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By Chip Griffin
The Boothbay Region has benefited from over a half-century of Lions-Rotarian collaboration. Although there may have been more competition between the clubs in earlier decades, collaboration has existed throughout the history of the two clubs, and cooperation has increased in recent years as a result of such individuals as Lion Tom Nickerson. The combined fellowship and efforts of Rotarians and Lions have sparked numerous projects which would never have been otherwise pursued and have ignited new ideas to serve others in need. Lions and Rotarians renew and forge friendships each year at biannual gatherings of the two clubs or through one-on-one introductions. These friendships and collaborations result in many good works, often behind the scenes and sometimes not noticed even by fellow Lions or Rotarians.
Lions Clubs International and Rotary International have had similar origins, structures, and purposes. Each started with one club in Chicago, Rotary organized by lawyer Paul Harris in 1905 and Lions organized by businessman Melvin Jones in 1917. Both Rotary and Lions quickly mushroomed and both quickly spread to other countries, Canada first for Rotary in 1912 and for Lions in 1920. Each organization is based on each independent club in a town or city, but organized at regional and global levels to enhance service to each club, vocation, community, and the world. From 1925 when Helen Keller addressed an international Lions convention, Lions have focused on service to the blind and visually impaired, as well as the deaf and hearing-impaired. A few years earlier Rotarians had launched what became known in 1928 as the Rotary Foundation, providing humanitarian relief throughout the world. Both organizations have similar numbers and geographic spread of members: 1.4 million for Lions and 1.2 million for Rotarians, 193 countries for Lions and 166 countries for Rotarians, and 46,000 clubs for Lions and 27,000 clubs for Rotarians. Both groups promote service: Rotary’s motto of “service above self” and Lion’s call for “unselfish service.” Rotary launched in 1985 its largest humanitarian effort ever: PolioPlus ($600 million), and Lions launched in 1990 its most aggressive sight-preservation effort: SightFirst ($143.5 million). Both organizations focus on youth, both in the community and globally. Both organizations contribute to other efforts worldwide, such as fostering civic organizations and community service, preserving the environment, promoting alcohol and drug education, helping health issues, alleviating hunger, and promoting peace and good will.
Many similar parallels have existed between our two Boothbay region clubs. The Boothbay Harbor Rotary Club started in 1939, while the Boothbay Harbor Lions Club began in 1953. Each club rotated among different rooms and restaurants in town until each club bought its own clubhouse, a very unusual circumstance for service clubs generally: The local Rotary club bought and renovated an old house between Oak Street and Townsend Avenue in 1949, and the local Lions club purchased and repaired the old West Harbor schoolhouse in 1960. Two early Rotarians, Louis Carbone and Louis Paine, soon joined Rotary (in 1947 and 1950 respectively), although both had been Boothbay Harbor Lions, in a club that had been formed in 1940 but faltered before WWII. Like most service organizations that peaked in the last half of the twentieth century, Boothbay Harbor’s Rotary club peaked at around 65 members in the late 1980s, while the Lions peaked at around 75 at the same time. Today in 2005, Rotary membership is around 45, and Lions membership is around 40.
Harold Clifford, a Rotarian from the club’s inception in 1939 until his death in 1988, was the club’s first secretary and recorded at least many of the innumerable connections between the two clubs in the Boothbay Harbor Rotary club’s annual history. Harry Pinkham, a charter member of the Lions since 1953, was likewise his club’s first secretary and has also contributed and recorded valuable Lions history. The Lions contracted with Rotary during the 1953-54 year to use the Rotary’s new headquarters for $12 a night and continued to use the Rotary clubhouse for at least several months during, and perhaps after, the 1953-54 year.
Also in 1953, “to keep in shape,” the newly organized Lions challenged the Rotarians to three softball games, resulting in Rotarians winning the first, tying the second, and the Lions winning the third. This became a long tradition over the next quarter-century. In 1954, after showing “our strong spirit and poor judgment,” Rotary lost all three softball games to the Lions, lost all four bowling matches to the Lions, and then hosted the Lions at Rotary headquarters, with 66 members sitting around the tables. On September 1, 1982, Rotary lost to Lions 9-1. In July of 1983 Rotary beat the Lions; in August of 1983, “with fewer Rotarians playing,” the Lions won. This tradition ended, due in part perhaps to the aging of the members but also due to injuries to one Rotarian and one Lion: Rotarian Bob Carbone breaking his ankle as he was rounding the bases, and Lion Tom Erskine breaking his hip in a collision with Ralph Spinney trying to catch a pop fly.
In the 1950s the clubs competed with each other in bowling contests. Frequently Rotarians Louis Carbone and Irwin Dodge would bowl against Lion Donald Giles and others. Some suggested that more drinking than bowling really occurred.
