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Red Wing Lions celebrate 70 years

Formed in the summer of 1946, the Red Wing Lions Club celebrated its 70th anniversary Friday, Nov. 4, with a banquet at the Red Wing Elks Club.

Although the official chartering of the club took place in 1946, emcee John Anderson presented a history that suggested there was a Lions Club in Red Wing in the 1930s that folded during World War II.

"Membership was a problem," said Forrest Watson, a 53-year club member who remembers going to Lions-sponsored minstrel shows while in high school. "The young men went off to serve in the military, and the older ones were away working in the war industries. The club just died," he said. "It started up again after WWII."

Watson and the only current member with a longer tenure, Arne Usem — a member for 58 years — along with member Richard "Dick" Johnson, past chairman of the Council of Governors, helped tell the club's history.

Red Wing boasts five district governors: the late Judge Elmer Tomfohr in 1958-59; Usem in 1969-70; the late Sverre Solheim, who was elected out of Thief River Falls in 1984-85, but was a longtime member here as well; Johnson in 1995-96, followed by a year as chairman of the Council of Governors in 1996-97; and Stan Nerhaugen in 2015-16.

Usem told about early fundraising activities.

"We sold everything imaginable," he said — "brooms, whisk brooms, light bulbs, candy before Halloween, and at Christmas we sold fruitcakes from Allyn's Bakery."

Members went door to door selling their products.

Money also was raised at a variety of events including barbershop quartet concerts. Events involving food continue to be popular, including hot dog and brat stands, a pancake breakfast and Ribs and Bibs.

Johnson focused on the role he and other Red Wing Lions played in providing disaster relief locally, around the country and internationally. As chair of the Council of Governors when the Red River flooded, he spearheaded the multiple district effort to provide aid through Lions Club International Foundation.

Solheim was treasurer for the effort. They made several trips to stricken areas.

The club's funds go toward numerous local, regional, national and worldwide projects. The Lions are particularly known for their support of Leader Dogs and Can Do Canines — and new activities involving children's vision — after being asked by Helen Keller in 1925 to be "Knights of the Blind in the crusade against darkness."

Other projects they support range from Project New Hope for veterans to the Youth Exchange program, hearing and diabetes foundations, youth hockey, the Lions Den at YMCA Camp Pepin, the Red Wing Food Shelf, and others.

The Winona Noon Lions Club and the Ellsworth Lions supported formation of the Red Wing club in 1946. In turn, Red Wing Lions sponsored the Lake City Lions Club in 1973, and Nerhaugen played a key role in establishing a new Zumbrota Lions Club in 2015. Women have been members since 1987, and Red Wing has had three women presidents.

Lions Clubs International will celebrate the organization's centennial in 2017. In honor of the 100 years, the local club has undertaken activities in four key areas — vision, youth, hunger and the environment.

And come summer, a Legacy Project will be dedicated at Colvill Park — a sculpture of a large pair of glasses, honoring the club's ongoing commitment to vision and to the Lions credo: "We Serve."