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The return of the Lathrop Lions Club
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LATHROP – The Lathrop Lions Club is 27 members strong.

Not bad for a group that has only met once since it was officially chartered on June 14. That’s less than a month ago. Yet in that short time, the group has managed to achieve a roaring visibility in the community.

Most recently, the members made their presence known at the 20th Lathrop Birthday celebration on July 1 held at Valverde Park in the city’s Old Town District. The club was one of about half-dozen nonprofit organizations invited to set up food and informational booths to add color and fun to the festivities. The food booths gave the service clubs an opportunity to fund-raise. And just a few days before that, some Lions along with representatives of the Lathrop Jitterbug Queens Red Hat Society made a special trip on a Saturday morning to the historic East Union Cemetery in Manteca to help in the general cleanup of this resting place for many of the area’s pioneers.

Lion member Linda Rose, a lifelong Lathrop resident, said the club continues to look for new members.

“We’ll be happy to have new members,” she said, adding anyone who wishes to join or learn more about Lathrop’s newest service club is welcome to attend one of their regular meetings.

They meet every second and fourth Tuesday of the month at 6 p.m. in the Lathrop Community Center at Valverde Park.

Not the first Lions in Lathrop
While the Lathrop Lions is a new group per se, this is not the service club’s first foray in the city. It was predated by the Lathrop-French Camp Lions Club which was in existence prior to the town’s 1989 incorporation. Mike Okamoto, once a member of that first Lions chapter, happened to be at the July 1 celebration at Valverde and, in fact, met and/or saw some of the new club’s members who were with him in the first group. Okamoto, who was also very active as a Boy Scout leader along with wife Penny at the time, stuck with the Lathrop-French Camp Lions to the end until it dissolved in 1986.

“When we dissolved, there were only six of us left,” he recalled.

After the club “broke up,” as he put it, he went and joined the Ripon Lions Club and stayed with it until 1996 when he joined the Tracy Lions where he remains active to the present. His affiliation with the Tracy chapter is obviously a professional convenience for Okamoto, too, since he is a Realtor for the Tracy Prudential California Realty on West Eleventh Street.

Organizing efforts began a year ago
While the Lathrop Lions was chartered barely less than a month ago, organizing efforts actually began back in November 2008 during the rededication ceremonies for the new and improved Manuel Valverde Park, a $3.4 million project that included a state-of-the-art interactive water feature, basketball courts, a bocce court, and the town’s long-awaited Veterans War Memorial honoring the town’s heroes who paid the ultimate price, from World War I to the war in Iraq.

A Lions sign-up sheet set up that day yielded 20 signatories. Unfortunately, only a half-dozen of them showed up at the first organizational meeting in January. So a follow-up meeting was scheduled in February.

Richard Alvarez, Sr. who was one of the three spearheading the effort said during an interview in January that they needed at least 20 people to charter a new club in Lathrop. Alvarez was, and still is, a member of the South Stockton Lions Club which was pushing for a charter group in Lathrop. He was joined in the organizing effort by Ron Valverde, the son of the late Manuel Valverde for whom the Lathrop community park was named, and Francis Bognuda.

Those who wish to join the new club need not be a resident of Lathrop. They could be from Manteca, French Camp or even Stockton, Alvarez said. Membership is open to “both men and women, anybody over the age of 21,” he said.

The flyer circulated during the organizational meeting in February contained a message explaining the group’s mission and involvements both on the local and international levels. It read: “Although Lions clubs are noted for their assistance to the blind and visually handicapped, Lions clubs are involved in many other projects that reach out to seniors, children and the physically disadvantaged in their community. By forming a Lion’s Club in your community, you will encourage service-minded and women to serve their community without personal financial reward, and promote high ethical standards in commerce, professions, public works and private endeavors.”

For more information about the Lions Club, contact the following via e-mail or telephone:

• Richard Alvarez, Sr. (209) 951-8188

• Ron Valverde (209) 952-0735

• Francis Bognuda (209) 931 2789

Or, you can go to any of their twice-a-month meetings at the Lathrop Community Center located at Valverde Park, 15557 Fifth Street. The meetings start at 6:30 p.m.