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Thurmont Lions celebrate 75 years

Chris Patterson
The Gazette

The Thurmont Lions Club celebrated 75 years of service to the community this week, with a bang.

Organized in October 1929, the organization began humbly. But at Mount Saint Mary's University Saturday, the group had much to celebrate.

About 145 people came to a dinner featuring a keynote address by the Lions Club International President Clement F. Kusiak.

Though Kusiak is from Linthicum, Md., he has only spent a handful of days in the area all year, local President Shirley Long said. While there, Kusiak presented certificates of appreciation to three local Lions for their contributions.

Lions members Susan Favorite, Doug Favorite (Susan's brother) and Don Keeney were surprised to learn they were being recognizing at the event, Long said.

As if that weren't enough, the Thurmont's mayor and board of commissioners recognized the group at its Tuesday night town meeting with a proclamation declaring October 2004 to be Community Service Month in Thurmont and requested that residents pledge continuing support to the Lions Club.

Following the proclamation read by Mayor Martin Burns, Commissioners Wayne Hooper and Bill Blakeslee thanked the group for its contributions to the community.

"I always talk about what a great community the Thurmont area is and the Lions are part of what makes Thurmont great," Blakeslee said. "It's a wonderful organization. You work hard... and we appreciate everything you do."

Club President Long thanked the board for the proclamation and in turn presented the town with a print that the club commissioned from local artist Rebecca Pearl, called "Glimpses of Yesteryear." It depicts the Thurmont Town Square as it might have looked on a snowy evening in the year the club was founded. Sale of the prints is part of a fund-raising effort for the club.

Present at the proclamation were 48-year club member Vic Jagow and several others with a long history in the club. As the club's historian, Jagow can recite many cherished memories of the club's beginnings.

In the beginning

The Lions Club is a group of men and women who are committed to acting on community projects and vision-related causes, and to support that work with substantial efforts raising funds.

The group started in 1929 during a luncheon between several community-minded local businessmen. The men formed a committee to contact county groups that were involved in civic activities to see what group they would bring to Thurmont.

They soon chose the Lions Club and enlisted the aid of a few members of the Frederick Lions Club. The Frederick Lions then sponsored the Thurmont club and the new Thurmont Lions held a promotional meeting at the town hall on Oct. 23, 1929 to begin seeking members.

Many well-known names were among the original signers for the club. They included: Lester S. Birely, Victor M. Birely, Dr. Morris A. Birely, Allen Creager, John Creeger, Wilber R. Freeze, William J. Stoner, Harry W. Ruch, H.A.C. Sylvester and Raymond Creager.

On Nov. 2, 1929 the charter was presented and more members signed at that time. The first meetings were held at the Mrs. Ruth Eyler Restaurant across the street from the current Thurmont branch library on Water Street.

The restaurant closed shortly thereafter and all other meetings since then have been held at the Cozy Inn restaurant, which is also celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.

Jagow said the group began during the Great Depression and spent much of its early efforts lobbying for better infrastructure for the community. It was a peculiar time to begin trying to raise money, but it was also a desperately needed effort.

During World War II, the group thinned out dramatically as many of the men in town went to war, but it continued nonetheless, coming back strong after the war, he said.

While the club was originally made up primarily of businessmen and farmers, the group has come to include a diverse representation of the community. Women were included in 1994.

The first woman president, Sharon Ochoa, took office in 2001. Since then two other women have been president, Jenny West and, most recently, Shirley Long.

Busy hands

During its 75 years, the club has initiated and participated in many community and vision-related projects.

The Lions donate money for an annual Easter egg hunt for local children, finance scholarships for Catoctin High School students, support Catoctin High's annual Safe and Sane program for graduating seniors, clean up U.S. Route 15, finance attendance for physically or mentally challenged youth at Camp Greentop and collect eyeglasses and fund eye exams for residents every year.

Well known for collecting eyeglasses and hearing aids to be recycled, the club supports many other projects, such as Thurmont's Boy Scout Troop 270, Senior Citizens Center, the American Red Cross Blood Bank, Lions Club Leader Dog Program, Frederick County 4-H Therapeutic Riding Club, Upcounty Family Resource Center, Community Agency School Services, Thurmont Little League, Maryland Medical Eye Bank, Mission of Mercy, Thurmont Health Fair and Thurmont Food Bank.

The group has also provided financial assistance to members of the community who needed help with medical necessities, including medical expenses for a young boy with a detached retina, a 19-year­old with leukemia and a man with brain cancer.

And they've helped in other ways such as building a handicapped-accessible ramp for a local child and providing transportation to the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins for others.

To accomplish the many things the roughly 60-member club does each year, fund-raising is essential and the club goes at it with fervor.

Long said the club has come a long way from its early days with six members crammed into a tiny camping trailer selling food.

Now they use a large tent, and dozens help with each event.

Fund-raising efforts include, but are not limited to, the Thurmont and Emmitsburg Community Show food booth, a Colorfest food booth, Christmas Tree sales, the Super Summertime Pit Beef and Pork Sandwich sales at Bell Hill Farm, basket bingo, benefit breakfasts and community birthday calendar sales.

To learn more about the Thurmont Lions go to www.thurmontlionsclub.org or call club President Shirley Long at 301-898-7004.