In the fall of 1958, a group of some 15 Signal Mountain men gathered at the Alexian Brothers home to begin founding of the Signal Mountain Lions Club. By the time the group gathered for its second meeting the size had doubled. Named to head the new organization were Don Whithorne, president, Dr. Marvin Woodard, Charles Anderson and Charles Davidson, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Vice Presidents respectively, Bob McMurray secretary, Pat St. Charles Jr., treasurer, Bill Atkins Lion Tamer, Bob Bennet, tail twister, Bill Close and Bob Davis, two-year directors, Bill Leader and Bob Eldridge, one-year directors.
Under the early guidance of veteran Chattanooga Lions Club members W.P. (Bill) Gruetter, then Chattanooga Lions president, and Pat St. Charles Sr., both Signal Mountain residents, and V.W. (Red) Maddox, along with Lions International representative Warren Lowell and then District Governor George Morton, the Signal Mountain club expanded to some 90 members by charter night on October 4, 1958.
Over the years, Signal Mountain Lions have played an active part in various programs including free glaucoma screening clinic, White Cane Days to support sight conservation and work with the blind and visually handicapped, diabetes research and help for victims, kidney treatment and kidney donor programs, and Tennessee District 12-O Eye Bank and Sight Service.
In the early days the club played an active role in developing youth athletic and recreation programs and built and operated a concession stand for ball games until the mountain’s Recreation Board assumed sole direction of the sports program for children on the mountain.
1961 found the club launching the first 4 th of July Celebration, which has since become a major community event providing residents a holiday activity on the mountain including a firework display in the evening. The event was so successful that the club started a similar event on Labor Day in 1968. Both events have come to be the highlight of summer activities on the mountain and a place for the people to come together and enjoy good food and good fellowship. Lions pay for the fireworks and fund some other activities from the proceeds of these two events.
A permanent barbecue pavilion was built and dedicated on July 4, 1977, to the memory of the late Lion Reginald Kling, a past president of the club. It was built at the playground behind the Country Club and presented to the town of Signal Mountain.
In 1999, the club met its Operation Kid Sight pledge in its third year of fund raising. It has donated over $125,000 to the Tennessee Lions Charities for construction of the Lions Pediatric Eye Center at Vanderbilt’s Children Hospital and to start the Kid Sight screening program. The club began screening preschool children on the mountain in 1997. The program screens children ages 1-6 years for possible eye problems and to treat them to prevent serious problems later in life. So far, the club has screen over 2,000 children on the mountain with approximately 6% being referred to eye specialists for corrective treatment. Many consider this the most important work of Lions. Correction of eye problems early in a life can be a life changer for years to come.
In 2001 the club accepted a challenge to support the Lions Clubs International Foundation’s Sight First Program and raise $25,000. To accomplish this the Club started a Truck Raffle. With the help of the South Pittsburg Lions club who had experience with their raffle, the club began by selling 400 tickets a year and conducting a reverse raffle at the Labor Day BBQ. The event has since become an annual event and we now sell up to 800 tickets.
The event was so successful in its first four years that the club paid off the pledge to LCIF and started a Student Scholarship program for students living in the 37377-zip code. The original scholarships paid $500/year for four years ($2,000 total). The program has grown and is now able to pay $1,000/year for four years ($4,000 total). Each year the Lions give out two scholarships to needy students and one scholarship to a member of the Leo Club.
In 2006, the club again accepted the challenge to support the global efforts of lions to prevent blindness and restore sight by pledging to contribute $26,000 over the next five years to the continuation of the program, now called Campaign Sight First II.
In 2007 the club formed the Signal Mountain Lions Charity as a 501(c)3 tax exempt public charity, whose purpose is to conduct fundraising events of the club and award grants to programs approved by the club’s board of directors. The SML Charity was able to obtain a gaming permit from the State of Tennessee and resume the Car Raffle project that was so successful in earlier years.
In 2008 the club celebrate its 50th anniversary and charter members Pat St. Charles Jr., Ellis Smith Jr., and Moss White were still active. With membership standing at 78, it offers service minded people an opportunity to make a positive difference in the community and have fun doing it.
