Lucas Duffield leads other national speedskating team members during outdoor training at the Golden Circle oval Thursday.

Lucas Duffield leads other national speedskating team members during outdoor training at the Golden Circle oval Thursday.

Lions Clubs keep building

Gasoline, diesel fuel, even a propane torch — Dick McElroy used whatever it took to make sure the infield at the old Lions Ball Park in Lacombe would be dry enough for a weekend of high-calibre baseball.

Gasoline, diesel fuel, even a propane torch — Dick McElroy used whatever it took to make sure the infield at the old Lions Ball Park in Lacombe would be dry enough for a weekend of high-calibre baseball.

With major league scouts in town to watch teams coming in from across Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C., and others from as far away as Florida and Alaska — not to mention up to 10,000 fans for a weekend of ball — the Lacombe Lions Baseball Tournament, touted as the biggest and richest in Western Canada, had to go on, no matter what Mother Nature had to say.

In charge of the grounds, McElroy would start fires on the shale infield if it was too wet, and within an hour the players could take the field for first pitch.

From 1950 to 1988, the tournament ran for one glorious week every summer, putting Lacombe on the map and drawings thousands of spectators.

The inaugural tournament saw 135 kg (300 pounds) of tomatoes and 1,000 pies used to feed the attending throng and featured an RCAF air show as well.

The 1960 iteration was hailed as the most covered event in the Alberta sporting landscape, with five daily newspapers, three TV stations, nine radio stations, and six weeklies reporting on the action.

And the players were good, too.

Former Expos star Tim Wallach played one year, and longtime organizer Bill Douglas once estimated as many as 40 men who played in the tournament made it to the ‘Big Time.’

“They were very good players. Extremely good, actually. We always had a good number of people who came up from the National and American Leagues every year to watch the players,” explained McElroy.

When the diamond was torn down in 1988 to make way for a new school, so went the tournament.

But while the tournament may have long been the most recognizable thing with the Lacombe Lions name attached to it, it is far from the only thing the service club brought to the city.

In its first year of existence alone, the club provided for the construction of new tennis courts, sweaters for two hockey teams, milk distribution to school children and improvements to a playground.

And since 1938, the projects have continued through the work of more than 350 members past and present.

The service club provided a community bus for Lacombe for years, has held its annual Child Identification Day since the 1990s, and the Lions Community Band has been keeping toes a-tappin’ since 1968.

Current president Sharon Reiter joined the club in 1991 after the local Lioness Club folded and women were allowed to enlist in the previously fraternal organization.

She said the list of contributions the Lions Club has made to the community is long.

The $10,000 the club gave to the Lacombe Hospital for its pain management program last year, she said, makes her most proud.

The Red Deer Central Lions Club has grown up alongside its Lacombe cousin.

It too started in 1938, when 25 men came together to provide the growing community with volunteer services.

All those who have come after those founders have done so in spades.

And alongside that volunteerism, the club has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars as it has helped to build the city.

From its beginning, the club has been involved in facilitating Camp Woods west of Sylvan Lake for the Scouts movement.

It has been one of the main benefactors for speedskating locally, and in the late 1960s opened what is now one of five Lions campgrounds in Central Alberta.

Mid-1990s renovations to the Red Deer Public Library benefited from a $100,000 donation from the Lions, and the club was a main contributor to the construction of a hydrotherapy pool at the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre in the 1980s, and then again in 2005 when rehabilitation facilities were relocated.

Larry Johnstone joined the club in 1981 after transferring from Regina, where he joined the Lions movement because they were unique, delivering Sears catalogues as part of fundraising efforts.

“I’ve always enjoyed Lionism. You’re doing a lot of projects every year to raise money, but you also develop lots of friends. Two or three of the families we met here, we’re still very close friends.

Socially, it was very good,” said Johnstone, who remains a member of the club.

“When people come to the (Westerner Days) fair, a lot of them will come to our booth to buy our draw tickets. They tell you right away, ‘Over the years you have helped us in some way or another, and that’s the reason I’m buying these tickets, because you do so well for the community.’ ”

But, like other service clubs, Lions groups are struggling to attract new members — Lacombe has 21 members at present, while Red Deer has about 35. Johnstone said Lions clubs internationally are moving towards getting full families involved, children included.

“When I think of the Lacombe club, a lot of them are man and wife. It’s certainly worked for them … I think ladies have invigorated the whole movement,” he said.

The two local clubs are coming together on Saturday to jointly celebrate their 75th anniversaries. Judge Brian Stevenson of Calgary, a past international president of Lions clubs, will address the revellers.

The Lions movement, started in Chicago in 1917, represents the largest service organization in the world, with more than 1.3 million members. Internationally, it focuses its efforts on working with the blind and improving peoples’ vision, and disaster relief.

