Around the World Without Leaving Your Seat

For more than fifty winters the DeWitt Noon Lions in Iowa have provided a remedy for cabin fever.

A US$5 donation to Lions buys armchair travelers in the DeWitt Operahouse Theatre a first-class ticket to the club’s Winter Travelogue Series, where this season they can explore the Arctic Circle, the Aegean Sea and ancient Athens, Russia, Africa, Italy, France, and beyond. Or, for those who choose to stay domestic, take a towboat ride down the mighty Mississippi, explore the spectacular southwest, and visit Revolutionary War sites from Iowa east. The Lions major fundraiser brings in about US$1,000 on each Travelogue Tuesday, drawing about 200 fans between the matinee and evening shows. Every other Tuesday from January through May features a different amateur presenter and a different destination.

“Most of the presenters are just travelers who are thrilled to see their photos on the big screen,” says Lion Mary Rueter. “It’s always amazing to those of us who have presented that people are willing to pay to see our pictures. I can’t explain it, but it works.”

About 14 club volunteers work the show, taking tickets, running the projector, and acting as hosts. The theatre sells concessions, and Lions provide door prizes. Local merchants can purchase advertising to run with previews before each feature, and shops and restaurants cater to travelogue guests with specials before and after the show.

New presenters are encouraged to come and see for themselves what makes a good show before they take their turn at the podium. “Some are better presenters, and some are better photographers,” says Rueter. “Thinking back, there have only been one or two duds.”

The travelogue series began 52 years ago when Lions contracted with a company to show travel films in the high school gym. They were a big hit, even though the audience had to sit on bleachers or bring lawn chairs. Eventually a few adventuresome Lions grew tired of paying the company, and decided to show their own travel pictures. Travelogue moved to the historic theatre, and the Lions’ crowd got so large they were turning people away at the door. They added a second showing.

Travelogues are even more popular on the annual Pie Day when each attendee get a piece of homemade pie to enjoy with the movie, says Rueter.

Generally there are three reasons why people enjoy the shows, says Gary Meden of Davenport, who will give his fifth presentation this year. There are those who want a preview before traveling to the same destination, those who have already been there and want to re-live the experience, and those who only travel vicariously through the big screen.

Meden, who travels with his wife, Cindy, for six months every year, also likes to support Lions. “I believe in what Lions do,” says Meden. “Everywhere we’ve been we’ve seen Lions.”