When Severn River Lions Club held its first meeting at the old Hide-Away restaurant on Ritchie Highway in the spring of 1956, Severna Park was a sleepy little locale for Baltimoreans who could afford a summer retreat on or near the water.
Today, Greater Severna Park is a bustling suburb, and the club is bustling, too, raising money for college scholarships, screening children for vision problems, picking up litter on local roads and volunteering with the county's Teen Court.
Not only is the Severn River Lions Club celebrating its golden anniversary in 2006, it's also marking another milestone: the installation in July of its first female president, Sue Parks.
At a gala dinner party tomorrow at the Marriott Waterfront Hotel in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, the club's 70-plus members and their guests will celebrate the past and look to the future.
"I think one of the reasons our club is successfully retaining and growing our membership," said Parks, "is demonstrated by our motto, `Serve and share the fun.' We have good people providing great service. The key is that we have fantastic camaraderie in the process."
Her goal for the coming year is to increase SRLC membership, particularly among women. They have been members of the club for only 10 years.
When Parks, 56, is installed as King Lion, she will follow a path blazed by her mother, Marjorie Morey. At 80 years of age, Morey continues to be active in her own Lions Club in New Jersey.
"We are an extremely diverse club," said the Severn resident. "In addition to a pretty good male/female and racial split, we have those who are full-time employed and those who are retired, those who were or are professionals, and those who pound nails."
While she admits to not being the best at wielding a hammer, Parks said, "I can help with fundraising and club administration, and I put out a heck of a newsletter."
At the Lions Club International Convention last year in Hong Kong, her newsletter received Honorable Mention, making it the only U.S. club newsletter to be recognized.
Lions can choose from an extensive list of volunteer programs such as the Loan Closet, a collection of medical equipment that people can borrow at no cost, and the scholarship fund for college-bound students at Severna Park and Broadneck high schools.
"Scholarships are a major part of our budget," said current club President Randy Roberts, a Stewarts Landing resident.
Two $1,000 scholarships based on academic achievement, extracurricular activities and financial need are given to students at SPHS, and one $1,000 scholarship is awarded to a student at Broadneck. These awards are renewable for four years of college.
"This year we had 25 applications from Severna Park [High School]," Roberts said. "Making a decision was really tough."
The club also gave two $500 scholarships this year to students attending Anne Arundel Community College.
The club donates an average of $30,000 annually by filling requests from schools, charitable organizations, local projects and international Lions Clubs programs.
To help raise money for such gifts, the club worked out a deal with the Severna Park High School band: Marching band members help hoist the heavy boxes of fruit at the club's dozen or so yearly fruit sales, and the Lions pay for all of the trophies presented at the school's annual Tournament of Bands.
"The fruit sale contributes as much as $15,000 to the club treasury," said Roberts. "All money raised from the public is returned 100 percent back to the community."
The club also is helping to establish a Lions Club in Odenton, and it participates in the state's Adopt-A-Highway program. Assigned to a two-mile stretch of Ritchie Highway, Lions are on the job six or seven Saturday mornings a year.
"It's like a morning walk before you get going on your other chores," said Roberts, 53.
Arnold resident Don Rayment oversees the club's role as advisers to the youth offenders in Teen Court, the county police-sponsored program that offers some first-time youth offenders the option to appear before a jury of their peers rather than stand before a judge and jury.
There are usually two sessions of Teen Court each month in courthouses in Annapolis and Glen Burnie, said Rayment. The Lions Club shares advisory duties with the Annapolis Kiwanis Club.
For middle-schoolers, the local Lions sponsor service clubs called Leo Clubs. Every year the adults challenge the kids to a canned food drive, and every year the kids win, said Roberts, and the Lions pay for the Leos' pizza parties.
Another major club project is sight and hearing education and screening for elementary-age children.
The club recently delivered 25,000 pairs of eyeglasses collected by clubs in District 22 A to the Maryland School for the Blind. The glasses will be sanitized and graded and sent to recipients in Third World countries.
At vision screenings, trained Lions use a high-speed Polaroid camera to photograph children's eyes. The photos are sent to Vanderbilt University where experts can detect vision problems.
The club plans to extend this program to include preschoolers.
"District 22A is closing in on our goal of donating $4 million to the Lions Vision Research Foundation," said Roberts. The foundation is associated with the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute, he said.
When the club arranged to have LensCrafters' mobile eye lab come to a low-income Baltimore neighborhood, Lion Joe McClellan, 71, volunteered. During that session, 164 elementary students were examined, and 160 pairs of eyeglasses were dispensed.
"I worked the second day," said the Severndale resident. "The children had big smiles on their faces when they walked out wearing their new glasses."