First Posted: 5/7/2013
In 1917, a Chicago businessman told members of his local business club they should look beyond business endeavors and serve their communities.
Over the years, that same community spirit spread across the country, reaching Exeter Borough in 1951, as local businessman Angelo Russo became the first president of the Exeter Lions Club.
The Exeter Lions were sponsored by the Duryea Lions Club and began serving the community, focusing on sight conservation.
The club met at Anselmi’s Cafe on Wyoming Avenue across from the borough hall.
Lion Jack Brogan has been a member for 59 years.
“We used to go door to door selling brooms to raise funds,” said Brogan.
The Annual Lions Carnival was the club’s biggest fundraiser for many years, bringing in tens of thousands of dollars annually, said Len Bonfanti.
In those days, the club’s major project was distributing food baskets to the needy. Bonfanti, a Lion Club member for 35 years, said the club has done much to improve the community over the years.
The club built the clubhouse at the Panthers football field, sponsors the Little League and built the Lions Park. Brogan recalled an occasion years ago when a young boy from Exeter needed eye surgery in Philadelphia. The family could not afford to travel so the Lions Club donated $5,000 to make the trip possible.
That same spirit of community service is still alive in the club today.
The club helps support Boy Scouts, American Legion, Leader Dogs, Salvation Army and eye conservation programs such as the Eye Bank and White Cane collections.
“To Serve is our mission,” says Lion Toni Valenti.
In 2004, Valenti was the first woman to join the Exeter Lions and has served as the club president. Today, the Exeter Lions Club has 13 women among its 38 members.
Many of the current Lions have a historical connection to the club. Lion Rich Anselmi’s father, Ettore, was one of the club’s original members. Lion Michael Burke was a recipient of the Exeter Lions Club’s generosity.
When Burke, who is hearing impaired, was in high school, the club gave him medical equipment that allowed him to communicate better with his teachers. After graduating from college, Burke joined the Lions so he could give back to the community that helped him.
Seeing her neighbor receive a service dog because of the Lions led Audrey Kurz to get involved.
“I am just happy to serve and give back to the community,” she said.
The club is always looking to increase it memership and fundraising is also challenging.
Gone are the days of the carnivals and the club’s signature fundraiser, a Night at the Races, has been postponed until fall, hoping the state legislature passes legislation to allow the fundraiser to occur.
Brogan says a lot has changed over the years, but the Lions’ mission to serve the community has remained strong. He is proud of all the Lions Club has accomplished in his nearly six decades with the club.
“We have left our mark on Exeter and are still leaving it,” he said.