CHATHAM — It might be the end of the trail for the Chatham-Nauset Lions, but they’ve got plenty of reason for pride.
Now facing dwindling membership, the chapter will hold its final meeting in June, almost 50 years after it was created. But during that time, Lower Cape Lions raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for scholarships and service projects, touching hundreds of local families.
“We have been a very proud club,” President Bernie Cropsey said. “For us, it was a very, very difficult decision, but unfortunately it was a very realistic one.” Now down to around 15 active members, half of what it had during its heyday, the chapter has few prospects of reversing that trend. “We’ve been unable to attract young people,” he said, and the same four or five people have been doing the “heavy lifting” for several years.
Club Treasurer Al Alfano said three members of the group passed away this year, and two more moved away to be closer to family. Of the core group of leaders, “some of whom are in their 80s,” most serve on multiple committees, he said.
“Realistically speaking, we just can’t sustain it,” he said.
Chartered in 1970 as the Nauset Lions Club, the group merged with its Chatham counterpart several years later. It now serves Chatham, Orleans, Brewster, Eastham and Wellfleet. Like all Lions clubs, the Lower Cape group has raised money for charitable causes – particularly the Lions’ signature focus, eye care – since its inception. Though its early years are less well documented, the club has raised $140,900 in scholarship funds since 1995, an impressive feat for such a small service organization.
“That’s a total of 172 students, spread out between Nauset Regional, Chatham High School, prior to it becoming Monomoy, and Cape Cod Regional Tech,” Cropsey said.
The club has also raised additional funds for health screenings, disaster relief, sight loss services and hearing aids. It purchased a special chair to speed healing in people who have undergone a certain type of eye surgery, and provided five “spot cameras” for vision screening in local schools. It provides eyeglass recycling, along with a summer concert, annual picnics and holiday parties at the Terraces nursing home in Orleans, and support for the Dream Day Cape Cod camp.
“Every penny that is donated to us is returned to the community,” Cropsey said. “There is no overhead charge in any way, shape or form. We’re really proud of that.” The Lions have become well known for annual fundraisers, like their Christmas tree and light bulb sales, dances, pancake breakfasts, golf tournaments, casino nights, and even a popular psychic fair. With volunteer numbers low, the Lions have come to depend on members’ spouses to help keep the fundraisers going, Alfano said.
Over the years, the club and its members have received a number of honors; most recently, Cropsey and Alfano received the Lions’ prestigious Progressive Melvin Jones Fellowship for outstanding humanitarian service to the community.
While club members first pondered disbanding the group entirely, they are now seeking to make the club inactive. Should a future group of residents seek to revive the chapter, it would be able to use the existing charter without having to apply for a new one from Lions International, Alfano said. “They wouldn’t have to jump through all the hoops again,” he said.
Some of the current Lions will join other chapters, but for others, it will be the end of an important part of their social lives. Over the years, the club’s social experience has been “somewhere between ‘great’ and ‘better,’” Cropsey quipped. The group has one membership dinner each month, with guest speakers.
“We take pride in doing service to the community, but we are also close-knit, good friends who work well together. It makes it enjoyable,” Cropsey said.
As for the club’s public service efforts, Alfano said he anticipates other organizations to take up the slack.
“Our remaining active members are all involved with other organizations and things,” and they will continue to serve in other ways, he said. “These are people who value volunteerism and serving. Our motto is, ‘we serve.’ It’s part of the fabric of their being,” Alfano said.
The club will continue to meet through June. Anyone with interest in revitalizing the group is encouraged to call Cropsey at 508-240-0351.