By Chisato Iversen
June 22, 2016 (La Mesa) -- From helping the blind to supporting Meals on Wheels and Toys for Tots, the La Mesa Lions Club has long been a driving force to help local people in need. East County Magazine sat down for an exclusive interview with Marge Dyke, former La Mesa Lion’s Club president.
The local chapter is part of the International Association of Lions Club founded in 1917 by a Chicago insurance agent, Melvin Jones. It is the youngest and largest social club in the world with over 1.4 million members in over 185 countries. Their charitable efforts worldwide have included funding eye surgery for poor children and other good works.
“We started in 1949 and of course it was only men who were in the club. Women were not allowed,” recalls Dyke. In 1987, the first women were allowed to join, after a federal court ruling barring male-only social clubs. Two years later, Duke retired and decided to join the service club to serve her community as a volunteer.
“The Lion’s Club is the largest service club in the world. You hear a lot more about the Rotarians and the Kiwanians, they have more coverage in the media than the Lion’s Club get,” she says. “I was invited to become a member, and that’s how you become a member of Lion’s Club-you’re invited.”
Since then she’s held every office in the organization and in 1983, she became the first female president.
She recalls, “That was breaking on a lot of ground there. I knew there were some men in the club that still weren’t too happy. So I thought I’m just going to be as nice as I can to those guys and turn them around, and I did. They became my strongest support.”
The club holds fundraisers twice a year, with “every penny” used to support projects in the community. “Some are for elementary schools, middle schools, the San Diego Center for the Blind, Meals on Wheels...We also volunteer...for the Meals on Wheels; we do the birthday bags for the clients,” Dyke explains. “We have silent auction items and opportunity drawings.”
They also hold social events. “We have a wine tasting party; we have a Christmas celebration and we try to do it in a home, because it’s more fun. Sometimes we’ll have it in a hotel...At the Christmas [party], we bring toys” that are donated to causes such as Toys for Tots and Rachel’s House. “Even though it’s a social event, we do something for the community.”
Asked what makes the Lion’s Club special, she replies, “There are some honors and awards.”
One of the awards is called Melvin Jones Scholarship, a $1,000 award established in 1917 at the request of Helen Keller.
“She calls us her knights, presenting blindness in some of the third world countries. That’s one of our goals. We train seeing-eye dogs, and they are given free to people who are blind. If some child in school is tested and their eyesight is very bad...we will pay for their entire surgical procedure. We take them to Shiley Eye Clinic. We give annually $1,000 to graduating seniors who has done something outstanding in service. This year we’re giving out four, so 4 $1,000 scholarships,” Dyke says. “So that’s part of those fundraising. Last year we were able to gift a little over $20,000”
The club is also there for people suffering hardships due to fires, floods or other disasters. “We turn to collect clothes, medical supplies, water and food, then we deliver it.”
Now Dyke herself is benefiting from the Lion’s efforts to help the visually impaired. “For my 93rd birthday I could still drive, but I’m losing my sight so I gave up driving because I wasn’t comfortable.” Now, she says whenever she needs whenever she needs a ride she calls a fellow Lion’s club member.
What’s the best part of being a Lion?
Dyke concludes, “The camaraderie, the friendship that we have; we really do care for one another. When people are ill, we see them and we pray for them...we really do care for one another.”
For more information about Lion’s Club International, visit http://www.lionsclubs.org/EN/index.php .