In 2009 the club became active at the new Signal Mountain Middle High School when it opened. It helped the sports boosters serve concessions at the high school football games and worked at the school’s international festival. The Lions also chartered a LEO club in 2009 at the school. The first club had eight female members but has since grown to be a mix of over 200 male and female members.
In 2011 the club awarded the first annual Leo Scholarship to a deserving senior of the club. The Lions work with student Leos on projects to clean up trails, plant trees, clean up at the MACC and Bachman Community Center and on the Lions Shred Day.
In 2012, Lion Jerry Pala became the first member of the club to serve as Governor of District 12-O and on the MD-12 Council of Governors. The Governor oversees operations of 39 Lions clubs in the 18 counties that make up District 12-O. In 2014, Lion Mel Tryon became the second member of the club to serve as District Governor and in 2018 Lion John Moon was the third to serve in that position.In 2021 Lion Jim Fields will be the fourth Signal Mountain Lion to serve as District Governor.
In 2014 the Lions started a second LEO club at the McCallie school. In addition to their individual Leo projects, this club provides a day of service in the spring at the McCoy Farm and Gardens. It is a great opportunity to introduce students to community service and the great Lions organization.
In 2017 the club completed a Legacy Project as part of the 100th Anniversary of the Lions International Organization and the 60th anniversary of the club. Members of the club work many hours to rebuild the blacksmith shop at the McCoy Farm and Gardens. It became a labor of love for many of the members.
In 2018 the club began the twice a year Shred Day on the mountain, which has become one of our most popular activities and continues to grow. The motto of the lions is “We Serve” and the club continues to live up to this motto by supporting these community organizations:
Signal Mountain Social Services; The Signal Mountain Library; Walden Ridge Emergency Services; Mountain Arts Community Center; Bachman Community Center; Lone Oak Free Clinic; Remote Area Medical Clinic; McCoy Farm and Garden annual Memorial Day picnic; Medal of Honor Heritage Center; renovation and maintenance of the Christmas Train on the mountain; the PTAs of Nolan, Thrasher, & SMMHS; the Christmas Funds of the Signal Mountain Police, Fire and town employees; The club also provides help for those who can’t afford glasses or eye treatment through the Hamilton County Sight Services and Lions District 12-O Sight Restorations, which provides assistance and pays for cataract surgery for needy people who do not have insurance.
Lions core programs Kid Sight Screening; TN School for the Blind; TN School for the Deaf; Leader Dogs for the Blind; Learning Ally; Lions World Services; District 12-O Low Vision Program; Diabetes Camp.
Support for other projects was provided until the sponsoring organization discontinued the activity, including weekly BINGO at Bachman 2013 – 2014, Sparkle Day 2016 – 2018, Pumpkin Patch renovations 2017 – 2018, and weekly BINGO at Alexian Village 2017 - 2020.
The first thing people think of when help is needed on Signal Mountain is the Signal Mountain Lions Club. We have tried to position ourselves to be the “Go To” service organization for our community by building relationships with our citizens through our city and county governments, through our cultural and business communities and through our social and religious communities. Our members are encouraged to develop “service mindfulness” for our citizens without personal financial reward, through education and training from the first day in the club. Our bi-weekly meetings provide a forum for ongoing discussion of all matters of public interest are focused on the education of our members and on strengthening the bonds of friendship and mutual understanding among all citizens.
We have developed a process to ensure that we have educated creative and confident leaders for year to come by creating a club culture of awareness and accountability through the leadership example set by our club officers. Our president sets goals for the club every year and all members work together to achieve these goals.
The board of directors takes an active leadership role on our committees by knowing each committees’ unique purpose, goals and budget which support the club goals. Our vice presidents oversee the committees to ensure that the committees are supporting the established goals of the club and all committee chairs have bought into this concept and actively support and accept responsibility for their committees success and accomplishments. The committee chairs have formed and regularly convene their committees and are available to educate the membership in their roles as Lions, thereby empowering them to become better service minded citizens”.
All club, board and cabinet meetings are well attended by the officers, and our members are involved in all club activities with enthusiasm and energy for our common goals. All pistons are running, and all oars are in the water.
We are open to all who want to serve the community and have fun doing it.