Letter to the editor: Norwalk Lions Club does make a difference

By LEVI HELGREN | Norwalk

On a snowy Sunday in February, I trudged through the winter delight to meet with one of Norwalk’s concerned taxpayers. Since having the honor of being elected to the village board, and then subsequently the village president, I have welcomed these opportunities. We had a long discussion on what he perceived as inefficiencies and shortcomings within our government. During this discussion, I noticed that he had what appeared to be the Norwalk tax roll in his hand, and eventually, he slid the paper across the table to me with a pen, in which the conversation went along these lines:

Concerned taxpayer: Could you mark everyone that is part of the Lions Club?

Me: Sure (start underlining names), any reason?

Concerned taxpayer: I couldn’t care less about that tractor pull.

Me (after a slight pause while searching for names): We do donate to the library and fire department.

Concerned taxpayer: That’s just a drop in the bucket.

These days, not a lot catches me off guard, but on this occasion, it did. It isn’t the first time that I have heard someone say that they aren’t a fan of the tractor pull, but it was the first time that I ever had heard of someone downplaying the contributions that we as a club make to our community.

The blacktop tractor pull was always a big spectacle in town when I grew up here. I can remember getting a button, and then wandering through the crowds and running into fellow schoolmates that I hadn’t seen in a couple of months (I too lived in a pre-internet world! How did we ever survive?). I know that many people have fond memories of these pulls, and this is commemorated with the restoring of the original stone boat that is on display in the Norwalk village park. In 2002, the Norwalk Lions Club built a new dirt track. That summer, I was living at home and was asked to come down and help out. It was then that I realized how much went into this event. Every summer after that (except 2004), I came back to my hometown to help out wherever I was needed. 

In 2010, after moving back and buying a house in town, I decided to become a member of the Norwalk Lions Club. Since then, I have served on the board, and as of this summer, I will be the president. One thing that we as a club are particularly weak at is informing the public about the contributions that our club makes to the community and surrounding area.

The Norwalk Lions Club was chartered in 1952. Since then, the annual truck and tractor pull has evolved into our major fundraiser each year — as soon as one wraps up, the next one is already on the clock. Recent financial contributions include thousands of dollars towards the Norwalk Public Library, the Norwalk Area Fire District, and stream bank renovations in town. We have also contributed to the following at Brookwood: $,2000 towards the new scoreboard, one safety patrol trip each year (currently $671), two $500 scholarships each year, as well as donations towards football, cross country, cheerleaders, FFA, post-prom, and Falcon Booster club. We also donate annually towards the Lions Club camp in Rosholt, Leader Dogs, Lions Club International Foundation, diabetes awareness, and Lions Eye Bank.

One has to look no further than both of our parks in town to see the direct impact our club has had. The Norwalk Lions Club had a vital part in transforming the former railyard into the village park. In 1971, the first shelter was built at the cost of $7,180. Showers were added later that are still used to this day by many campers. In 2008, that shelter was extended and an upgraded kitchen installed at the cost of approximately $30,000. In 1983, the lower shelter was constructed and is still utilized to this day as well. Ever eat at Bailey’s Diner? Yes, our Lions Club purchased that building and brought it from Tomah to Norwalk in 1970. At the old schoolyard park (my kids have always referred to this as the baby park), our club installed the first ball field lights in 1957, and the backstop that still stands was added in 1973.

There are some non-financial contributions that we provided as well, which includes (but not limited to) eye screening for children currently at Brookwood, along with future 4k students and providing the meal for the firefighters’ annual Hunters Night Out fundraiser. 

We do not want to be in a position where we are forced to defend what we do or pat ourselves on the back. Our club members know that many people genuinely appreciate all that we do. We are so grateful for all of the support that makes all of this possible.

I think that volunteering, in general, can be a great thing. In small communities, that contribution goes even further. Whether a person chooses to use their time to volunteer with the Lions Club or any other organization in our area, the last thing that we should do is diminish any contributions that individuals provide. 

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