If the Lemont Lions Club had its way, the organization's 50th anniversary probably would have gone by without much public attention or fanfare.
The club is dedicated to serving the community and helping residents in need, but much of the time their work is done behind the scenes. For the Lions, it's not about getting recognition; it's about making a difference.
"We've probably been involved in every facet of life here in Lemont—the park district, the police department, the fire district, the schools," said Doug Wright, a Lemont resident and six-year member of the Lions Club.
"We don't do it for ourselves or to make the club look better," Wright said. "We do it because we want to help."
Lions Club International is an international service organization made up of 46,000 clubs and 1.35 million members. The group's mission is simply to do whatever it takes to make their communities better.
In Lemont, the Lions Club has been making the community better for the past half-century. The group does anything and everything to help Lemont residents—whether it's fundraising for school supplies, providing scholarships to high school students or collecting food for the Lemont Food Pantries.
The Lions also make a difference outside of Lemont. The group has donated money and supplies in the aftermath of several national and international disasters, including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and the tornadoes that ripped through the Southern United States last year.
Despite their achievements, it hasn't been an easy road for the Lemont Lions. In fact, three clubs formed and disbanded between 1930 and 1961. The fourth Lemont Lions Club—the one in existence today—was chartered in June 1962.
On Thursday, Lions old and new gathered at Crystal Grand Banquets to celebrate their 50th anniversary.
"It's an exciting thing to be part of such a milestone in the club's long history," said Bruce Kipley, a 15-year member of the Lions. "We rarely take the time to celebrate what we do, so it's great to reflect on our contributions to the Lemont community."
During the event, community members and members of Lions International described the club been an unwavering source of support for Lemont residents.
"Being a Lion is probably the most rewarding thing I do," Wright said. "I have been extremely blessed in my life, so giving back is so important. And seeing the impact you can have on another person's life? It's life-changing."
The Face of Lionism: 5-Year-Old Maddie Wesolowski
The positive effects of the Lions Club can be seen throughout the village of Lemont, from the community events and refurbished parks to the many fundraisers and food drives.
But to understand the heart of the Lions, you have to meet Maddie.
Madison Wesolowski—known as "Maddie" to family and friends—is only 5 years old, but she has already faced more adversity than many people do in a lifetime.
At just 3 months old, Maddie was diagnosed with cataracts—a condition that causes the clouding of the eye lens—and glaucoma, a group of diseases that can damage the eye's optic nerve and eventually lead to vision loss or blindness.
Maddie recently completed her 29th surgery, and has been declared legally blind in one eye. Because of her condition, she has already required several pairs of prescription glasses and contact lenses.
That's where the Lions stepped in.
Ken Novak, a 22-year member of the Lions Club, is a friend of the Wesolowskis. After hearing about Maddie's condition, he and his fellow Lions agreed to help the family by purchasing new glasses as she grows.
"This is what we do," Novak said. "When there's someone in our community who needs help, especially children, we step up and do whatever we can to make their lives easier."
As it turns out, Maddie's case falls right in line with one of the missions of Lions Clubs International, which is to aid the blind and visually impaired.
"Helen Keller addressed a group of Lions Clubs in 1925 and encouraged them to become advocates for the blind," Novak said. "Today, we fulfill that mission by helping kids like Maddie by purchasing new glasses and funding vision screening tests."
The organization has also raised enough money to send several children and adults to Camp Lions, a summer program for individuals who are hearing impaired or suffer loss of vision.
During their 50th anniversary celebration Thursday night, the Lemont Lions presented Maddie with a new iPad, which Novak says will cater to her disabilities and help her learn and develop.
"Thanks to all the Lemont Lions Club members, Madison is able to lead a normal life of a 5-year-old," said Megan De Saint Germain, Maddie's older sister. "Madison is able to wake up every day and face her disabilities with courage and bravery because of people like (the Lions) who never stopped believing in her. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and our family is more than blessed to be part of such an exceptional village."
The Work of a Lion is Never Done
The 50th anniversary of the Lemont Lions will continue to be observed throughout the year, but club members said they're ready to get back to work.
On April 7, the Lions will host their Community Spring Food Drive from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. in front of , 1202 State St. All food and money collected will directly benefit the Lemont Food Pantries.
The Lions will also host their annual Spring Community Dinner on April 22 at the , 15780 New Ave.
In August, the Lions will hold their annual golf outing at Woodbine Golf Course in Homer Glen. All proceeds will benefit community service in Lemont.
Lemont resident Terri O'Neill—who coordinates community service for and runs the Hope and Friendship Foundation—said she is proud to work alongside a group as dedicated as the Lemont Lions.
"The Lions Club consists of men and women who want to make a difference and who are not afraid to push up their sleeves and make that happen," O'Neill said. "I know firsthand that our community is a better place because of their work. People that live in this community have benefited from their contributions, and those that have been impacted by their generosity and mission are well aware that the Lemont Lions are one of the reasons that Lemont is a village of heart and compassion."
Wright said he hopes to see the Lemont Lions serve for another 50 years and beyond.
"As long as we're doing good, there's no real reason to stop," he said. "As long as there are people in need, we are here to serve."