GLOVERSVILLE - For 70 years, the Gloversville Lions have had a major presence in the city, helping to collect glasses for the blind and raising money for downtown promotions.
Which means, of course, they've been a community fixture for the better part of a century in a place that has seen plenty of changes-some good, some bad-over the years. It also means the Lions are getting ready for a party.
The club will host a 70th anniversary celebration Oct. 17 at the Johnstown Holiday Inn. Club members said they hope to draw a crowd of more than 100 people.
(The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan)
Shown from left are Gloversville Lions members Conroy Beebie, Donald Williams, Linda Walsh, Norma Cozzilino and Fran Mezza during a meeting at the Gloversville YWCA on Wednesday.
The regal dinner-the invitation proclaims "the champagne's on ice"-is a contrast to the club's humble beginnings.
When it formally organized in 1939, the Lions' primary mission was to provide cod liver oil to nutrient-deficient children. It has since vastly expanded its reach.
Wednesday, at the Gloversville YWCA, five Gloversville Lions-all of whom have been president of the club at some point-met to discuss their club's rich history.
"We do so much," past President Fran Mezza said. The other four nodded their heads in agreement. The group sat around a table, on which lay envelopes freshly stuffed with invitations to the 70th anniversary party.
They talked about what the club has done for the community over the years.
The group bought Gloversville High School a new scoreboard for football games. It still stands today.
The Lions have helped rebuild local churches and have donated money to a since-defunct children's Christmas party, football banquets, a student loan fund, Halloween parties, battles of the bands and variety shows, among other causes.
Worldwide, the Lions' primary mission is to help vision-impaired individuals, and the Gloversville club consistently works to collect glasses and hearing aides for those who need them.
Current President Norma Cozzilino said she owns a machine that helps to prevent eye degeneration, and said the club, rather than sell it, wants to give it to someone "who's not able to afford to buy one."
"I often say I've been blessed, in a way, with Lionism," former District Governor Conroy Beebie said. As district governor, Beebie was in charge of all Lions clubs in the Capital Region. "Margie, [Beebie's wife], used to say, 'My husband has two religions-he's Catholic and he's Lion.'"
Beebie's comment was lightly tongue-in-cheek, but other members said it really sometimes felt as if they were part of more than just a typical club.
"It's an extension of religion, because most religions call on you to help others," club member Don Williams said.
"Mr. Lion," as the others referred to Beebie when he walked into the YWCA, is the longest-tenured Lion - he joined the Gloversville club in 1949. He has traveled to Tokyo for a Lion conference, where he walked for 6 1/2 hours in a parade and brought back a large parcel filled with Japanese goods he wanted to have here.
"We had a hell of a package," he said.
The club used to organize shows throughout the year that they sponsored along with businesses. Williams brought an old program from one of the events to the YWCA. On its back, there was a map of Gloversville that showed every business on Main Street.
Today, the vast majority of those businesses no longer exist in the area.
"This was when Gloversville was Gloversville," Mezza said, pointing at the wrinkled map's lines.
The Halloween party and Christmas party also no longer exist, because there no longer is interest in the events. At the YWCA, the five Lions members were at times wistful as they consistently invoked Gloversville's history and their role in its past.
"When we were younger, we did live shows every year," Williams said.
The club now has 33 members. In the 1960s, it had around 80, said Williams, co-membership chairman.
The club used to not allow women into its fold, though it relented in 1988 after a court case said service clubs that do business with one another must admit women.
At first, Mezza said she felt women should not belong, since she felt the two sexes should be separate in some matters. But now, she said, she's pleased to be a member of the club.
"We work together and we encourage each other," said Mezza. "We're just one big happy family."
Zach Subar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.