A Redbud Revival

When spring arrives in Emporia, Kansas, it is with joy and a flourish of bright pink flowers.

The Emporia Lions have given new life to a long-standing club tradition. For their 99th anniversary in the fall, the Lions gave away 750 container-grown Eastern Redbud trees at the downtown Farmer’s Market. They plan to do the same in 2021 to celebrate their centennial, and again in 2022 to celebrate the start of the Emporia Lions’ next 100 years.

Eastern redbud
The Eastern Redbud is native to Kansas. Photo courtesy of the Kansas Forest Service.

Native to eastern Kansas, Redbuds are understory trees with heart-shaped leaves that thrive under the canopy of the larger trees in the forest. When their vibrant pink and purple blooms peek out from the forest edge, we know it’s spring.

“They’re beautiful,” says Lion Gary Post who has two in his backyard.

All total, the Emporia Lions have handed out 12,250 of these trees since they began this community project in 1939. Early news accounts say they wanted to make Emporia the “Redbud Capital of Kansas,” and they believed if they could get enough of the trees planted, they would do for Emporia “what the cherry blossoms do for Washington.”

They are still working on that, says Post, but Lions gave out Redbuds at various intervals, including their 50th and 75th anniversaries, so it seemed logical to make them part of their centennial celebration. This year’s trees came from the Kansas Forest Service and cost US$2 apiece. Local 4-H members helped with distribution.

Lions work with 4-H members to plant redbuds.
Emporia Lions get help from local 4_h club to distribute their redbuds each year.

The trees were paid for by the Cleve Cook/Lions Club Endowment established by Cook’s family after he died in 2013 at the age of 100. A 50-year Emporia Lion, Cook was a well-known farmer who loved Lions and agriculture, including the Emporia Farmer’s Market and the 4-H. His family established the Cleve Cook/Emporia Lions Club Fund to honor him and the things he loved.

With the help of the Cook family and the Cleve Cook/Lions Memorial Fund, the Emporia Lions have put more than US$100,000 back in the community over the last five years supporting agriculture, local history, and programs for children, says Post. Other club projects that are part of their centennial celebration include a US$20,000 donation to the Lyon County History Center to assist with renovations, and money to improve a shelter at the Lyon County fairgrounds.