The 1954 Rotary-Lions gathering at the Rotary clubhouse, apparently resulted from an agreement that the softball-game loser must host the joint meeting. This started a 50-year tradition of Boothbay Harbor Rotarians and Lions meeting frequently, generally twice a year for at least the past three decades. For example, the Lions met with the Rotarians on January 27, 1966 and watched a baseball film (with inevitable comments about the upcoming Rotary-Lions season), and the two clubs met again in May. On September 26, 1968, 40 Lions were among the 95 diners at Rotary headquarters, and on March 12, 1969 both clubs met at the Lions Den, formerly the West Boothbay Harbor schoolhouse, for a roast beef dinner in honor of Congressman Stan Tupper. On April 22, 1970, 36 Rotarians were among the 85 diners at the Lions Den where Spencer Apollonio, Commissioner of Sea and Shore Fisheries, spoke on Earth Day; the Rotary Star noted, “Many a glass was raised on high, numerous friendships retouched, new acquaintances made. Fellowship reigned supreme.” Forty Rotarians were at the Lions Den and among the 90 men who enjoyed State Police Chief Parker Henessey on January 12, 1972. On April 11, 1973, 46 Rotarians met in the Lions Den to hear John Rafter of Wiscasset, a retired pilot with the Pan-American Clippers. On January 24, 1974, 23 Lions joined the Rotarians for another meeting. On February 22, 1979, 21 Lions met at Rotary headquarters and “filled the fourth table” and listened with deep interest to five men, garbed in Revolutionary War costumes and armed with weapons, described the disastrous Penobscot Bay Expedition of 1779. On February 27, 1980, 28 Rotarians met with the Lions to hear the always- colorful Colonel Allen Weeks, head of the State Police, who entertained us for many meetings, most recently at Hometown Heroes Night at the Spruce Point Inn in the fall of 2004. On February 12, 1981, the Lions met at Rotary to hear Admiral E.A. Rogers of the Maine Maritime Academy; the Rotarians met at Lions on April 18, 1981 to hear a lady speak on Skyward Clinic, a project for women alcoholics. On January 9, 1985, both clubs gathered at Lions to hear the policy from New England Telephone. Both clubs met at Lions on October 23, 1985; and on February 15, the Lions were Rotary’s guests to hear Admiral S.A. Scoarl, head of Maine Maritime Academy (the same subject as four years earlier). On February 11, 1988, club spirit was rowdy at the Rotary clubhouse for the joint meeting; we could hear the Lions roar throughout the club. In February of 1989, the large numbers of Rotarians and Lions in the Rotary clubhouse resulted in the Lions having to haul out their own tables in our cramped quarters. We met at the Lions Den on May 8, 1991. We met at Lions again in March of 1994. Rotarians and Lions met “twice as usual,” in 1995-96.
In February or March of 1981, Lions and Rotarians met on the basketball court for a community benefit, and the Lions won 43-41. On March 11, 1982, the Lions beat the Rotarians again, but all were winners as Big Brothers-Big Sisters benefited from the ticket proceeds. On March 23, 1984, another basketball game was played to benefit the same cause, but no result was reported. In 1987 the Rotary-Lions basketball game was played in the Boothbay Region Elementary School gym, “with generous attendance,” and ticket-sale income donated to the “Senior Substance-free graduation party,” but again with no scoring result reported. This basketball competition had become too contentious with too many fits of anger by a couple of Rotarians and Lions. The clubs during the last few years of the 1980s had tried to continue with more playful than serious basketball, to the dismay of club participants and the crowds. This basketball competition petered out in the late 1980s.
On April 14, 1982, Rotarians and Lions met together with their spouses, for Ladies Night, in the Boothbay Region Elementary School cafeteria. A proposed substance-free Senior Party after the Graduation Ball was the subject of the program, put on by Boothbay Region High School principal Joseph Testa and a senior student. We had all witnessed too many alcohol-related deaths on graduation nights. Rotary directors promptly voted $200 to the cause, and Lions likely did the same. Thus began another tradition of what is now known as Project Graduation, over 20 years ago.
Rotarians and Lions contributed the necessary funds in the early 1980s to enable the local Boosters Club to erect an electronic scoreboard in the school. Lion Phil Webster was both King Lion and president of the Boosters Club at the time.
Rotarians and Lions have always strongly supported the YMCA. On Saturday, September 27, 1986, 4 Rotarians and 5 Lions hauled out the floats at Camp Knickerbocker and set in place the new ways under the direction of Ron Calhoun. In the spring of 1987 Rotarians and Lions combined to paint and then launch the floats out onto Knickerbocker Lake. We also helped clear trails at Camp Knickerbocker. This spring and fall tradition continued until around 2003 when the float hauling and launching procedures became more mechanized and no longer needed our strong backs, weak minds, and wet (and often frigid) bodies. That same year, the Lions contributed to the Clifford Youth Fund, a fund for children in low-income families at the YMCA and a fund honoring Rotary’s charter member, Harold B. Clifford. Rotary had contributed $170 the prior year as well. Our Y continues to have an incredibly well-financed fund to pay the Y dues for any community members who cannot afford Y dues, the lowest dues in the state.
