for the hall which arrived on July 28, 2020.

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Donna Schell

About the Author: Donna Schell

Donna Schell is a longtime St. Joseph Island resident and freelance journalist who has been covering the Island and surrounding area for nearly two decades.
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