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23 marching bands joined an estimated 24,000 Lions Club members representing over 100 countries and an overall membership of nearly 1,500,000 people constituting was claimed to be the world's largest service organization..
The result was an incredible pageant of visitors from throughout the U.S. and all around the world, often in colorful native dress. The Lions last met in Chicago ten years ago. After operating out of Melvin Jones office, it moved to the six-story post-fire building at the northeast corner of Michigan and Lake, which was remodeling in the early 1920's by Jarvis Hunt, and then again with its facade getting a concrete modernization in the 1950's. For twenty years, the Lions purple and gold emblem placed on the blank southern facing wall proclaimed the Lions presence, until the organization sold the building to Metropolitan Structures and moved to a new headquarters in Oak Brook in 1972. The structure was demolished to make way for Fujikawa Johnson's 205 North Michigan, the easternmost component of the massive Illinois Center development constructed on the Illinois Central's old railyards.
Jones set the mission of the Lions in service for others, saying "You can't get very far until you start doing something for somebody else," a commonsense statement under mounting assault in a current society that seems evermore obsessed with greed and cruelty.
According to an article by Joyce Russell Joyce in the Times of Northwestern Indiana, this mission found focus after Helen Keller addressed the 1925 convention, heeding Keller's call for the group to become "knights of the blind" their mission. It's said a Lions member created the first white guide cane, and in 1939 members of the Detroit Uptown Lions opened one of the first schools for training guide dogs. The Lions collected prescription eyewear for redistribution, and sponsored a series of vans and buses for vision testing.
I remember encountering volunteers on the street for Lions Candy Day, collecting contributions and passing out rolls (now pouches) of Lifesavers. The tradition continues to this day, and accounts for a large portion of Lions operating income.
Membership in the Lions remains by invitation only - you have to be sponsored by an existing member. Women were not admitted as members until 1987. (The majority of the Worcester England club resigned in protest.) Judging from Saturday's parade, they've made up for lost time. Similarly, while it took 14 years before an annual convention took place outside the United States, and until 1969 before a convention was held on the Asia continent, Japan, Korea and China today constitute the Lions fastest growing areas. Since 2002, conventions have been held in Osaka, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Busan and, last year, Fukuoka.
Today the Lions claim to be represented on every continent accept Antarctica, in over 200 countries and geographical areas. The emphasis on vision remain, but the Lions mission has expanded to such issues as youth mentoring, protecting the environment, and disaster relief. This year there are new programs addressing diabetes awareness and education.