By LeAnn R. Ralph
ELK MOUND — Forty years is a long time.
And yet, the five charter members of the Elk Mound Lions Club who are still active in the organization remember the club’s charter night in January of 1977 almost as if it were just yesterday.
“We met two or three times that fall in October, November, December. In January, there were enough people interested that we could become a Lions Club. We had a charter night, and there were something like 33 or 34 people signed up,” said charter member Steve Dieter.
Lions Clubs from surrounding communities, such as Eau Claire and Menomonie, had supported forming the Lions Club in Elk Mound and came for the charter night ceremony, he noted.
“We were presented with a flag, a podium, the bell and some other gifts,” Dieter recalled.
The Elk Mound Lions Club will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of the club’s charter in January of 1977 with an open house Saturday, January 21, at Independence State Bank.
Rod Rhude, another charter member, also recalled the support of Lions Club organizations from surrounding communities.
Rhude counted the names of those present for the charter night ceremony.
“There were 37 members at charter night,” Rhude said.
The charter for the Elk Mound Lions Club is on display at the Elk Mound Village Hall, said Terry Stamm, another charter member.
“All of the original members signed the charter. The signatures are a little faded now but they are still legible,” he said.
Charter member Rev. Dean Brockmeier, who retired as pastor of Shepherd of the Hill Lutheran Church in Elk Mound a few years ago, said he vividly remembers a meeting at the Midway Motor Lodge in Eau Claire about the Lions Club and forming an organization in Elk Mound.
“And then I remember that we worked, worked, worked,” Pastor Brockmeier said.
Verl Carlstrom also is a charter member.
Charter night for the Elk Mound Lions Club drew “quite a crowd,” Carlstrom said.
At that time, there were no service organizations — no fraternal organizations — in Elk Mound, Dieter said.
“There were church groups, of course, but no service organizations. That’s why we wanted to have a service organization in Elk Mound,” he said.
Stamm was elected the first president of the Elk Mound Lions Club. He was the police chief in Elk Mound at the time and later on became the village’s director of public works.
“I had the privilege of being the first president 40 years ago,” he said.
Once the Elk Mound Lions Club was formed, the next step was to find a project.
“The other clubs said the first thing to do was to get a project going to be visible in the community and to generate interest in the Lions Club,” Dieter said.
So the Elk Mound Lions Club built a warming house for the skating rink.
The warming shelter later on became the “beer wagon” for other events, Dieter noted.
The Elk Mound Lions Club soon progressed to holding horse pulls and fish fries as fund raisers for the organization.
The horse pulls eventually became Elk Mound Fun Days, Dieter said.
The horse pulls were held at a place between Elk Mound and Colfax on Highway 40. The Elk Mound Lions could have a beer license out there, Pastor Brockmeier recalled.
And then came the Elk Mound Lions Club fish fries and the pancake breakfasts.
“The fish fries and pancake breakfasts were always well attended, and they were good fundraisers,” Dieter said.
“The people of the village, from the area, really, have supported us so well. People from Colfax also used to come for the fish fries,” Rhude said.
Over the years, the price of cod became more expensive, and along with other logistical problems and a smaller membership, it became impractical to continue the fish fries.
“We are no longer able to do big events. It’s hard when you don’t have the manpower,” Dieter said.
The Lions also used to put up the street decorations for Christmas, although the village has taken over doing that now, he added.
The biggest accomplishment, and the one that is perhaps now the most visible in the community, is the Elk Mound Lions Club Park.
Every summer, hundreds of Little League players and their family members use the park for Little League games and tournaments.
Lions Club members went to the Elk Mound Village Board and asked for a commitment from the village if the Lions Club would commit resources and manpower to get the park going, Dieter recalled.
The village purchased the property, and the Lions Club built the pavilion and the ball fields, Stamm said.
Pastor Brockmeier recalled that at one time, he had a photograph of himself digging a hole for one of the posts in what would become the pavilion.
“The Elk Mound Lions Club Park would not be there without the Lions Club. The village owned the property, but it was undeveloped,” Dieter said.
The park also is used for parties and family reunions, and if someone wants to use the park, it is best to sign up for a particular date well in advance because it is a popular spot, he said.
The Lions Club Park is “something the whole community can enjoy. People can take their kids to play out there. They can take a lunch and have a picnic,” Dieter said.
“It started from an open field, and now (nearly 40 years later) there are three ballfields, a pavilion and a basketball area,” Rhude said.
There is “always something going on (at the park), and if people want to use the pavilion, they would be wise to sign up a year in advance,” he said.
Nowadays, the Elk Mound Lions’ biggest fund raiser is serving food for the Little League tournament at the end of July.
“We try to keep a visible presence in the community,” Dieter said, noting that the Little League tournament is one way for the organization to stay visible.
The Elk Mound Lions Club also participates in the community-wide thrift sales in June sponsored by the Elk Mound Fire Department.
In the early days, Elk Mound Lions Club members used to sweep the streets in Elk Mound by hand each spring to raise money for the organization.
“We’d get a bunch of us out there to sweep the streets, shovel up the dirt and haul it away,” Dieter said.
“We had enough people then we could do that. We got paid what the village would have paid to have a street sweeper come in,” Pastor Brockmeier said.
