Three men who were among the anchors of the popular Ripon Lions Club after its founding in 1944 chatted together last week about old times during their reigns as presidents.
Joe O’Leary, George Fields and Gerry Thiemann all share a passion for the club.
Fields and O’Leary both joined the club in 1961 and have been in the membership for 51 years. Thiemann joined them a year later in 1962. His dad had been a charter member.
The club that meets at the American Legion Hall celebrated its 70th anniversary earlier this month. Ripon was charted by the Modesto Lions Club on March 2. O’Leary still had a copy of the charter night program in his files that he shared with the other senior members meeting at his Ripon home.
The charter night was held at Ripon High School with World War II fever still in the air. Judge Lee Robertson of Modesto acted as the toastmaster for the evening. Ripon High School Principal Wes Stouffer welcomed the guests to his school and the banquet.
Lions members are known for their singing at club events and the charter night was no exception. The words of three songs were printed in the program for the membership and their spouses to follow. Included were “The Star Spangled Banner”, “America”, and “Hail, Hail, The Lions are Here”.
College of the Pacific President Tully C. Knoles served as the keynote speaker. He spoke on “The Survival Value of Democracy.” The entertainment for the evening was provided by the Ripon High School Choir.
Charter President Thomas C. Hoek officially accepted the charter following a presentation of the charter and installation of officers by District Governor H.M. Ginsburg of Fresno. Hoek would serve a second term as president in the 1945-46 year and later a third term.
The original officers, in addition to Hoek, who were installed that night, were Arie Den Dulk Jr., first vice president; Rease W. Doak, second vice president; Milton L. Hoff, secretary-treasurer; Sid W. Reynolds, Lion tamer and John A. Thiemann, tail twister.
The current president is Ripon Police Chief Ed Ormonde. The immediate past President is Ken Newburg who has long been involved in the Boys Scouts effort in Ripon.
Working at the downtown Shell
Thiemann remembers growing up in his dad’s service station doing his chores as a “sweeper boy” while doing some of the other maintenance work. He did some lube jobs when he was tall enough to reach the grease fittings on their customers’ vehicles, longtime friend George Fields added.
It was a time when Highway 99 went through the center of town with only two signal lights – one on Main Street and the other near the high school. For a number of years the Lions met in a side room at Griswold’s chicken restaurant near the Stanislaus River and just down from the goat dairy. The restaurant was known for its collection of classic cars that drew customers off the highway – long before the freeway was built.
O’Leary came to Ripon in 1962 replacing Wes Stouffer as high school principal. He later became superintendent of the unified school district. The club fines were only a dime at that time and they have evolved with inflation to 25 cents over the years and now are a buck.
George Fields served as Lions District Governor in the 1972-1973 following a convention in Santa Cruz. He was the major promoter of the Lions Clubs’ All-star Football Games held in the first week of July or August with players being nominated in the Spring.
Club meetings are still on the first and third Thursdays going back to the early board meetings being held in Hoek’s office on the second Thursdays.
Lions helped install high school field items
The three Lions members recalled their hands-on projects they completed with their fellow Lions. Those included installation of the high school bleachers and the field lights, restrooms, new glass backstops in the gym and a new scoreboard. They were also instrumental in building the Ripon Library that is now the home of the Clarence Smit Museum.
During those 70 years of Lions Club projects, its members were also responsible for building the backstop and dugouts at the Ripon Community Center field as well as painting the old and new portions of the Community Center on Fourth Street. The playground fence at Weston Elementary School and the installation of play equipment at Colony Oak Elementary School were also projects completed by Lions.
The bird aviary at Bethany Home was also erected by the hard work of the service club members. The concrete picnic tables in Stouffer Park along the river was also a Lions project as was the installation of a new roof for the Senior Citizens’ storage unit on its north side.
The club members currently provide Medic Alert Bracelets for children along with Vision Screenings and follow-ups in the community. They also give a check to the public and Christian schools with bracelets for students claiming they are drug free.
A major fund raiser is the spaghetti dinner in the community center just prior to the Almond Queen coronation every year. The long favorite pancake breakfast that had been held every year at Ripon Elementary School was discontinued two years go. It was a time for chatting between old friends but there was little profit in the event for the club.
The Ripon Lions’ membership peaked in 1994 with 50 on its roster, but has now dropped to some 35 members. A new member night is scheduled for April 3, and of course all are welcome to attend at the American Legion Hall on Stockton Avenue.
Of the three old timers, George Fields has long played the banjo, accordion and drums. Sometime he admits being a fast fiddler. Gerry has added music to the meetings with his trombone and Joe O’Leary has led many a New Teachers’ Night with the Lions in a sing-along on his guitar.