Why Crozet is a long-running feature examining the many facets of the community that make it unique, supportive and vibrant. This April, we take a look at the Crozet Lions Club, an 85-year-old institution that works behind the scenes for the benefit of Crozet as well as supporting the international club’s services for those who are blind or hearing impaired.
At a time when people mostly band together because of mutual outrage, who joins a club listing “kindness” in the first sentence of all its promotional materials? For the past 85 years in Crozet, that would be the Lions Club, a non-political group of men and women whose mandate (besides kindness) is service to the community.
There’s a third characteristic of Crozet Lions and Lions everywhere, said current president Phil Eaton: “We always try to have fun. We are serious about our service but we don’t like to take ourselves too seriously.” He mentioned their bi-weekly meetings, where a designated Lion will find ways to “fine” members for small, humorous infractions, a playful way to raise money for their many projects.
Eaton would like to share the fun by welcoming new and younger area residents to carry on the important work the club does around Crozet, benevolent projects that are so familiar that we all take them for granted. The community sees local Lions with their brooms in the Crozet parades, or finds their donation box in the library when it’s time to change glasses, or their participation in dozens of other projects, but there’s also a lot of work behind the scenes, coordinating with community events, sourcing supplies and planning the screenings that fulfill the world-wide Lions Club’s investment in vision and hearing. Lions from here join those from throughout the world in making sure glasses reach those most in need. There’s a lot to it, sorting, labeling, sanitizing and figuring out the prescriptions of the lenses. A note for those ready to change glasses: “We always need them to be in sturdy frames, for those in remote areas,” Eaton said. “If they were to break, there’d be nobody to fix them.”
The Lions broom project—locally, Eaton leads that effort—is a way to support those whose eyesight is too compromised for glasses to help. “We used to buy from industries that employed the blind to make the brooms,” he said. Over time, it became apparent that the dust from broom assembly was a hazard to those who already had health problems, and Lions began to purchase from businesses set up to donate part of their profits to the blind.
When Eaton moved here 30 years ago to escape Northern Virginia, the Lions here were already past the half-century mark of serving the local community. According to Crozet historian Phil James, those who signed the original charter were a who’s who of prominent town fathers: Henry Chiles, Thomas and Bourne Wayland, Ernest and C.W. Sandridge, George Pollock, S.W. Barnes, and W.F. Carter among them. Their variety shows, directed for years by Ruth Chiles, drew an enthusiastic audience who loudly applauded or booed with her encouragement. Part of the fun for Lions Club members during the show’s 50-year-long run was for the performers to sneak some slightly risqué jokes past Chiles by adding them to the live show without previewing them in rehearsal. Not only had she been the force behind 35 years of the variety show, but she was the first woman Lion in the Crozet club. In 2022, after she died, the Lions presented a bench to her family at Chiles Peach Orchard, where the Lions sell gallons of peach ice cream for a fundraiser each summer.
Eaton clarified a misconception that might prevent people new to the community from joining the Lions Club. “There’s this idea that you have to be asked to be a member,” he said. “That’s technically true, but you can ask a current member to invite you. You don’t have to wait around until someone notices your interest.” Or you can show up at 6:30 for a meeting on the second or fourth Monday of each month at The Meadows. The Lions ask that you attend three meetings before joining, to make sure it’s a good fit.
Potential members shouldn’t be concerned that they won’t find a role that interests them. There’s such a variety in their community service, Eaton said, that everyone can find a niche. “Not everyone has to do everything. Just find your thing.”
As for Eaton, he enjoys all the aspects of being a Crozet Lion. “We’re drawn together to do some good, often for people we will never know,” he said. “If that doesn’t put a smile on your face, nothing will.”
Updated 4/11/23: The print version or this article incorrectly states that the Lions meet on Tuesdays. They actually meet on Mondays.