The Sonora Lions Club was organized and chartered on April 24, 1922. The Stockton Host Lions were the sponsoring club. The club charter was issued on November 4, 1922, and a “Charter Night” was held on February 12, 1923, with 43 original charter members. In the past over 100 years, between 850-900 men and women in Tuolumne County have been members of the club. Sonora Lions have contributed approximately 110,000-125,000 hours of community service to Tuolumne County as well as donating over $900,000 to a variety of community activities.
Lion Lester Greenlaw, a Tuolumne County businessman, was elected as the first president of the club, serving for 14 months over the original 43 charter members. The club has had many members over the years with 30-plus years of service to the club, some going to the 50-year plus mark.
Dr. Mel Kasak was the only Sonora Lion Club member to serve as District Governor. During Lion Mel’s tenure with the Sonora Lions Club, he recruited over 100 club members into service. Since Lion Mel’s day, the Sonora Lions Club membership has included Past District Governor Pat Green, a transfer from the Copperopolis Lions Club, Past District Governor Felix Romo from the Sonora Mountain Lions Club, and the most recent addition of Past District Governor Tom Penhallegon, who served as a District Governor in Michigan before coming to California.
Sonora Lions Club was the sponsoring club for several other Lions Clubs in Tuolumne County. These include the Columbia Lions, Columbia State Park Lions, Tuolumne City Lions, Sonora Pass Lions, Garrotte Lions (Groveland), and Sonora Mountain Lions.
Fundraising efforts over the years have taken many forms. In the early years, the club would often put on or sponsor minstrel shows, community talent shows, and larger-scale theatrical presentations. Today, the club holds fundraisers such as the annual Newt McKenna Lobster Dinner, Harvey “Dusty” Rhodes’ Cioppino Dinner, the Omelet Breakfast, the Pancake Breakfast, and our annual Turkey Drive in association with ATCAA (our local food bank).
The Sonora Lions Club members have been involved in several huge projects over the last hundred years that have benefited the Tuolumne County community, as well as persons in other parts of the world. They helped finance and construct the Sonora Youth Center on Barretta Street; they laid the sidewalk that runs along North Washington St. by the Red Church; they built the baseball field by the Sonora Dome; they purchased and sent an ambulance to serve the medical needs of the people in San Felipe, Mexico; and they were responsible for putting house numbers on Sonora homes, which then allowed mail to be delivered directly to homes for the first time. The Sonora Lions Club also was instrumental in the restoration of the historical gazebo in Jamestown’s Rocca Park and heavily involved in the restoration and construction of the Blacksmith Shop/Museum, also in Rocca Park. They have organized numerous events over the years concerning eye and vision care, one of the cornerstones of Lionism. They have operated eye exam clinics, collected eyeglasses, and donated funds to Lions Sight First, a worldwide effort by Lions Clubs International to control and wipe out river blindness and other sight-related issues plaguing poorer nations around the world. They collect hearing aids and also provide sponsorship of hearing aids to those who cannot afford them. Sonora Lions Club has awarded numerous scholarships over the years to high school and college students and currently provides yearly scholarships for 6 students at Columbia College ($1,000 each). We have the Lion Diann Kaiser Memorial Hospital Equipment Loan Program (H.E.L.P.) that provides wheelchairs, crutches, and many other forms of medical equipment for local residents who are in need of temporary aid for medical conditions.
Other activities of note are providing delivery of Meals on Wheels and also the creation of the new Friends of the Pet Club, providing food for the pets of the MOW recipients. The Club solicits the participation of local schools in Flag Day, conducting a yearly Student Speakers Contest and Peace Poster contest. The Sonora Lions also sponsor local youth sports, collect non-perishable food for distribution by the Mother Lode Food Program, support Interfaith Services, ATCAA (food bank), Boy Scout troops, and promote the annual Lions All-Star Football Game. On the rise in popularity over the last several years has been our Glenn Bass Cross Country Run, which benefits the cross-country race team for Sonora High School. For the past several years, the club has provided funding to buy medicines for distribution at free medical clinics for extremely poor villagers in the Philippines.
In more recent years, the Sonora Lions Club has championed the displaced residents of our county during raging forest fires, providing meals for the evacuation center for those people, the Red Cross workers, firefighters, and other volunteers. As if the devastating fires weren’t enough, the residents of our senior population then had to deal with the extreme drought and bark beetle infestation of the pine trees on their property, leading to major concerns for their safety and ability to remove those trees. The Sonora Lions spearheaded a county-wide program, the Tree Mortality Aid Program (TMAP), to help qualifying residents have their dead and dying trees removed from their property at no cost to them. The club, with help from various local entities, helped raise over $147K in funds to help offset the cost of removing those trees from qualified senior residents in our county, on 56 properties, removing 315 trees from their respective properties, thus avoiding potential damage and destruction to their homes and lives.
In 2016, the Sonora Lions started an important reading initiative program called Read to Succeed, where elementary school students are encouraged to read as many books as possible at their assigned reading level during the month of February, take a comprehension test about it, and receive a ticket for each book read. At the end of the month, they would then be eligible to win an Amazon Fire 7 Tablet and protective case. It is believed that programs like these ignite a desire to learn and read in our young children and empower them for a richer, and better future. To date, the club has awarded 330 Kindle/Amazon Fire Tablets to the students of our community.
In 2012, the Sonora Lions Club and the Sonora Mountain Lions Club merged to form one single club, the Sonora Lions Club. It increased our strength and ability to serve our community in a powerful way and we have barely stopped since.
Though the names of the members and activities of the club have changed over the years, the club has always maintained an active presence in Tuolumne County, working hard in a myriad of efforts to make this county a good place to live and raise a family.
Lions Clubs International has a very simple motto and it describes this club very well: “We serve,” and the Sonora Lions Club slogan, adopted in 2013, is “Serving the Mother Lode since 1922.” We celebrated our 100th birthday in April of 2022.