Loudon Lions Club celebrates 85 years

Kathleen and Ron Bailey, from left, Loudon Lions Club members, and grandson, James Bailey, came for the club's 85th anniversary dinner.

Loudon Lions Club has found ways to serve the community for 85 years.

Club members gathered at 6 p.m. Thursday at Loudon United Methodist Church to celebrate the anniversary in a smaller, more coronavirus-friendly fashion. Instead of a large dinner and gathering, only a handful of members attended and brought their own meals.

DeWayne Arp, club past president, initially made the suggestion to hold the small gathering.

“It was my idea to do this,” Arp said. “They weren’t going to have this meeting tonight. They were going to combine it with the Christmas (dinner), which we’re still sort of having our anniversary with Christmas. But we’ve had this so many years, I didn’t want to break the streak. I just suggested we all just go to Kentucky Fried Chicken and bring our own meal and go ahead and have a meeting, so we can count this. Next year, hopefully, we’ll be back in our routine where we’ll have lots of people here.”

The larger anniversary dinner combined with the Christmas dinner is set for Dec. 17.

Frank McCall, club president, said most members are either sick or don’t want to go out in public right now. Hosting the small gathering was important to let the community know they’re still here to serve, he said.

Despite events being canceled all year, the club has done what it can to keep pushing forward by hosting collection drives downtown and at Loudon High School games.

“We’ve … done pretty good on (collections),” McCall said. “That was telling me that people still are able to give money and all that. That’s a big thing right now because where people realize the Lions Club has been doing a lot for this community like free eye exams, helping people get cataract surgeries. We’re able to help them with corneal transplants through the East Tennessee Eye Bank, which is located right up here at the hospital.”

The club has had to watch where it spends money, McCall said.

“Overall, it’s good for community,” Frank Kamel, club member, said. “The whole thing. There’s a lot of people before me to have a good reputation for this club. Most clubs get a bad reputation, but we get a good one that is good for the community. It is a good, overall clean organization. They’re not biased, they’re not political. It’s good.”

Arp said helping other people is one of his favorite parts of being in the club.

“We do things like buy glasses for kids, and we do hearing aids, and we’ve done cataract surgeries for people,” Arp said. “Also, we give scholarships and things like that. But just the camaraderie of being with everybody at meetings and functions and everything. That’s the main thing I like is just being with other people.”

McCall said the club’s community participation is unparalleled and has been since he was a young boy.

“The thing I can say about this Lions Club is I’ve grown up with it since a little kid, and I’ve always supported it,” he said. “But the one thing that this Lions Club does not fall less on is participation. … I’m glad we can celebrate 85 years because Loudon County is celebrating 150 years. For an organization to be celebrating 85 years out of 150 years is something special, and I’m glad to be a part of it.”