Jamestown Lions: 95 Years Following Their Vision

Members of the Jamestown Lions Club and their longevity with the club.
(L to R): Chuck Telford (50 years), John Teigeler (53 years), and Guy DiTonto (25 years).

Article Contributed by
Mallery Rockwell

This year marks the 95th anniversary of the Jamestown Lions Club and the 100th year anniversary of the Lions Club International. Chicago Insurance Agent Melvin Jones founded the International Association of Lions Clubs in 1917. The Jamestown Lions Club, established in 1922, is now one of the oldest in the nation. To commemorate the 95th anniversary, the Jamestown Lions Club will provide three new bike racks for riders along along the Chadakoin Riverwalk Trail.

Lions Clubs operate internationally in 205 different countries with more than 45,000 clubs and more than one million members worldwide. The Jamestown Lions Club currently has more than 2,600 members in Western NY, a remarkable record of growth from its 57 charter members in 1922.

Knights of the Blind
In 1925 Helen Keller attended the Annual Lions Clubs International Convention in Cedar Point, Ohio. She dared the Lions Club to become “Knights of the Blind” in the “Crusade against Darkness.” The club has since dedicated their hard work and time to aiding the blind and visually impaired.

The Lions Club consists entirely of volunteers. Chuck Telford has been a member of the Jamestown Lion’s Club for 50 years and serves as the club’s secretary. Telford invited another local resident, Guy Ditonto, to become a board member 33 years ago. “I thought they really had a good mission,” Ditonto said. “If we have good eyesight we tend to think, ‘what would it be like if we could not see the beautiful autumn colors or a new baby’s face?’ I thought, ‘there’s got to be something I can do to help.’ There are other really good [service] clubs in the area but I felt an attraction to the Lion’s Club.”

John Teigeler has served as a board member of the Lions Club for more nearly 55 years. Teigeler turned in 1,700 pairs of glasses in the last few months alone. “And that’s just from the greater Jamestown area,” Ditonto said. “There’s a huge underprivileged problem that exists in the world, so people are pleased to do that instead of just tossing out their old ones.”

“We have collection boxes all over town where people can donate used eyeglasses,” Teigeler said. They are shipped to New Jersey for reconditioning before being sent to other countries. A few times a year doctors from the local area visit third-world countries and fit the prescriptions to children and adults. “For many of them that’s the first time they’ve ever had glasses,” Ditonto said.

During initiation into the Lions Club, members are walked around the room while blindfolded and taken to their dinners. In this way they can experience for a few minutes what daily life is like for the people they will be helping.

“Each Lion member has a blind friend to check up on, take to a doctor’s appointment, grocery shop, whatever their needs might be,” Telford said. During Thanksgiving and Christmas members also present their friends with a fruit basket. “It’s a great opportunity for us to just sit and chat with them,” Ditonto said. A yearly Christmas party treats them to a full course turkey dinner after which Santa Claus arrives with gifts.

“Sometimes we’ve helped with doctor bills or even a surgery or two in the past,” Ditonto said. One of the club’s proudest moments was when they provided an up-to-date reading system, the ABiSee machine, to an a local, visually impaired college student. The 8.5 x 11 inch computer holds books, papers and newspapers that it reads to the user. The Lions Club often also helps visually impaired folks with needed assistance obtaining guide dogs.

The White Cane Law
Jamestown resident, Ernest W. Tiffany, known as “Pappy Tiffany”, achieved passage of the White Cane Law in New York State around 1945. The law stated that motorists should give the right of way to people with a guide dog or those holding a white cane when crossing the road. Also, no person, unless blind or visually impaired, may use a white cane on any street or highway. President Lyndon B. Johnson acknowledged the significance of the white cane as a staff of independence for blind people, and proclaimed October 15, 1964 as White Cane Safety Day.

Fundraising
The Lions mints are offered at the counter in many restaurants and banks around the area for fundraising. Father’s Day features a candy and nut sale, and Lions volunteer fund-raising time at Wal-Mart for ‘White Cane Collection Days’. Teigeler said that during White Cane Days many people share their appreciation to the Jamestown Lions Club for helping helped to correct their vision problems. The Lions Club also sells bouquets of lottery tickets at various times throughout the year. “Financial contributions are always needed and most welcome,” Telford said.

The Lions Club once owned a clubhouse in Gerry with approximately 56 acres of land. In 1926 the club planted 40,000 trees. Harvesting those trees eventually supported the activities of the club for many years.

Vision to Help the Visionless
The Lions Club and Chautauqua Blind Association (CBA) share the vision of assisting people who are visually impaired. Both have offered vision screenings for several years. The Lions SEE Program provides free eye-screening for 3,000 local children every year. Lions members visit preschools in Chautauqua County with a special vision screener. They take pictures of children’s eyes and detect many eye problems.

“So many times the parents aren’t even aware that there is an issue,” Ditonto said. When a problem is found, they immediately contact parents or family members to take the child to an eye doctor. Most problems found before the age of seven can be corrected. Nearly 10% of the children are referred to an eye care specialist. “That’s a lot of children who could have major problems if not corrected right away,” Telford said.

Lisa Goodell has been the Executive Director for the CBA for ten years. The CBA’s mission is to provide education and services to the community to help prevent vision loss. The CBA’s Youth Vision Screening Program also assists preschoolers throughout Chautauqua and Cattaraugus Counties at no cost. The CBA and Lions Club have updated their screening equipment to conduct vision screenings on children more quickly and reliably than in the past.

“Our goal is to identify vision problems and get children the services that they need before they start public school,” Goodell said. The CBA staff visit children in every regional pre-school, daycare and Head Start to screen as many as they can between the ages of three and six. Lions Club members often accompany them. “It’s a phenomenal partnership,” Goodell added.

New Members Welcomed
The Jamestown Lions Club currently offers a membership special. First-year members receive a complimentary waiver fee. Members can get to know the club and become involved at no charge. The Jamestown Lions Club meets twice a month. For more information, visit http://jamestownlionsclub.com.