News

After 81 years, Palo Alto Host Lions Club shuts down

Organization that once hosted the Concours d'Elegance charity event, funded nonprofits serving the blind and deaf, dissolves

The Palo Alto Host Lions Club disbanded after 81 years on June 18. Seated in the front row during their lunch at the University Club are, left to right, District Governor Lydia Taylor-Bellinger; members Pearl Director and Marian Moreno. Standing left to right in the second row: Nick Marinaro, Bruce Whitson, Joan Peterson, Don Douglas, Ben Director, Bob Stoudt and Merle McClure. Back row: Roger Stroud and District Membership Chair Kevin Guess. Photo courtesy of Roger Stroud.

The Palo Alto Host Lions Club, one of the Bay Area's oldest service organizations, disbanded on Tuesday after 81 years, members have confirmed.

The club, which was founded in 1927 and had as many as 100 members in the 1980s, has distributed several million dollars in grants to nonprofit groups serving a variety of causes, including people who are blind, have hearing loss or have diabetes, members said. For decades, they worked with veterans to raise awareness about blindness through White Cane Day events, when up to 50 blind people walked the streets with their canes. As recently as April, the club helped with the Special Olympics track meet at Gunn High School.

But their main fundraiser, the popular car show Concours d' Elegance, raised the bulk of the organization's charitable funds for 49 years. It was also the main draw for members. In 2012, Stanford University no longer allowed the event on its fields after 38 years due to a change in policy. It was the death knell for the organization, members said.

The annual Concours event ended after 2013 because it couldn't find a 3-acre site for the event despite a search spanning from San Jose to South San Francisco. The club tried to host the final Concours event at the San Mateo County Event Center but lost much money, President Roger Stroud said.

"It's a sad deal," he added, noting that membership has dwindled to 17 active participants whose ages average in the 80s and 90s. Like many traditional service organizations, the Lions Club struggled to attract younger members.

Over the years, the event raised and donated more than $1.78 million to more than 41 charities, including the Lions Eye Foundation, Lions Hearing Foundation, St. Elizabeth Seton School, Jean Weingarten Peninsula Oral School for the Deaf, Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Canine Companions for Independence, Children's Health Council, Avenidas' Senior Health Program, La Comida, JobTrain, LiveMoves (previously known as InnVision Shelter Network), Palo Alto Little League and Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula.

One member who joined in 1956 is still active, and Stroud has been a member for 29 years.

"That tells you a lot about the club," Stroud said.

Bernard Director, who with his wife, Pearl, have been members for the past 12 years, are now in their 90s. He has served two stints as president and she was the membership chair. The decision to disband was made unanimously, he said by phone.

"There were not enough members and not enough projects," he added. Now, "everyone is too tired to take on other projects," he said. "It was a matter of aging. If we're not going out and raising money, then all we were doing was having lunch at the University Club. Younger people are not interested in any of these organizations. They are working too hard," he said.

Stroud said he tried to recruit younger members, but only a couple of them joined. They didn't stay long, he said.

The group is close knit and will still likely meet for lunches every month or so; some people plan to join other Lions chapters, he said. Despite all of their work, Stroud said they couldn't garner media interest in their activities, such as the White Cane events. Perhaps that might have helped raise awareness of their activities — and interest in the organization.

Lions Club International started in 1917 by Chicago businessman Melvin Jones in response to social problems caused by World War I. It is one of the largest civic organizations in the world, with 1.4 million members in about 200 countries.

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Comments

13 people like this
Posted by Family & Children Services of Silicon Valley
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 21, 2019 at 11:20 am

We extend heartfelt gratitude to the members of the Palo Alto Lions Club, present and past.

We were thankful to receive donations to support our mental health services for many years, and we know what a difference your generosity and fundraising meant for numerous local organizations. You helped many neighbors receive needed support.


15 people like this
Posted by Disgusted with Stanford.
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 21, 2019 at 1:44 pm

Thanks Stanford, you killed a great organization. With its massive endowment Stanford owes the local community. Disgusted.


4 people like this
Posted by Christine
a resident of another community
on Jun 22, 2019 at 2:27 pm

This makes me sad but I’d like to thank the PA Lions for their support of Canine Companions for Independence over the years. It means the world.


2 people like this
Posted by thanks, Stanford!
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 22, 2019 at 2:33 pm

(imagining a note in the mail)


Expressing our hearty 'thanks' to Stanford for (sinking) another valued component of the community...

Sincerely,

Lions Eye Foundation, Lions Hearing Foundation, St. Elizabeth Seton School, Jean Weingarten Peninsula Oral School for the Deaf, Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Canine Companions for Independence, Children's Health Council, Avenidas' Senior Health Program, La Comida, JobTrain, LiveMoves, Palo Alto Little League and Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula


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