The Red Deer club meets the second Monday of each month. To join, contact Ed Lasiuta at 403-314-0350.

The Lacombe Lions Club convenes on the first and third Mondays of every month. To join, contact Reiter at 403-782-5179 or sdreiter1@gmail.com.

mfish@bprda.wpengine.com

Just Posted

New admissions have been suspended for Engineering Technology diplomas (Instrumentation, Electrical and Mechanical) and the Transitional Vocational Program at Red Deer College. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Developmentally disabled impacted: Red Deer College suspends program

Transitional Vocational Program comes to an end

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw is asking Albertans to do their part by observing gathering limits, staying home if unwell, wearing masks and maintaining physical distance. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Three new Central zone COVID-19 deaths, Alberta adds 1,433 cases

Red Deer down to 802 active cases of COVID-19

NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman holds up freedom of information requests that turned up no records. The Opposition requested back-to-school re-entry plan correspondence between Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and school boards, teachers and the media. Photo via Facebook live
NDP renews calls for Alberta gov’t to scrap K-6 draft curriculum

The NDP is once again calling on the Alberta Government to get… Continue reading

Earlier this week Alberta Health Services warned that Rocky Mountain House Health Centre emergency department would be temporarily without physician coverage from May 12, at 6 p.m., to May 13, at 7 a.m. (Photo contributed by the Town of Rocky Mountain House)
Doctors needed in Rocky Mountain House

Emergency department temporarily closed due to doctor shortage

The owner of Mae’s Kitchen in Mirror, says hamlet residents were ‘disheartened’ by a recent anti-restriction protest. The restaurant is following all the health restrictions in place. (Photo courtesy Mae’s Kitchen Facebook)
‘We don’t need that’: Mirror restaurant against recent anti-restriction protest

A week after a large anti-restriction protest at The Whistle Stop Cafe… Continue reading

Bo’s Bar and Grill owner Brennen Wowk said the hospitality industry is looking for more clarity from the province around what conditions must be met to allow for restaurants reopening. (Advocate file photo)
Frustated restaurant owners want to know government’s reopening plan

Restaurant owners feel they are in lockdown limbo

Supporters dance during a rally against measures taken by government and health authorities to curb the spread of COVID-19 at the Whistle Stop Cafe in Mirror, Alta., on Saturday, May 8, 2021. RCMP say they have ticketed four people after the rally that was attended by hundreds.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta leadership responsible for protests against public health orders: expert

Alberta leadership responsible for protests against public health orders: expert

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney answers questions at a news conference in Calgary on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. Kenney is distancing himself from a decision to expel two members from his United Conservative caucus. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Kenney distances himself from caucus vote to turf dissidents with ‘personal agendas’

Kenney distances himself from caucus vote to turf dissidents with ‘personal agendas’

Alberta's provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Monday, July 6, 2020. A judge is expected to rule this morning on a challenge of the United Conservative government's inquiry into whether foreign groups have conspired against Alberta's oil industry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Judge dismisses attempt to quash ‘anti-Alberta’ activities inquiry

Judge dismisses attempt to quash ‘anti-Alberta’ activities inquiry

Albertans receive vaccines at a mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Calgary on Thursday, April 22, 2021. Alberta Health Services says it has obtained a restraining order against a Calgary mayoral candidate who the agency says has threatened health workers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Alberta health agency obtains restraining order against Calgary mayoral candidate

Alberta health agency obtains restraining order against Calgary mayoral candidate

In this file photo dated Friday, Feb. 12, 2021, doses of AstraZeneca vaccines for COVID-19 sit in vials at the Fiocruz Foundation after being bottled in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Some health experts are questioning Canada's decision to accept thousands of doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine this week just for them to sit in freezers in an Ontario warehouse because provinces have shunned the idea of using any more of them for first doses. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Bruna Prado, FILE
Experts call on Canada to use COVAX doses of AstraZeneca or give them back

Experts call on Canada to use COVAX doses of AstraZeneca or give them back

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Federal health officials are laying out their vision for what life could look like after most Canadians are vaccinated against COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Federal officials lay out road map for post-vaccine life as third wave ebbs

Federal officials lay out road map for post-vaccine life as third wave ebbs

An aerial view of housing in Calgary is shown on June 22, 2013. The Calgary Real Estate Board says the city's housing market is expected to stabilize, with some prices forecast to rise this year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Alberta health agency obtains restraining order against Calgary mayoral candidate

CALGARY — Alberta Health Services says it has obtained a restraining order… Continue reading

Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault is seen during a news conference Thursday, June 18, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Guilbeault doubles down on Bill C-10 as opposition MPs demand Lametti testify

Guilbeault doubles down on Bill C-10 as opposition MPs demand Lametti testify

Most Read