Sixty-five years of philanthropy and service to the community will be celebrated and recognized on Saturday, Oct. 26, when the Jim Thorpe Lions Club holds its anniversary gala at the American Legion Post 314, Lehighton.

The club was officially chartered as the Bear Mountain Lions Club on that date in 1948, its incorporation having been endorsed then by the Lehighton Lions Club.

"Since its inception, the club has supported a variety of local, national and international humanitarian services," said George Hiller, club president. "This is a time to acknowledge the many years of service by many members, as well as to thank those who have donated to the club in many ways through the last six and a half decades. Our mission could not be fulfilled without the support of them and so we want to offer our sincerest thanks to the public for having supported the club."

The anniversary gala will begin at 6 p.m. with a cocktail hour, followed by the dinner and a short program from 7-8 p.m. and dancing/entertainment provided by "Brad and Luke" from 8:30 to 11 p.m. "Since the Lehighton club was our sponsor back in '48, we thought the Legion was an appropriate location to hold the anniversary celebration, in order to honor its initial support of our charter," said Ronald J. Sheehan, chairman of the anniversary committee.

He is joined on the committee by Dr. Clement McGinley, John Drury, Jolene Evans, and Renee Smith.

The beginning

Sheehan said the club had its inception back in 1948 when 43 men and their wives from the Mauch Chunks gathered in the social rooms of the St. John Episcopal Church for a charter presentation and banquet. The club was eventually renamed the Jim Thorpe Lions Club in 1956.

Shortly after being organized, the club determined the needs for a community nurse to provide home care services in the community, and started a program that continued for 58 years until 2007 when Medicare Home Health services rendered the program unnecessary.

During its years of existence, the club supported many projects in the community that included fundraising, donations of money and physical labor. "Such was the case in October, 1954, when the club members agreed to prepare the Asa Packer Mansion as a tourist attraction in the Borough of Jim Thorpe," Sheehan said. It had its formal opening on May 30, 1956.

"The club expended enumerable funds to maintain and upgrade the mansion, including cleaning, painting and repairing the mansion in order to preserve it as one of the historical treasures of the community," said Sheehan, who is also the executive director of the mansion. He said since 1956 more than 100,000 visitors have toured the mansion, noting, "While visitors have enjoyed its multiple treasures, the club used the revenue realized thereof to help support its charitable mission."

Uniting community

Hiller said the Lions were also instrumental in bringing the first borough manager form of government to town, initiating the "mile of nickels" for the nickel-a-week campaign which eventually led to the two "Chunks" uniting under the name of Jim Thorpe and providing the final resting place for the great Olympic athlete.

While the club has never been a large organization in terms of membership, its support throughout the community exceeded all expectations and included assistance with vision care, student scholarships for higher education, and contributions to multiple local charities and organizations.

Concerned with the appearance of the community, the Lions raised funds for the dismantling of an abandoned hotel at the eastern approach of the borough bridge as well as the Central Railroad of New Jersey freight station. The Harry Packer Mansion was acquired from the Jim Thorpe National Bank in 1973 to "preserve the building for a community and future generations," Hiller said, adding, "Too many of the mansions of the community have disappeared."

Beneficiaries

Among the beneficiaries of Lions' generosity have been the Dimmick Memorial Library, Jim Thorpe Little League, Mauch Chunk Historical Society, Jim Thorpe Fire Department, Jim Thorpe Police Department and children's fishing contests.

Since 2011, the club has assumed sponsorship of the annual Jim Thorpe Halloween parade.

Sheehan said while the club experienced a normal turnover of membership through the years, "This dedicated and enlightened group of members has made a significant impact on the human and cultural development of the town while enjoying fellowship and satisfaction of making their community a better place in which to live."

To attend the dinner by contact Sheehan at (570) 325-4244.