Youthful Lions Club candidates volunteer in clean-up efforts at Rockford’s Pioneer Cemetery

by CLIFF and NANCY HILL 

Lions Clubs International (LCI) is the world’s largest community service organization with 1.3 million members. There are more than 45,000 Lions Clubs in approximately 200 countries and geographic areas. All Lions Clubs and their members share a common dedication to helping people in need.

Rockford area teens (l–r) Kory Navarro, all Leo Club candidates, stand in front of just one of many huge piles of overgrown landscape they helped remove from Rockford's Pioneer Cemetery. Photo by CLIFF HILL

Integral parts of the LCI network are more than 5,700 Leo Clubs in approximately 140 nations. Leo Clubs are open to young people between 12 and 18 years of age with good character and an interest in serving their communities. The Leo name is also their motto, standing for Leadership, Experience and Opportunity.

The Leo Club has been an official program of LCI for the past 43 years and locally the Rockford Lions Club has decided to climb on board and sponsor their own Leo Club(s).

Rockford Lion Larry Lindsley, co-chairman of Rockford’s Leo Club(s), said, “Rockford Schools Superintendent Michael Shibler has enthusiastically and whole-heartedly endorsed school-affiliated Leos Clubs.”

Grand Rapids Lions Club member Dr. Gary Anderson, who is also an international director of LCI, said, “I’m excited to see one of our most successful Lions Clubs sponsor a Leos Club program. Lions know how to get things done and I’m positive the Rockford Leo Clubs will be a huge success.”

By next spring, plans are in the works to have Leo Clubs at each middle school along with one at both the Rockford Freshman Center and the high school. Each club will have a faculty advisor who is also a certified Lions Club member. The Leo Clubs will be subject to the same rules established by school authorities for all school organizations and extracurricular activities. The Rockford Leo Clubs are open to all students enrolled in the public and parochial schools of the Rockford school district, who meet age and character requirements. Each of the Leo Clubs will develop their own service projects with an emphasis on filling needs locally.

One of the very oldest legible headstones in Pioneer Cemetery is that of a John Pope, who, at the early age of 35, passed away in 1860. Photo by CLIFF HILL

Already having 180 Leo candidates signed up to become charter members in the about-to-be formed new clubs, the Rockford Lions have already found a way to test their “mettle.” On recent Saturday mornings, you may have seen some of these young ladies and gentlemen enthusiastically assisting the Lions in one of their current community service projects, that being the restoration of the Rockford Pioneer Cemetery.

Located just in front of North Rockford Middle School (NRMS) and adjacent to the historic Red Schoolhouse, Pioneer Cemetery had, over the years, become an overgrown woodlot. This early community cemetery, dating back to the mid 1800s when Rockford was known as Laphamville, had become an embarrassing eyesore. The historic cemetery is the final resting place of early settlers, some who had served in the War of 1812 and the Civil War.

In answer to a call of help from the Rockford Area Historical Society, the Rockford Lions undertook a task that will not be completed until sometime next year. To begin, a jungle of dead and fallen trees along with thick brush and undergrowth needed to be cleared from the site. To assist them, the Lions sought volunteers from the Leo candidates and many have stepped forward.

If you have entered the new entrance to NRMS in recent weeks, you would have noticed the curbside accumulation of their Saturday morning efforts. The huge piles of landscape debris have been removed on an ongoing basis by the Rockford Public Service Department.

“One day in the not-too-distant future, this historic old cemetery, with one headstone showing a date of death in 1860, will be a fitting and beautiful resting place for all who lie therein,” said Rockford Lion and Leo co-chairman Larry Lindsley.

So, parents out there, if you are looking for an opportunity for your child to give back to his community while at the same time having a lot of fun and growing as a person, why not encourage him or her to become a member of one of the about-to-be-formed Leo Clubs?

“Under the heading of ‘Community Service’ on a college or scholarship application, a young person could not have a finer qualification than a membership in a Leo’s Club,” said Lindsley. By the way, if accepted into one of these prestigious clubs, annual dues will be only a token $5.00 per year!

For information on joining the Rockford Leo Club(s), contact Lion members and Leo Club co-chairmen coordinators Larry Lindsley at (616) 866-8274 or Rob Riebschleger at ronaldpr@sbcglobal.net. Inquiries may also be made to NRMS Assistant Principal Adam Burkholder, Rockford Freshman Center Principal Doug VanderJagt, or Rockford High School Assistant Principal Tom Hosford.

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