On November 4, 1994, Rotarians competed with Lions in vying for who could get the most club members to donate blood at each blood drive, organized by the Lions. This tradition has continued for over 10 years, helping many patients while encouraging fellowship within and between our two clubs. The plaque has adorned each clubhouse at different times in recognition of the winning club. At least ten percent of Boothbay Region Rotarians give blood at every blood drive, organized by the Lions Club and held at least four times a year in the Boothbay Region. This ten percent participation rate is over five times the one to two percent participation rate amongst the Boothbay Region population for blood donations. This reflects Harvard sociologist, Robert Putnam’s, observation generally: “To predict whether I am likely to give time, money, blood, or even a minor favor, you need to know, above all, how active I am in community life and how strong my ties to family, friends, and neighbors are.” A hint on how to increase such volunteerism is easy: “When volunteers are asked how they happened to get involved in their particular activity, the most common answer is, ‘Someone asked me.’ Conversely, when potential blood donors are asked why they haven’t given blood, the most common response is, ‘Nobody asked.’”[i] Blood donors have dropped off nationally between 1987 and 1997, at the same time that fears of AIDS contamination by giving blood also declined[ii]; the reason for declining blood donation appears to be, again, the aging of the civic generation and the reality that most people who give blood are young people with peak donations occurring in their thirties and declining sharply after fifty.[iii] Not surprisingly, people who report that TV is their primary means of entertainment, give blood less often.[iv] College graduates are twice as likely as people with a high school education or less to have volunteered in the past year or to be blood donors. Active blood donors are more likely to volunteer time and give to philanthropy than non-donors. Altruistic behaviors tend to go together.[v] Conversely, “bowling alone:” represents one of the nation’s most serious health challenges: disconnected people are two to five times more likely to die from all causes. If you belong to no groups but decide to join one, you cut your risk of dying within the next year by half. Indeed, if you’re a smoker and belong to no groups, it’s a toss-up whether or not you should stop smoking or start joining.[vi]
On November 6, 1994, Rotarians and Lions combined to help clear trails at the recently acquired Ovens Mouth preserve owned by the Boothbay Region Land Trust. Many of us enjoyed the roar of chain saws and rapid progress as we blazed new trails and opened access to the public for a spectacular part of our Boothbay Region.
Many larger projects may not have been accomplished without Rotary-Lions collaboration. For example, in 1995 Rotarians and Lions made a joint effort, donating thousands of dollars and hours of labor to dig posts and create the Lions-Rotary dugouts at the community field.
In 1996 Rotary gave $6,000 to fund the Y’s multi-purpose court at Camp Knickerbocker and contributed another $4,000 in the following two years. The Lions also helped out.
Around 2000, Rotarians and Lions linked to purchase the first thermal imaging camera to assist local firemen and first responders locate humans and animals in fires.
Rotarians and Lions also collaborated with a golf tournament for a few years, from approximately 2000 through 2003. This may be an example where only one club can organize a fundraiser alone and more effectively, however.
Rotary and Lions combined to celebrate Christmas in 2000, but quickly expanded the celebration to the Seaside Lodge Masons and the American Legion, at the American Legion Hall. This ended after 2002.
The project “Light It Up,” in 2002, to add lighting to the community fields, was chaired by Lion Tom Nickerson and funded through the efforts of many groups, including significant donations from Lions and Rotarians. Lions and Rotarians also contributed the labor for the excavation, materials, and lighting.
Rotary and Lions have contributed considerably to Rebuilding Together of Lincoln County, a new organization commenced under the auspices of Rotary in 2002 to improve and renovate the homes of neighbors in need. Rotarians and Lions serve as many of its directors and officers, house captains, and volunteers. Both clubs contribute significant money and labor, forming teams of Rotarians and Lions to improve at least one house for each group every year. Individual Rotarians and Lions assist and often lead volunteers for additional Rebuilding Together projects throughout the year, including winterization work.
Many community projects, community groups, and individuals have grown and prospered as a result of friendly competition between Rotarians and Lions. Each club often gives more by offering to match or exceed the other club’s contributions. For example, many Rotary directors’ decisions over the years have been sparked by questions such as “How much are the Lions giving,” or “We will pledge this amount if the Lions match it.” Each club has supported, in addition to the organizations mentioned above, St. Andrews Hospital, scouting programs, and Little League locally; and youth exchange programs, youth camps, and hungry, sick, or disabled individuals internationally.
Often, a local child is able to go on a trip or a local person in need is cared for after a quick call between a Rotarian and a Lion who commit each club to share the responsibility and to resolve the problem. This often is done between the president of the Rotary club and the King Lion, but just as often this collaboration happens between ordinary club members, who take on the responsibility, go to the boards, and obtain the needed approvals and funding.
Frequently, an organization, such as the Food Pantry or Toys for Tots, needs help. Each club promptly responds, often checking with the other club. Each club collects toys during December and contributes them to Toys for Tots. Lions consistently collect canned and other goods for the Food Pantry, and Rotarians have been donating over $1,000 each year to the Food Pantry.
Friendly competition and collaboration between the two clubs have pushed each club to have more fun and to serve others better, propelled projects forward to fruition, and improved the lives of individuals and the sense of community for us all over the past half-century. As we look forward to the next fifty years of collaboration, we should remember what we have accomplished and why we need to cooperate – to foster fellowship and to create the energy and synergy to accomplish even greater works for the common good.
[i] Putnam, Bowling Alone, pp. 118-122.