Stratford Lions is celebrating its 50th anniversary this month.
It is a significant milestone for Stratford, being the only surviving club of the three Taranaki clubs - including New Plymouth and Hawera - simultaneously chartered in 1962 and which received their charters the next year, on March 11, from Lions International president, Curtis D Lovills at the Stratford War Memorial Hall. The charter sponsor was the Wanganui club.
The club started with 39 members, chaired by president David Bransgrove, Marcus McKenzie as secretary and Peter Charleton as treasurer. The members ranged from a variety of occupations, including pharmacist, photographer, teacher, farmer and electrician. This variety of skills to draw from is today still one of Lions' strengths, say Jack Jeffares and Rob Sturmer, the club's longest serving members, when sharing their memories on the organisation and the difference it has made in the Stratford community with the Stratford Press.
"Lions is a remarkable organisation. Lions Clubs International is the world's biggest service club with a membership of around 1,25 million and is in almost every country in the world. Our motto is 'We Serve' and that is what we do," says Jack.
The club's membership over the 50 years totals close on 250. Its highest membership number was in the mid-1960s when the club had to limit numbers to 65 for everyone to still fit into the clubroom and had to have a waiting list. The Stratford Lions spilled over, sponsoring both the Eltham and the Toko Lions clubs.
From the 1980s, club membership slowly dwindled, to the point of Stratford Lions almost having to close after the turn of the century due to a lack of enough hands to keep the good work going. However, they bounced back and today have 35 members on average.
Women first joined the club in the 1990s. Today more than half the members are female.
Rob says the projects the Stratford Lions has instigated or been involved with too many projects over the years to mention all, but that they are proud of the legacy.
"You meet so many different people," says Rob on why he is still involved after 49 years.
Jack, who became a member in 1965, says it becomes a way of life. "I wanted to get into the swing of things. The best thing to do is to join a service club. I have made so many friends through the organisation," says Jack, adding that members are not to discuss "business" at the club as the aim is serving the community.
The club's first major project was raising $16,000 for the conversion of the closed Marire Hospital to a home for the elderly. The former private hospital was run by Drs Bill and Doris Gordon, who donated the property to the community.
"The home opened in February 1969. It is a worthwhile asset, utilised by 33 residents. It is a community project steered into reality by the forethought of the Stratford club," says Rob.
Marire opened during the presidency of Rob. Since then the club has up to now contributed to the cost of new equipment and amenities, including for its laundry for which funds were raised through one of the club's longest running projects, the Stratford Lions Christmas Stocking.
Jack is widely referred to as "Mr Christmas Stocking" having piloted the programme for years.
The Christmas Stocking raffle is a Stratford tradition. It started as a pig-in-the-barrow raffle in the 1980s, but morphed into the Christmas appeal which over the years became one of the club's most popular and lucrative raffles, returning at least $180,000 to the community on the form of donations and grants to charitable causes.
At a recent Lions convention, the raffle won the club first prize for the best longest-running project involving the community.
Stratford is part of Zone 5, which includes Toko, Eltham, Kaponga, Rautu and the Opunake ladies and men's clubs, and is in the wider District 202D, which includes 50 clubs from Foxton in the south to Urenui in the north. Stratford is the third oldest surviving club in the district, and has hosted three district conventions, of which one was a hugely successful medieval-themed celebration in the Stratford Memorial Hall in 1998.