Local Lions Club celebrates record 101 continuous years of service

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WACO, Texas (KWTX) The Waco Founder’s Lions Club in a few days will celebrate its 101st anniversary, which makes it the oldest continually operating Lions Club in the world.

The Waco Founder’s club was organized in 1916, along with 22 others that were the original Lions clubs, but Waco club is the only one of those original clubs that never has suspended activity.

“There are others, like Austin, that are just as old, but they, during World War II, suspended operations so they’ve not been continually in operation,” Lori Roller, a club spokeswoman said.

The International Lions Club, which is celebrating its centennial this year, wasn’t founded until a year later, so the Waco club is older than the international organization.

The international organization includes more than 45,000 clubs in more than 206 countries and it is the largest service organization in the world with more than 1.35 million members, a Waco Founder’s Lions Club brochure says.

“We serve our community, state, nation and world, aiding visually impaired, hearing impaired and disabled individuals and providing disaster relief, medical supplies, clothing, food and education to those in need,” the brochure says.

Most visibly the Founder’s Lions Club owns and operates Lions Park, on New Road at Bosque Boulevard, and that effort is part of the club’s early purpose, to provide service to the community and its people.

Before it was Lions Park, the site was Rich Field, a World War I military airfield that served as the city’s airport until World War II, when it designated an auxiliary training field to Waco Army Airfield.

Flights ceased after World War II ended.

The building that is now home to the Lions Den Community Center served as a terminal.

Nearby Waco High School was originally named Richfield High School.

After World War II, Lions Clubs across the country created parks to give families a place to go and have fun at a low cost.

At the close of the war most families didn’t have the where-with-all to travel or vacation, so the Lions opened their “mini-amusement” parks to provide a place for families to go, have fun, and not spend a great deal of money.

Lions Park in Waco, which opened in 1954, is one of only five that remain nationwide.

And today, in spite of constant efforts to keep the park safe and user-friendly, the park is in need of some repair.

The Super Slide, one of the park’s main attractions, is in disrepair and is neither useable nor repairable.

The club wants to replace it, but the cost is around $250,000, so a fundraising effort is underway.

But other improvements already have been made, Roller said.

Heart of Texas Builders in 2010 sponsored the renovation of the Putt Putt Golf course; the same year the Waco Association of Realtors spent more than $250,000 in materials and labor to renovate portions of the park.

The park includes the popular miniature train that circles the property, a go-kart track for older children and teenagers, the golf course which is for all ages, and Kiddieland, a collection of rides and attractions with young children in mind.

There is no admission fee to the park, but ride tickets cost about $1.50 each.

Guests can purchase an arm band for $10 which allows unlimited rides except for the go karts.

“I just think people (in Waco) just don’t know about (the park),” Roller said.

“We (Lions” have to do a better job of getting the word out,” she said.

Lions club members maintain and manage the park, the City of Waco owns the land the park sits on, but Lions own the buildings and improvements, Roller said.

The centennial celebratory banquet is set for 6 p.m. March 14 at the Lion’s Den, the cost is $35-per-plate in advance.

Then on April 8 the club has organized a Putt-Putt Golf tournament, an evening for adults only.

Lions Park. (Photo by Paul J. Gately)