One member owned a small skid steer, so the skid steer was used to load the debris from the street so it could be hauled away, he said.
Boy Scouts to eyeglasses
Some years back, the Boy Scouts were trying to organize again in Elk Mound, and they needed a sponsor, Dieter said.
Dieter recalled that Elk Mound had a Boy Scout troop when he was young, and to help the Boy Scouts reorganize in Elk Mound, the Lions Club agreed to sponsor them.
For many years, the Elk Mound Lions Club also sponsored students to go to Badger Boys State and Badger Girls State.
While the Elk Mound Lions no longer send students to Badger State, the organization gives out two scholarships every spring to graduating seniors at Elk Mound High School.
When Pastor Brockmeier was serving at Shepherd of the Hill Lutheran Church, some of the parents from the congregation were interested in a senior graduation party to keep seniors occupied, safe and out of trouble, Dieter said.
When the senior graduation party started, the Lions Club cooked breakfast for the event and did that for about 15 years, he said.
The Lions Club also collects food for the food pantry in Elk Mound.
And another major campaign the Lions Club is still working on is collecting used glasses and frames that are distributed in the United States and foreign countries where eyeglasses are needed, Stamm said.
In addition to supporting local projects, the Elk Mound Lions Club also supports the Wisconsin Lions Camp at Rosholt, which provides a free-of-charge camping experience for children and adults with disabilities from Wisconsin who are blind or visually impaired, deaf or hard of hearing, and children with cognitive disabilities, autism or diabetes. The Lions Clubs of Wisconsin founded the Wisconsin Lions Club camp in 1956, and the facility now serves about 1,300 campers each summer.
Leader Dogs for the Blind is another Lions Clubs program supported by the Elk Mound Lions Club, Stamm said.
The Lions have been doing the vision screening at Mound View Elementary, too, Dieter said.
One of the Elk Mound Lions Club’s most recent big projects was to help knock out the interior walls of the old Laundromat and beauty parlor in Elk Mound for the library and community center project.
The building “was a terrible mess” before the library and community center project started, Pastor Brockmeier said.
When it was discovered that the ceiling trusses were strong enough and the interior walls were not load bearing so the walls could be knocked out and a bigger space made for the library and community center, the Elk Mound Lions Club was instrumental in helping to remove all of the debris from the building so work could start on the remodeling.
“It has become a beautiful project,” Pastor Brockmeier said, noting that he served on the library committee as well.
There’s no doubt about it that 40 years is a long time.
When asked why they were willing to make a decades-long commitment to the Elk Mound Lions Club, the charter members said they were committed to serving their community.
“It’s something I can do … over the years it has been (rewarding). I have seen the results,” Dieter said.
“It’s been fun. We meet two times per month,” he said, noting that the Elk Mound Lions Club meets the second Thursday for a business meeting and on the fourth Thursday for a dinner meeting.
“If we have a project, the members are committed to helping with it,” Dieter said.
“I’d like to think I’ve done some good over the years,” he added.
When the Lions Club first started, Dieter’s brother lived in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and when he and his family went down to visit him, they stopped at small towns to visit parks and facilities. At that time, the Elk Mound Lions Club was starting to work on the park.
“I was surprised to see that many of them were sponsored by a Lions Club. I guess I don’t know why I was surprised, though. The Lions Clubs had either donated a shelter or some equipment or they had developed the entire park,” he said.
“It’s something I’ve always liked to do,” Rhude said, noting that over 40 years, he could probably count the number of meetings he has missed on one hand.
“I enjoy the guys that are in it … we get along pretty well,” he said.
“We have always been so grateful for the local support of Elk Mound and the surrounding communities,” Stamm said, adding that the community has always been instrumental in fund-raising for the scholarships, the Lions Club camp programs and the Leader Dog program.
“It is always rewarding. What keeps us going is the smiles on the kids’ faces, either at local community events or the camps,” he said.
“For those of who can still work, we all still want to give something back to the community,” Stamm said.
Pastor Brockmeier’s first call to be a pastor was at Solon Springs, and while he was at Solon Springs, he was president of the Lions Club there.
When he came to Elk Mound in 1972, there was no Lions Club, and so, because he had been president of the Lions Club in Solon Springs, he was asked to be part of the Elk Mound Lions Club.
“It is a good service organization,” he said, noting that he has done diabetes outreach in the past that was part of a Lions Club initiative.
Every year, the district governor comes to speak with the Elk Mound Lions.
District governors visit every club, and the push is always “community first,” bring in new members and be visible, Dieter said.
Over the years, Dieter has served as treasurer and as president multiple times.
The Lions elect a new president every year, and the officer positions rotate among the members.
When an organization has a limited number of people, the president’s position “rolls around again” every so often, he noted.
“It has really been a positive experience. You meet a lot of nice people,” Dieter said.
The anniversary celebration on January 21 will be recognizing both the public and past members of the Elk Mound Lions Club, Stamm said.
“We wanted to invite all of those back who contributed in some way,” he said.
The 40th anniversary celebration for the Elk Mound Lions Club on January 21 will be held from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Independence State Bank in Elk Mound.
All are welcome to attend.