Lions started with an ambulance

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When the Woodbury Lions Club formed on Jan. 17, 1969, its 45 members included names that today's residents recognize—Orville Bielenberg, John Currell and Richard Stafford.

"These are the people that built the city with bricks and mortar," Lion Mark Cavaleri said.

While the Lions have given more than $1.3 million directly to local causes and currently at least $25,000 a year, their role has evolved.

The Lions Club started after a group from Woodbury met to discuss the lacking ambulance service in town. During the city's infancy, ambulances responding from West St. Paul or Stillwater to emergencies in Woodbury would arrive in no fewer than 30 minutes. This was unacceptable to the club's first president, Gaston Vandermeerssche, who in September 1969, led the Lions in raising funds to start an ambulance service in Woodbury. Run by a Lions member-dominated ambulance council with paid volunteers, the service was eventually turned over to the city—in 2009.

The Lions' local projects change with the times. Often they support sight, hearing, hunger and youth causes—all among the stated purposes of the world's largest service organization, Lions Club International.

And the local arm of the organization is known for the Woodbury Lions Veterans Memorial—a $360,000 project that began in 2009 and is heading toward its conclusion, thanks to partnerships with the city, the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and other nonprofits, businesses, governmental entities, and individual supporters.

Lion Don Place called the veterans memorial "a holy spot" that is meaningful for veterans and their families.

The park is "pensive, reflective," added Lion Dick Krumm, who designed the site. "People can sit and contemplate their loved one."

The Lions built the Ojibway Park bandshell, as well as park shelters at Powers and Carver lakes.

"We wanted to keep our money in Woodbury," Lion Dick Krumm said, "and parks and kids—it all seemed logical."

The Lions are routinely supportive of youth activities and education. During the last 30 years or more, the Lions have donated $150,000 to scholarships for Woodbury residents—$9,000 last year.

In the 1970s, Lions hosted no-helmets-required bike rodeos and served as self-proclaimed "Halloween deputies," assisting law enforcement in keeping mischief to a minimum and kids safe.

"We did the Halloween patrol. We did the bike safety," Cavaleri said. "But times change."

Since the 1980s, the YMCA has received support from the Lions.

Merrill Community Arts Center hosts the Lions Peace Poster contest exhibit each year.

The club gives to Relay for Life South Washington County and Christian Cupboard Emergency Food Shelf, among other local groups. There are special projects to which donations are given—for example the Madison's Place all-inclusive playground.

Some traditions have stayed the same.

This year's citywide garage sale, May 11-13, will mark the 40th year of the fundraiser and community event. It's a fundraiser—residents pay a nominal fee and receive a garage sale sign, as well as inclusion of their ads in a garage sale guide and e-directory.

The Lions also host their 46th year pancake breakfast—this year's from 7:30 to 10 a.m. Saturday, April 8, at Green Mill Restaurant and Bar in Woodbury.

The Lions are key partners at an annual golf tournament that funds payments on the construction of the veterans memorial, and the club plays a role in events celebrating veterans on legal holidays. This year's tournament is scheduled for Aug. 14.

Today, the town's needs revolve around community involvement and engagement. The Lions are a $2,000 sponsor of the Woodbury Citizens Academy, partnering with the city and Woodbury Community Foundation, in a series of seminars meant to teach people about the town and opportunities to contribute, volunteer or otherwise give back.

"This is a way to get involved in the community," Cavaleri said of the Lions. "That's why we do the pancake breakfast. That's why we do the garage sale. That's why when we give the Lions scholarships, community service is a main factor. This is all about community."

"That's what Lions do," Krumm said. "We serve."

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