It’s hard to go anywhere in the Ocean View area without seeing an aspect of the community that the Lord Baltimore Lions Club has touched.
In the 70 years since the club was formed — initially from staff and administration at the Lord Baltimore School — members have worked to improve the lives of others through projects ranging from providing glasses to those who need them but cannot afford them to building a house for a family in the community.
Many are familiar with the Lions Clubs’ assistance with eyeglasses and other issues involving eyesight, but few know where the connection began.
Club President Karl Gude said Helen Keller spoke to a national Lions group in 1925, challenging members to help those who could not see.
“She challenged them to be ‘knights of the blind,’” he said.
More than two decades later, on Jan. 23, 1946, the first Lord Baltimore club members signed its charter. Although none of the original 30 members original are still living, Gude said member Harry Dukes Jr. is the grandson of a founding member. He said at least three current members — Bill Scott, Kenny Crooks and Bobby Jones — have been members for more than 50 years.
The group first met at the school itself, and at Mariner’s Bethel United Methodist Church. Meeting places over the years reflect popular eateries in the history of the area: Murray’s Topside on the Indian River Bay in Cedar Neck and the Holiday House on the boardwalk in Bethany Beach, among others.
In the years following, the club took root in the community. In addition to services for the vision-impaired, the club has branched out to reach others in need. Providing medical equipment for community members has been a particularly rewarding and successful endeavor, Gude said.
“If you need a hospital bed, if you need a walker, the Lions Club will provide it,” he said, noting that they will even deliver the equipment and pick it up again when it is no longer needed.
That program has been so successful, Gude said, that the club often has more medical equipment than it can identify a need for. So the club works with a fellow Lion upstate who takes the surplus equipment and distributes it throughout Appalachia.
A major component of the Lions’ mission internationally, Gude said, is feeding the hungry.
“We realize that people are not only hungry at Thanksgiving and Christmas,” he said. The Lord Baltimore Club has recently partnered with the SOUL Ministries homeless shelter in Bethany Beach, he added.
The club also supports local Special Olympics athletes, participating in an annual cookout at Camp Barnes for the past several years. Another recent partnership with John M. Clayton Elementary School provides a party each school quarter for students who achieve A grades, Gude said. The club also sponsors three scholarships each year for Indian River High School seniors.
If a community member needs help with heating oil, or needs firewood, the Lord Baltimore Lions will also help with that. Whatever the community needs, the Lions are there to help, Gude said, including some projects that might surprise today’s residents. Gude said there was a time when the community had a “rat problem.” So, he said, “The club put out a bounty on rat tails,” and local boys took to hunting rats and eradicated the problem.
The club currently supports a number of international programs, including one that targets measles.
“Measles is still a major problem worldwide, and it causes blindness,” Gude said.
Lions Clubs across the country have joined a challenge issued by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in which the foundation pledged to match up to $5 million in contributions if the Lions Clubs raised it.
“We met that challenge” Gude said, resulting in vaccines being made available to millions of children around the world.
One of the major changes in the Lions organization’s history was the decision to admit women, Gude said.
“I think the best thing the Lions Club ever did was allow women. It gave us a whole new dimension,” he said. “Now that women are in the Lions Club, it’s more of a family thing.” Across the board, Gude said, “the common thread among Lions is a desire to serve.”
If there is one thing Gude would like to see change in his Lions Club, he said it would be for its membership to grow beyond its 60 current members. He recognized that his group is in a unique position because of its location in the midst of an area heavily populated by retirees and “retirees are always looking for something to do.”
Gude encouraged younger folks to join the ranks, since they are the future of the community and of the club, and he admitted that he would like to see more members step up into leadership roles. He emphasized that the club changes those who join it, forming within them a sense of their own purpose.
“You join the Lions Club and you become a Lion,” he said.
The Lord Baltimore Lions’ three largest fundraisers continue to be its fried chicken sales, its fruit sales and its annual car raffle. Even after 70 years, Gude said, the club continues to thrive and grow.
“We are still a strong, vibrant club.”
The Lord Baltimore Lions Club meets on the first and third Wednesdays of each month, except July and August, when they meet on the first Wednesday only. The club’s meeting place is currently in transition, he said, adding that anyone wishing to attend may call him at (302) 745-9279 for the location.