STERLING – When Bob Cushman left Sterling for California in 1975, there were Lions Clubs in Sterling and Rock Falls, but when he moved back home in 2014, they had disbanded.
Cushman left to begin a long career with the Air Force, and his time on the West Coast was shaped largely by the military and the world's largest service club.
Cushman and his wife, Mary, have led the push to get the Lions up and running again in Sterling. With the help of Barb Stewart, first vice district governor-elect for the Lions Club district 1D, the Sauk Valley Lions Club was chartered June 28. Members from both towns are welcome.
"We had to have a minimum of 20 people to form the club, and we pushed hard and got it together in 2 weeks so we could be chartered before the next fiscal year started in July," Bob said.
Stewart reached out to past club members, but with the exception of Bob, everyone who has joined is new to the organization, Cushman said.
"I've never been in Lions before, but it doesn't really feel that way," said Mary, who is the charter secretary. "Bob kept telling me about the club and how they are like family."
Now that the club is officially back, the real work begins. The club meets at 7 p.m. on the first and third Wednesdays of the month at Wagon Wheel in Sterling.
The Lions are well known for projects such as eye screenings and eyeglass recycling, diabetes programs, hearing aids, and its youth outreaches. While those efforts will be part of the local Lions' agenda, the club is better defining its mission.
"The Lions are an autonomous club, and we can pretty much decide what we want to do here," Bob said.
The club was back in the trenches for the first time with the annual Thanksgiving Basket Drive, a joint project of the Coloma and Sterling townships. The Sauk Valley Lions helped pack 1,200 boxes of food to provide holiday meals for the less fortunate. The club also made a $500 contribution to the drive.
It's important to the Cushmans that the club's involvement extends beyond writing checks.
"In California, we went out and fed the homeless on the streets and in parks," Cushman said. "That was our signature project, and that was when I really became a Lion."
The club also took action at its Dec. 20 meeting, after learning about a fire in Rock Falls that injured and displaced four people earlier that day.
"We really haven't had a chance to do much fundraising yet, but these people lost everything they had and we wanted to help," Cushman said. "We just passed a hat around at the meeting and came up with $215."
Although the club will be involved with many of the projects for which Lions International is known, the members have identified two broad areas of interest – youth and senior citizens. Some of those projects will overlap with the International Lions' pet projects.
"We have a lady who needs hearing aids, and on Jan. 4, we'll take her to her appointment and pay for everything," Cushman said.
A few collection sites have been set up for the recycling of items such as eyeglasses, cellphones, Christmas tree lights and keys. Boxes can be found at the Veterans Administration Clinic at 406 Av. C, New Life Lutheran Church at 702 W. Lynn Boulevard, and Goodwill Industries at 2216 E. Fourth St., all in Sterling.
The community also will have a say in where the club turns its attention. All of the money raised locally stays here.
"We're looking for people to come to us with specific needs," Mary said. "We would like to see people come to our meetings and talk to us about their causes."
The Lions have a couple of fundraisers in the works. There will be a pancake breakfast sometime in January at Applebee's, 3920 E. Lincolnway in Sterling. A darts tournament is also tentatively planned for 1 p.m. March 4 at The Factory Pub-N-Grub at 103 W. Third St. in Sterling. More information will be announced when plans are firmed up.
There also are Lions Clubs in Dixon, Morrison, Tampico, Amboy, Prophetstown, Ashton, Polo, Oregon, Mount Morris, Thomson, Chadwick, Lanark, Mount Carroll and Savanna.
The Sauk Valley Lions meet at 7 p.m. the first and third Wednesdays of the month at Wagon Wheel, 1711 W. Fourth St. in Sterling.
Members must be at least 18. Anyone interested can attend a meeting, but it's a good idea to email Cushman first at email@example.com.
Per its charter, the club votes on adding new members.