By Lori Fischer Thorp
Frazee Lions members invite the community to celebrate their club’s 50th anniversary Sunday, Oct. 15, with an open house at the Frazee Event Center, 2-4 p.m.
The event will include light refreshments, a cash bar and a brief program at 2:30 p.m., with club president Jerry Bellefeulle as the Master of Ceremonies and speakers Lions 5M9 Vice District Governor Cathe Picek, and Frazee club member Hank Ludtke.
During the September pre-meeting potluck supper at the Frazee Lions Park, Bellefeuille and his father-in-law, club charter member Eldon Bergman, brainstormed on a few of the club’s major undertakings since 1973.
“We’ve been major supporters of many community projects,” Bergman said, including contributing for the Frazee City Hall building, Frazee Event Center, Frazee baseball and softball fields, and the Lions Park (Best Lions Park by a Dam Site, formerly owned by Becker County and now by the City of Frazee.)
There have also been Turkey Days events, numerous scholarship contributions for the school’s awards event and Miss Frazee pageant, and contributions to the Frazee Legion Baseball Team and Lions International projects.
In 50 years, there have been a lot of changes to the club roster and activities, but one unwavering piece is the club’s overall commitment to its motto: We Serve.
Mixed in with volunteerism and fundraisers has been the largest source of funds, charitable gaming. The club’s first gaming permit was granted in December 1985. By October 1995, $525,105 had been pledged towards area projects and activities.
Frazee Lions’ first gambling manager was Jim Maas, who started with pull tabs at Frazee’s Third Crossing Lounge, and then added gaming at the Frazee VFW. Gary Negen, now a 30-year club member, became the gambling manager in 2013 with his wife Karlene, a club member since 1999, as his assistant.
Gary Negen is now assistant manager to Chuck Wake, who began managing June 1, 2018, and Karlene Negen does related payroll and bookkeeping, and club secretarial duties.
At the busiest point, there were six gaming locations. Currently, there are three. COVID, the Negens said, was “pretty traumatic,” with gaming being shut down several times, for months at a time. The highly regulatory nature of gaming is, for the couple, balanced by the enjoyment of club activities.
“We just really like being involved in what goes on in the community,” Gary Negen said.
Karlene Negen said, “We have the ditch cleaning, and we like to keep the community clean and show community pride. We really did enjoy the street dances (at Turkey Days) over the years, those were a lot of work, but a lot of fun. We could see the people come out in the community, some of them we hadn’t seen for years,” she said, adding the Demo Derby was also a highlight.
Club treasurer Rita Steltzer agreed, saying, “Turkey Days for sure! We used to have so much fun at the dances that we had.” Those events continue, though other groups have become the sponsors since fewer Lions have been available to help.
Stelzer said some of her other favorite events include the annual craft fair, which is now co-sponsored by the recently-chartered 4 Corners Lions Club and will take place October 28 at Frazee Elementary School, and a Pancakes in the Park “which was a very fun event. Any event that gets us together as a club is fun!”
She has seen major changes since being asked by Ed and Linda Jutz to join the club over 15 years ago.
“COVID caused many changes to our group as meetings were not happening and our gambling almost was done due to closings of establishments,” she said. “Membership has declined as it has with so many civic organizations, but we are still a very strong group which I am thankful for. I have been treasurer for several years and I do enjoy the meetings to get together with the members as I have formed great friendships. I think it is important for the public to know just how much our Lions club donates to the school and City activities. We donate to the fire department and police department for equipment that they need. We service the Lions Park and were very instrumental in the building of the Event Center. There are many donations that our club is involved in that the public is unaware of.”
There are also a lot of projects which might seem invisible to the community. Mark and Deb Pergande, who became Lions in 2008 at the invitation of the Negens, have worked with the aluminum can recycling project since it was started in 2010.
Can trailers are located by the Frazee Rescue building (Frazee outskirts on Highway 29) and the VFW. Overall, 39,100 pounds of cans have been cashed in at MinnKota Recycling, Detroit Lakes.
The Pergandes have good memories of working at the Turkey Days Dance beer wagon. “What keeps us interested in Lions is the fellowship with Club members and other Lions Clubs,” they said, including recently joining 345 other Lions in Nisswa for District 5M9’s food boxes packaging.
Jim Fry echoes that sense of connectedness.
“It’s the attitude of doing things and giving to make things happen in the community,” Fry said. “I like to be there and be involved, having lived in Frazee and taught in Frazee.”
Fry, who is blind, had known about Lions since childhood, when he attended Braille school and frequently heard about Lions awards to students. “I’ve always been impressed with what I heard Lions did,” he said.
In Fall 1977, Eldon Bergman showed up at Fry’s apartment door selling light bulbs for a Lions project. “I don’t need light bulbs,” Fry told him, though he says he actually did have them for sighted visitors. Bergman’s response was to invite Fry to join Lions.
Fry had other friends in the club, and since he was living alone at the time and meetings were at Stone Hearth and included supper, he thought involvement would provide some good company as well as a night off from cooking.
“At first it was just a way to get together with others as a group,” he said, “and as you continue you learn about things Lions does.”
Fry has served at least two stints as president and served alongside his wife Kathy, who was secretary. He said the major impact he has noticed is “with the size of Lions worldwide, the major projects that we do and the things that we’ve done in Frazee.”
Vision is a major project of Lions and Fry attributes the local club’s generosity for helping him acquire costly devices such as readers which he uses daily.
Currently, he said, the group is small, and it’s hard for a small group to do large projects.
“People are so busy, and it does take time, if you’re going to be active in it,” he said.
Even so, the group keeps activities rolling including being a regular parade float presence, which Fry enjoys.
Even though the Frys moved to Detroit Lakes many years ago, Fry said his social connections within Frazee Lions have kept him here.
“The club wouldn’t let me switch (to another club),” he said, “and I didn’t try very hard.”
When the club gathers to mark its 50 years, Eldon Bergman plans to be there, just as he presided as Charter President at the first Frazee Lions Club meeting.
Bergman has spent the better part of his life in Lions. At the encouragement of friends, he became interested in District leadership, served as District Governor (DG) of 5M9 for the 1999-2000 year, and the following year took a further step up when he was elected as Council Chairman and presided over area District Governors at their regular meetings.
“I just decided it was something I wanted to do,” Bergman said of the leadership roles, which took him to each of 85 clubs in the course of his DG year. “I was retired and it was just a lot of fun to be that involved. As council chair I went to all the Midwinter conventions, and that was a lot of fun, too.”
Bergman used his DG year to be an agent of change, when Lions began being encouraged to invite female members.
Knowing that was going to be one of his messages when he visited clubs, Bergman spearheaded his own club’s transition. Inclusion of women “was one of the things I was the proudest of,” he said.
Looking ahead, “I would like to see some younger people join Lions,” Bergman said, and he’s not alone in hoping for growth. Rita Steltzer said there are currently 30 members, and she’d like to see that increase.
A bonus to joining, said Gary and Karlene Negen, is that “we have found the volunteering and the friendship is going to last a lifetime.”
“We continually are welcoming new members of all ages,” they said.