By Debbie Adams
Members of the Vinton Breakfast Lions Club held their annual awards dinner on August 20 at the Vinton Moose Lodge. Officers were inducted for the 2020-21 year. The Breakfast Lion of the Year was announced along with two Melvin Jones Fellow award winners.
New officers include President Chris McCarty, 1st Vice President John Dyer, 2nd Vice President Will Mosley, Secretary Gary Myers, Treasurer Bob Benninger, Tail Twister Zach McCarty, Lion Tamers Keith Lafferty and Bob Capobianco, and Past President John Dyer. Lion Eric Mills, the 1st Vice District Governor for Virginia Lions District 24-C, conducted the ceremony.
This will be McCarty’s third time to serve as president of the club. “He exemplifies what it means to be a Lion,” Mills said.
The Board of Directors for the coming year includes Clark Crawley, Bob Capobianco, Eric Mills, Jeff Stovall, Richard Goad, Tim Greenway, Sam Cundiff, John Berry, Joel Lytton, Hal Mabe, John Dyer, and Galen Conner.
The Vinton Breakfast Lions Club was chartered 35 years ago in 1985. Four of the original charter members remain on the roll today: Keith Lafferty, Sam Cundiff, Galen Conner, and Pat Simpson– “a testimony to the club,” Mills said.
Three of its current members serve the broader Lions Club community across the zone and region. In addition to Mills, Lion Joel Lytton serves as Regional Zone Director and John Dyer holds the position of Zone Chair.
Mills noted that the Breakfast Lions have always been a very diverse group and extremely active in the community. They are known for their fundraisers, such as the annual pancake breakfast at the Vinton Fall Festival and the spaghetti dinner before the Vinton Christmas Parade. They also sell the famous Lions Club brooms, raise funds with the White Cane Day project, and host their main fundraiser – the annual Raffle Draw Down event. Almost all the money they collect is spent for the benefit of Vinton area residents.
The Lions return the funds they raise to the community through four scholarships to William Byrd seniors each year and two scholarships at Staunton River High School in memory of Ryan Chambers, who passed away in an automobile accident in 2018. They also sponsor a Christmas shopping tour for clothes and toys for about 20 Vinton-area elementary school children.
Sight is a main focus of the Lions Clubs – the club contributes to eye research and conservation. They fund eye exams, eye surgery, and eyeglasses for disadvantaged children and adults in the area.
The Breakfast Lions conduct special projects for Vinton area needy families and support Diabetes Awareness, and the Hearing Foundation of VA, Disaster Relief. They sponsor the annual Bland Music Scholarship Program for area students who can then advance on to district, regional, and state competitions.
The Lions provide local elementary school children with extra clothing, school supplies, snacks, and refreshments, help with school projects, and sponsor the Lions Quest Training Program.
Last year the Lions funded construction of the picnic shelter at Herman L. Horn Elementary School. They are now working on providing bus stops for several locations in town including Kroger and PFG. They are also discussing turning the former Vinton pool site at the Vinton War Memorial into a small recreation area for the town, possibly including basketball and pickleball courts.
The Breakfast Lions have worked diligently since March 2015 on a legacy project – reclaiming and preserving the historic Gladetown Cemetery from undergrowth and debris. The cemetery, which contains some of the oldest graves in Vinton dating from the 1820s, has been restored and is now fenced in due to the efforts of the Lions.
The project was initially the result of a conversation between McCarty and long-time Gladetown resident Joe Banks at the town’s annual Arbor Day observance in 2014. Banks told McCarty that for many years men from the community maintained the cemetery. However, many of them are getting up in years or are not in good health and the cemetery quickly was taken over by vines, underbrush, and small trees.
At the awards dinner, 25 members of the Breakfast Lions Club received 100 Percent Attendance Pins for attending a combination of meetings and project events.
Lions John Berry and Joel Lytton received special Appreciation Awards for their tireless work spearheading the Gladetown Cemetery project.
Chris McCarty was named the Breakfast Lion of the Year. The recipient of this award is chosen each year by secret ballot from the entire membership for their “outstanding service to the club.” He joined the club 18 years ago in 2002. Not only has he served as president three times, he has “held most other offices and served on most committees in the cub. He has kept us going,” said Mills.
McCarty has been instrumental in coordinating the Bland Music Scholarship program. Mills described him as “up to tackling anything.” He has also sponsored many new members of the club.
McCarty said that the Breakfast Lions Club works “because everyone here works, and we all pull together.”
Being named a Melvin Jones Fellow is the highest award a Lions Club member can receive. The award from the Lions Club International Foundation is for “dedicated humanitarian services.” Past Melvin Jones winners vote on future winners.
Fifteen Vinton Breakfast Lions have received the awards over the years. Past honorees include three who have passed away: Doug Adams, Wallace Cundiff, and Paul Gensurowsky. Other winners include Bob Benninger, Galen Conner, Sam Cundiff, Keith Lafferty, Jack Lipscomb, Joel Lytton, Hal Mabe, Chris McCarty, Eric Mills, Ethel Noell, John Berry, and Bobby Semones.
The Breakfast Lions recognized two Melvin Jones winners this year: Richard Goad and Anthony Conner.
Goad joined the Breakfast Lions in July 2014. He has served on the Board of Directors each year and has chaired the broom sales project. He has consistently sold the most tickets to a variety of fundraising events including the pancake breakfast, the spaghetti dinners, the Draw Down, Love tickets, and has participated in countless White Cane fundraisers.
Anthony Conner joined the Breakfast Lions in June 2012, and has served as first vice president, president, membership chair, Finance Committee chair, and has served on the Board of Directors for several years. He has been involved with all the Lions’ service and fundraising projects.
Lions Club International, the world’s largest service organization, was founded in 1917 and now has 1.4 million members in 46,000 clubs in 210 countries. It is estimated that Lions Clubs donate $449 million and 76 million hours of service each year. They are best known for championing the blind and visually impaired.
Especially in Vinton, when there is a need in the community and beyond, the Vinton Breakfast Lions are always there to serve and fill the gap.