The Big Rapids Lions Club: Seventy-Nine Years of Service


Over seventy-nine years ago, a young man, Don Worcester, moved to Big Rapids to practice law.  Don had been a member of the Pontiac, MI Lions Club and soon saw a need for a Lions club in his new home town.

With Don as the motivating force, a group of young men was assembled who were interested in their community and Lionism at large.  With the help of the Greenville Lions Club as our sponsor, our club was formed with 35 charter members with Don as charter president on February 22, 1938.  Our charter from Lions Clubs International was received on March 4, 1938.  Don remained active in our club until his death in 1982.

In the next couple of years, the club grew to over seventy members and performed many services for our city.  During World War II, the club raised money from many functions and sent the proceeds to the USO organization.  During these years, too, many of the members were called into service and the club fell upon hard times with the loss of membership.  During the year 1943, Ed Bailey, the president of the club, persuaded the Big Rapids Board to take what little money it had in the treasury and send all the officers of the club to both the state and national Lions conventions.  When these men returned, they were all “fired up” and ready to go again.  Our club, once more, was on its way.

A flood that year wiped out the dam at the local “swimming hole” of the town and the Lions rebuilt the dam and restored the pool for the kids.  All the work was done by Lions volunteers and everybody in town knew about our club.

For the next several years, many fund-raising projects were completed.  One of which, the Black Face Minstrel Shows, was the most popular.  These shows continued for many years and then became the Vacationland Chorus.  This group of good singers performed all over the state.  Later the group became the Lions Barbershop Quartet.

Like all clubs, for several years we had our ups and downs as membership changed.  Several of the older members moved on and it took a couple of years for the newer, younger members to take hold.  In 1950, the club raised enough money to send the entire Big Rapids High School Band to the Lions International Convention in Chicago.  Russ Lydell, our president at the time, went on to become Zone Chairman, and later Deputy District Governor, the first from our club.

Looking back over the years of our club, probably one of the best men we ever had with ideas for projects to raise money for our various activities was Emil Raninen, our 20th president.

Emil started the first Italian Night and we served spaghetti and meat balls to almost everybody in town.  All the Lions were involved in the work from setting up, cooking, being waiters, washing dishes and cleaning up.  With Emil in charge, no one was without a job.

From the original Italian Night, the project progressed to Western Night and then to Hawaiian Night.  All of these various “nights” were successful and enabled us to continue our community work.

During the years of our existence as a club, one of the most important projects was our work on the various Community Pools of Big Rapids.  From the old original pool in 1942 to our new modern olympic-size pool, the Big Rapids Lions have been the leaders in this growth.  In 1962, the idea was planted by our president, Roy Klein, to build a new “bath house” for the pool.  It was completed in 1966 and still serves a good useful purpose even with our new modern pool.  On the new pool, too, we had a big part and gave several thousands of dollars toward the construction costs.

In 1970 we sponsored the first of many Glaucoma Clinics with our local doctors donating their time to this very important project.  From these various clinics, we have been able to help many people to better sight.

In the last several years we have either organized or helped with ear clinics, diabetes clinics and always eye exams for those unable to provide for themselves.

No history of our club would be complete without including the many years we have all participated in White Cane Sales and Light Bulb Sales.  The sale of light bulbs has been one of the main service projects of the club.  Every new member’s first involvement with our club was in the door-to-door sale of light bulbs.  For more years than can be remembered, Mr. Light Bulb Salesman of our club was Walt Lypps.  Walt joined our club when he was 60 and at 90 he was still the best salesman we have ever had.  Walt passed away in 1983, at 95, but his memory is still with us and the annual sale was designated as the “Walt Lypps Light Bulb Sales”.

Currently our biggest fund raiser is running the Concession Stand at Ferris State University Top Taggart field. The stand is open for all home Big Rapids High School, Rocket and Ferris State University football games.  Funds raised at these various events have enabled us to continue our community work.

This history concentrates a great deal on the various money raising projects that we have had, but all of these projects furnished the money needed to pay for the many service projects we have sponsored for the city and state projects.

Some of the many services we have provided over our seventy-eight years are:

Provide various Eye, Ear and Diabetes Clinics

Have provided support for three local swimming pool projects

Have furnished a room and equipment at our local hospital

Furnish white canes for the sight-impaired

Provide eye screening for school students

Provide hearing screening tests for local residents and school children

Provide financial assistance for eye exams and eyeglasses



The Big Rapids Lions Club supports the following charitable organizations


Richard E. Donley College Scholarships for local high school students

Big Rapids Community Library

Big Rapids Fire Department

Big Rapids Public Schools

Ferris State University Athletics

Ferris SVOSH (Student Volunteers in Optometric Services to Humanity) Student Organization

Leader Dogs for the Blind

Lions All State Band

Lions Club International Foundation

Lions of Michigan Foundation

Mecosta County Area Chamber of Commerce

Mecosta County Community Foundation

Mecosta County Commission on Aging


Eversight Eye Banks

Project Starburst


Salvation Army

Welcome Homes for the Blind


Along with these many activities, our club has also over our 79 years sponsored the following clubs: Remus, Reed City, Howard City, Lakeview, Chippewa Lake, Custer, Luther and Stanwood.

Four of our presidents have gone on to become District Governors:  Bob Utke in 1978, Jim Chipman in 1983, Dick Perrin in 1997 and Bill Simpson in 2012.  Bob Stevens served District A2 in the Detroit area in 1976-77 as District Governor.  These Lions did an outstanding job as DG’s and are still serving in various positions in Lionism.

We have had several Deputy District Governors (Region Chairs), Zone Chairs, Cabinet officers and State Project Chairs from our club.  To all of them we say “Thank You” for giving of their time and talents to further growth of Lionism in our State and District.

During the years of our existence, our club has been a major factor in helping our city to be a better place to live and raise our families.























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