Lions Club International plays an important role in the lives of Overland Park's Beverly and Neal Nichols and other Lions Club members in Johnson County who make it one of the nation's great service organizations.
Neal has held almost every office in the Overland Park Lions Host Club during the past 40 years. He's now serving his second term as president of the Host Club and was district governor of Kansas Multiple District 17-0 (53 local clubs in 13 counties) in 2007-08. He's a member of the club's board of directors and is the district's local coordinator for the USA/Canada Lions Leadership Forum, to be held Sept. 19-21, 2013, in Overland Park.
"It's a nice honor for our area and our club. More than 3,500 Lions are expected to attend," Nichols said.
The title "Host Club" signifies that Neal's was the first Lions Club chartered in Overland Park.
Beverly Nichols also has an impressive Lions Club resume. She was president of the Host Club in 2005 and is a member of the board. She also has been membership chair and held other offices. She will be district governor in 2012-13.
"The Lions Club has given us an opportunity to be part of a group working together for the good of the community and to help those less fortunate," Beverly explained. "Neal and I have always been active in our church, so helping others is part of our Christian responsibility and being a Lion fits in well with our desire to do that."
Neal and Beverly met when they were students at Arizona State College (now Arizona State University) in 1952 and married three years later. Neal joined the Lions in 1956, when both were teaching school (Beverly math and Neal American history) in Morenci, Ariz. Women couldn't join until 1987.
"It took us 70 years to realize we needed women," Neal said with a chuckle. "Now women are among our strongest members, and they last longer."
The couple moved to Overland Park in 1969. Neal joined the Overland Park Lions in 1971 and Beverly joined in 1992.
The Lions Club was founded in Chicago in 1917 by Melvin Jones, a young insurance executive with a motto: "Let's improve our communities." Three years later, clubs were established in Canada and Mexico and the name changed to Lions Club International. It eventually became the world's largest service organization, with 1.3 million members in 45,000 clubs.
In 1925, in an address at the organization's annual convention, Helen Keller urged the Lions to become "the knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness." Aiding blind and visually impaired persons became a defining goal among the organization's many worldwide humanitarian projects. A top priority among causes for the 10 Lions Clubs in Johnson County is providing eyeglasses and eye examinations for children and adults unable to afford them at the University of Kansas Medical Center Eye Center.
This dedication to community service encourages area residents such as Beverly and Neal to make Lions Club a prominent part of their lives. They've attended the last five international conventions—last year in Sydney, Australia—and plan to attend this year's convention in Seattle in July.
The local clubs conduct fundraisers and other activities including pancake breakfasts, chili suppers, pecan sales, and Christmas tree sales to support their projects. Clubs frequently collaborate with each other on fundraisers and often help the Salvation Army as bell ringers.
One of the Overland Park Host Club's most spectacular projects is lining Metcalf Avenue with American flags, from 72nd Street to 112th Street, on Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Patriot Day, and Veterans Day.
"We started with 45 flags in 1963, and now we put up 450," Neal said. "The club also packs care packages we call 'Shoeboxes for Soldiers' to send to soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. This year we sent 90 boxes."
Johnson County has 10 local clubs of Lions Clubs International.
Gardner Lions Club: T.C. TanCreti, president, 913-856-6202; 25 members; meets 6:00 p.m. on second and fourth Wednesdays; projects include pancake breakfasts in February and August and chili suppers in November and March.
Leawood Lions Club: Chris Wright, president, 913-488-0575; 62 members; meets 6:00 p.m. on second and fourth Tuesdays; projects include Pancake Days in September.
Lenexa Lions Club: Margaret Moore, president, 913-441-6683; 26 members; meets 6:30 p.m. on first and third Tuesdays; projects include refreshments at Lenexa barbecue and chili contests and pecan sales.
Merriam-Shawnee Lions Club: Lanny Bachtle, president, 913-268-7499; 14 members; meets noon on first and third Wednesdays; projects include pancake breakfasts and tree planting.
Olathe Lions Club: Vernon Nelson, president, 913-856-5092; 14 members; meets 6:00 p.m. third Mondays; projects include pancake breakfast, food booth at Old Settlers Reunion, and chili supper.
Olathe Noon Lions Club: Clayton Wenger, president, 913-780-4477; 16 members; meets noon second and fourth Wednesdays; projects include free health fair and pecan sales.
Overland Park Host Club: Neal Nichols, president, 913-642-7520; 25 members; meets 7:30 a.m. on second and fourth Saturdays; projects include college scholarships.
Overland Park Lions Noon Club: Heidi Reiling, president, 913-782-2022; 18 members; meets noon first and third Thursdays; projects include Trivia Night and Candy Day.
Prairie Village Lions Club: Bob Tonjes, president, 913-381-2283; 21 members; meets 8:00 a.m. first Saturdays and third Thursdays; projects include Christmas tree sales.
Shawnee Lions Club: Carleen Rajala, president, 913-541-1139; 20 members; meets 6:30 p.m. third Wednesdays; projects include food stand at Old Shawnee Days and Shawnee Craft Days.