Elmo Kelley of Fontana, California, never imagined a day of spring cleaning would uncover a bridge from the past that would lead him into his future. Tucked away in storage and preserved in pristine condition was a bright purple and yellow Lions hat adorned with colorful pins — a time capsule of Kelley’s grandfather, Felix Justo Lopez, who served as a Lion in Cuba in the 1950s through the early ’60s.

Original Elmo Christmas (1)“My grandfather was president of the Matanzas, Cuba club,” says Kelley. “When he escaped Cuba, along with my grandmother and my mother, after Fidel Castro took power, he continued on as an active and well-respected Lion in Miami, Florida.”

The first Cuban Lions club was chartered in Havana in 1927. By the early 1940s, the club had 900 members, making it the largest in the world at the time. The country also produced an International President, Dr. Ramiro Collazo, who served in the role from 1945-46. Lions International no longer has active clubs in Cuba.

In July 2023, Kelley shared photos of his grandfather’s memorabilia on Facebook along with his desire to find a club. Lions from around the world were delighted to hear his story and leaders from the North Fontana Centennial Lions Club invited him to their next meeting. Kelley attended that meeting and quickly realized it was the club was for him. Just three months after his Facebook post, the teacher and published poet was inducted as a Lion.

Elmo Hat 2

“The Lions legacy is about the story told to you and the gift to the world that your grandfather, grandmother, father, sister, etc. has given through the years,” says District 4-L5 GET and GLT Coordinator Lidia Petrov-Jones. “When we hear stories like Elmo’s, we should be proud of our heritage and how we are impacting our families and the world.”

While Kelley wishes he could have heard directly from his grandfather about his journey as a Lion, he’s glad he’s found a way to feel closer to the man whose bravery decades ago paved the way for him to have the life and opportunities he has today. Serving as a Lion is one way Kelley can honor his grandfather and carry on the tradition of service — and it’s a tradition he hopes to pass down to his own children one day.

“I felt I was called to become a member and carry on the tradition my grandfather started,” said Kelley. “It feels great to be a member and I am looking forward to serving my community. I know my grandfather would be very proud of me.”