Audrey Alt - Lions Peace Poster District Winner - Putnam Sentinel
Audrey Alt, winner of the Lion's District 1 Peace Poster contest is recognized by Lion's District Governor Dean Carruthers along with her parents. (Photo submitted)

OTTAWA — The Ottawa Lions Club was chartered in 1987, just over 30 years ago. Mike Kaufman was there. A few years later, he served the club as President for a year. Roughly 15 years after his first stint, Mr. Kaufman again leads the club.

What’s changed in that time? Well, the world has changed a great deal, but Mr. Kaufman, and his reasons for being part of the service organization, that doesn’t seem to have changed much at all.

“What the Lions is all about is sight related,” Mr. Kaufman says. “That’s the biggest thing we do, we collect used eyeglasses. We have collection spots at places like Kohl’s Market and the Optometrists, Dr. Dible and Dr. Musser. We have collection boxes in-town and then we always get a lot of eyeglasses from Kohl’s Market, and of course we get some from the funeral homes.”

“Once we collect those, they go to the VOSH Center in Pandora. That’s where they take and process all of these used eyeglasses, and get them ready to be used in a third-world country. Because they can’t use them in the U.S.”

The focus on issues related to sight traces back to a speech given before the organization’s national convention in the early 1920s, as Mr. Kaufman relates, “In 1925, when they had their national convention at Cedar Point, Helen Keller was the guest speaker. She charged the Lions that day to become, ‘Knights of the Blind,’ and do sight related things. So, that’s how Lions really got behind [sight].”

“Two years ago was the 100th anniversary of the Lions, and it’s now the largest service organization in the world.”

As impressive as that is for the club, it’s the work locally that seems most important to Mr. Kaufman. “We sponsor chicken barbecue dinner for the summer swim team every June,” he says. “We hold vision screenings at the elementary schools and preschools. We’ve been doing that the last five years or so. We get the screening machine, and we bring in youngsters. We screen them, and if we see an issue with their sight, we send a note home with their parents letting them know that they might want to see an optometrist.”

“With the second graders at elementary schools we have ‘Eddie Eyeglasses.’ This is a character that comes-in with these big eyeglasses. We do this every year. He talks to the kids about the importance of wearing eyeglasses and getting their eyes tested. If one of their fellow students has eye glasses, he tells them not to tease them.”

The Ottawa Lions also help out with the annual KNAPsack spaghetti dinner fundraisers. They provide chili during Ottawa’s Christmas parade, and decorate a Christmas tree for the library’s Festival of Trees. About five years ago, when $1,000 in funding for outside activities was cut for Ottawa-Glandorf High School’s Art Club, the Ottawa Lions stepped to continue it.

These are the things he hopes will continue during his term as President, and Mr. Kaufman would like to do more.

“We’ll take care of all of these different things we’ve been doing, to keep doing. And, maybe to start some new things, so we can help more people…I’d like to see our club help with some of the bigger things down the road.”

The men and women of the Ottawa Lions meet on the second Wednesday of each month at 8:30 p.m. at Schnipke Inn. New members are always welcome, though Mr. Kaufman emphasis that attending meetings is not a requirement. Just a desire for a better community, and a willingness to volunteer your own time and ability to make it better. Those who may be interested are invited to call: 419-615-2653 to learn more.