Tonawanda News

May 4, 2014

Kenmore Lions Club celebrates 85 years

Kenmore Lions Club celebrates 85 years of service to blind, hearing impaired

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — From its first meeting on May 8, 1929 to today, the Lions Club of Kenmore has had just one goal: to serve.

Now celebrating its 85th anniversary, the club has devoted itself to helping those in the Ken-Ton area who are sight and hearing impaired.

To celebrate the milestone, the Lions Club will host an anniversary dinner at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Acqua Restaurant, Buffalo.

“It was Helen Keller’s request at the Lions Clubs International Convention in 1925 that the Lions become her ‘Knights of the Blind’,” Tom Reinagel, club historian, said.

“At first women were included in the club, then the Lioness Club started for women. In 1987, women were let back in,” he said.

His comment was met with laughter from women club members who were among those gathered to tell the Lions remarkable story. 

“In 1994, Kathy Cherico became the club’s first female president. Today, about 30 percent of members are women,” Eileen Kirchgraber, club secretary, said.

“We’ve had five women presidents,” Reinagel said. “And the guys like it. The women work hard.”

Dr. Herb Simon, who joined Lions in 1955, is the oldest member of the club.

When he joined, he noticed that the members were always happy.

“It’s not long before you were serving as an officer. I was vice president in 1979 when we celebrated our 50th reunion. My job was to be sure there was a speaker every week at our meeting. I wanted everyone to walk out with something they didn’t know before,” Simon said.

More than 100 members were in the club at the time, drawn by their interest in helping the sight and hearing impaired. Today, 42 men and women are in the organization.

Among the members is Don Kossuth, who joined in 1965, because his friend kept bugging him to join.

“I finally gave up and joined,” he smiled. “It makes me feel good to be helping.”

Help for the hearing and sight impaired comes in many forms.

Among the numerous gifts are tape recorders for the blind, a Braille writer, the establishment of the Buffalo Eye Bank by several members, the second such organization in the U.S., special typewriters and radio receivers tuned to the Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Service, a loan closet which provides wheelchairs, walkers, crutches and canes, video magnification machines for the Kenmore library and the Town’s Senior Center as well as support for large print books and audio tapes. The list is massive. 

However, two impressive gifts were a new school bus for ARC and help in funding Kenmore Mercy Hospital’s optical surgery prep room.

Kirchgraber outlined, along with many photos, all the projects with which the club currently involves its members.

“We run a bike stop for the annual Tour de Cure bike run for diabetes as well as having our annual carnation sale and helping SABAH,” Kirchgraber said.

Another outreach was started by Tony Lafornara and his wife, Marietta, who were instrumental in sponsoring an Army platoon in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We send soldiers magazines, greeting cards for birthdays, and snacks not available in the chow line,” Tony Lafornara said. “It’s one of the most rewarding efforts we do.”

Fundraisers for this project, scholarships and monetary gifts for local organizations include the 10th annual pancake breakfast at St. Andrew’s Church in Kenmore.

“It’s gotten bigger and bigger and now we’ve added theme baskets,” Marietta Lafornara said. “In fact, this year we have 130.” 

Aside from fundraisers, the Kenmore Lions Club has many fun events and a “twin” club with Fort Erie Lions Club.

In addition, Tony Lafornara coordinated the club’s participation in the Joint Service Clubs Council fundraiser, a Hole in One contest at Sheridan Park Golf Course.

“Everything raised for charity goes to charity,” Kirchgraber said. “The money stays in the community 100 percent.”

The club, which meets the first and third Tuesday of the month at noon at the Olympic Restaurant in the town, welcomes new members.

As far as the next 85 years are concerned, Kirchgraber is philosophical.

“We never know what will come next — but we’re ready.”