The Paradise and District Lion Club celebrated its 50th anniversary on Tuesday, with the two remaining founding members, Ed Gerstenkorn and John Pfaffinger, reflecting on the club’s early days.
“People felt there was a need for this area to have somebody to help charities and charity programs. And there were a lot of families that required it and at that time, there was nothing here, service clubs at all, so they felt that it was a good area to start a Lions Club,” Gerstenkorn said.
“We had over 40 people, maybe 45 or so initially. And some joined and dropped off over the years again, of course,” Pfaffinger added.
Although it is based in St. Clements, naming the club was challenging, Gerstenkorn explained.
- Advertisement -
“When the club was chartered [we asked] what name is it going to be called? Is it going to be Heidelberg Lions Club, St. Clements? Because we drew from Wellesley, we had members from Bamberg, Paradise Lake, and St. Jacobs.”
“Plus we had nothing that stuck out really. So some locations there’s something already like a big city name that is known like Kitchener they picked Oktoberfest [Lions Club] because that was already there. We did not want to leave Heidelberg out or anybody else. So we picked Paradise Lake,” Pfaffinger added.
The club has been heavily involved in the community over the last 50 years.
“We’ve raised over $1 million. It’s a rural club – they’re much different than a city club,” Gerstenkorn said
Among the many highlights was the starting of the annual Tree of Light event.
“John designed that whole tree and everything and it’s used as a flagpole in the summer. And it has benefited the community in the way of fundraising. The first year, I think we only made $2,000. Last year was at $16,000. And then the community donates towards it, because everything stays here in the community,” Gerstenkorn said.
Lions Club International was originally a male-only organization. Women were first welcomed into the Lions Club in 1987, and the Lioness Auxiliary program was dissolved in 1991. The first women joined the local club the next year, bringing a new take on the club and its role.
“When the women joined, we got a whole new perspective of things, and more ideas on how to help the communities was very beneficial,” Gerstenkorn said.
“So different aspects, because women look at things differently and have different ideas,” added Pfaffinger.
Retention of members has been a challenge, however.
“People move away, people pass away. How do you get interest? Especially younger people, they’re so involved with their families,” said Gerstenkorn.
“The big problem for us was in 1982, members from Wellesley and Linwood in that timeframe split off. When you lose 10 people in one year that’s a big hole,” Pfaffinger explained.
While that dip in membership is challenging, it is good to see the Lions Club grow as a whole, Pfaffinger said, noting that newer clubs were able to learn from their founding.
“And we learned from St. Jacobs and St. Jacobs learned from Elmira, which is one of the biggest clubs,” Gerstenkorn said.
Along with serving the community for 50 years, Pfaffinger enjoyed the camaraderie of the club and the work they did together.
“Let’s say I design this and that, but when we come together we need all the others to get things going, one man cannot do it. So when a group comes together, like putting up the tree of light, it’s always a team of about a dozen people,” he said.
“Individuals cannot do that much alone. But as a group, we can do an awful lot more. There’s lots of hard work at times like cleaning up the park and erecting this and helping here. But nobody comes here and goes away mad or anything like that. They come because they enjoy it and they see the benefits that it brings to the communities.”