The Day I Became a Lion

Super Grandpa

I was a member of the Stephenson Lions Club for eight or nine years before I really became a Lion. I regularly attended club meetings, I had flipped hundreds of pancakes, and I had grown to be a committed club member. I faithfully paid my dues, contributed to LCI, and was drawn to future Lions leadership when my tile business calmed down. But it was just a few years ago that I had the experience that changed my perspective on what it really means to be a Lion.

Lion JimEvery year in June the District 10 Lions spend a workday at Bay Cliff Health and Wellness Center in Big Bay, Michigan. Bay Cliff is a rustic, yet modern facility in the woods on the rugged south shoreline of Lake Superior. Founded in 1933, Bay Cliff Health Camp is a therapy and wellness center serving the needs of youth living with a variety of disabilities. Campers are provided physical, speech, hearing, and occupational therapies, medical and dental care, and specially adapted recreational activities. While the campers are attending Bay Cliff, their families and caretakers get a much-needed respite from caretaking. Lions have supported the camp since its first summer session in 1934.

In June of 2009 I was at Bay Cliff for our annual event and I had spent the morning helping with some tile repair. Around 11:30 a.m. the bell rang out signaling it was time to join the campers and Bay Cliff staff for a family-style lunch. I stuffed myself full of roast pork, mashed potatoes, green beans, salad, and a gooey whipped cream cookie crumble dessert while chatting with the staff member and four campers sharing my table. After the post luncheon entertainment, it was time to get back to my tile repair. I have a three-hour drive home.

Stepping out of the door onto the wide wood-beamed porch I saw a young camper on crutches with braces on both of her tiny legs. She was working her way gingerly down the four wide wooden steps. Very carefully, just as she had learned in physical therapy, she meticulously inched her way down the set of stairs. I stood and watched her with a heartfelt awe. Silently inside I was cheering her on. Suddenly, at the bottom of the last step, as her little foot hit the ground, she lost her balance, and pitched forward. An attempt to catch herself failed and she fell flat on her face in the dirt.

Without even thinking, I launched off the porch like Super Grandpa. “Oh my,” I said. “Are you hurt? Can I help you up?” The image of my youngest granddaughter flashed through my mind. There she was, face planted in the dirt. Before spontaneously swooping her up into my arms, I had the where-with-all to ask her if she would like my help. “Yes, please, if you would be so kind,” she said in a small, brave voice. I picked her up and helped her to get re-balanced on her crutches. I verified again that she was not injured. As I was wiping small bits of gravel off her sweet little face, our eyes locked. A single tear escaped from her thick lashes, trickling down her cheek. “I wish I could be just a regular little girl,” she sighed.

As if having been struck by lightning, at the bottom of the stairs with that lovely child still reeling from her fall, every hour I had spent in a meeting, every hour I had faithfully served, every dollar I had given to the Lions mission, all came to a life-changing crescendo. I understood what being a member of the largest service organization in the world really means. I re-dedicated myself to a life of Lions service, leadership, and membership. I felt the true honor and pride to be serving at Bay Cliff where this brave seven-year-old child would be given moments when she and her peers could forget about their crutches, braces, and missing limbs, and could be “regular” kids. My service was providing the opportunity for kids to play outdoor adapted games, go canoeing, sing camp songs, roast marshmallows over a campfire, swim, and enjoy the natural surroundings of Michigan’s spectacular Upper Peninsula.

I had witnessed moments of campers’ sheer will throughout the day, but the rescue of a little girl at the bottom of the dining hall stairs had launched something in my heart. But it wasn’t until I was attending the US-Canada Leadership Forum in September of 2021 that a name was put to the profound experience I had on that sunny day in June, on a cliff overlooking the rugged shoreline of Lake Superior. At the bottom of the dining hall stairs I understood the mission of Lions and the impact our service can have on individual lives. On that unforgettable day, in my heart and soul I became a Lion!


Lion Jim Svinicki is Past District Governor of District 10 in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and a member of the Stephenson Lions Club in Stephenson, Michigan.