Belfast Lions Club may cease to exist
By Karen Hall
Belfast Lions Club may give their property back to the county and cease to exist as a club, members of Marshall County's Land, Price and Sale committee were told this week.
They heard the same thing at their December meeting, but asked for time to think about it and also to get County Attorney Bill Haywood consider the proposal.
The Belfast Lions Club actually bought the property from the county when the Belfast School closed. They built a club house and a horse show ground and, more recently, a walking track and a landing pad for helicopter ambulances. The volunteer fire department took part of the land for its fire hall.
The Lions Club also pays for the street lights in downtown Belfast.
In the old days, the annual walking horse show paid for all the maintenance on the property, with money left over for the Lions Club to spend on good causes in the community.
Not so any more, reported Peggy Burrow, one of the few remaining members of the Lions Club.
"There's not enough interest in the Lions Club to support it," she said. "There's only four or five of us. We're really having a hard time."
Commissioner R.L. Williams asked if they'd held a horse show last year.
"We didn't have a walking horse show," answered Burrow. "We had a country boy show; we made about $500. The money we raise, we give back to the community. We ended the year just $200 up on the previous year. We're just up a creek!"
"I'm a Lions Club member (in Chapel Hill) myself," said Commissioner Mike Waggoner. "I was told if a Lions Club dissolves, the property goes to Lions Club International."
Ron Anderson, who is responsible for 46 Lions Clubs in Middle Tennessee, was there to answer questions like that.
"You have to do it in the right order," he said.
"You can sell or donate the property and give the money to an appropriate charity, and then hand over the charter," Anderson said.
If the charter had been handed over right then, at the meeting, the property would belong to Lions International, he pointed out.
"They don't really want it," he exclaimed. "Our No. 1 goal is to turn a club around and make it vibrant again. Sixty-three and a half years they've been there -- it's an important part of Belfast. I know fundraising is extremely hard. Horse shows used to be a huge deal."
"In our heyday we would clear $24,000 a year," agreed Burrow. "That's how come we were able to build the building. It's not as if we haven't tried to get new members."
"I think the property would be a great asset to the county," said Williams. "But I hate to see the community lose it. What could we do to let everyone know and get the full community involved?"
Commissioner Anna Childress, who grew up in Belfast and went to school there, asked Anderson if all Lions Clubs were having difficulties.
"This is not atypical," Anderson said. "Hohenwald and College Grove were about to give up, and we got them back, but it's not an easy task. It takes a lot of work."
Williams encouraged Lions Club members to keep trying.
"I'd like to see it build back membership," he said. "I'm willing to be a part of that. Let's give it a few months, they you can bring it back here if necessary. Let's see what we can do."
"They don't need to do anything tonight," said Anderson. "I've got a meeting with the club on Monday to set up an action plan."
"Is there any legal reason the county couldn't take it?" asked Burrow, to which Haywood replied, "No."
"As a realtor, I can't imagine refusing such a nice property," said Waggoner. "It's a very generous thing you're offering the county. The biggest puzzle is how to accept it, maintain it and benefit from it. Don't feel we're ungenerous, but the budget is so tight already it's unfortunate."
The meeting ended with Belfast Lions Club members agreeing to hang on a little bit longer, and try to get everyone to their meeting at 7 p.m. Monday.
"Everybody show up!" said Childress.