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Camden Lions Club member ‘roars’ with perfect attendance

Posted: April 14, 2013 3:31 p.m.
Updated: April 15, 2013 5:00 a.m.
Paddy Bell/C-I

Grover Gaskin (right) consults a Lions Club directory as his wife, Frances, looks on. Gaskin has maintained a perfect attendance record with the Lions for 65 years, including with the Camden Lions Club.

Consider: for 65 years, Grover Gaskin’s Lion’s roar has run strong, loud and proud. Born in 1918, Lions Club International’s first anniversary, he is only one year younger than the world’s largest service organization.

The son of a Lion, Gaskin learned early in life the work ethic and dedication required to follow in his father’s Lion-steps.

“Being a Lion was sort of like a second religion,” he said.

Gaskin’s faithfulness to the Lion’s simple yet profound motto, “We serve,” is evident not just in his commitment to the club, but as a son, husband, father and grandfather, always eager and willing to respond to any need.

One irrefutable measure of his loyalty to the Lions is his extraordinary record of 65 years of perfect attendance.  Beginning with his membership in Greenville in 1947, and then with the Camden Lion’s Club since 1988, Gaskin has been a mainstay.

Roger Smoak, fellow Camden Lion and coach of the Camden High School tennis team, remarked how students marvel at a one- or two-year run of perfect attendance.

“But Grover’s 65 years is incredible,” Smoak said. “We all respect him and look up to him for his consistency and dependability. If he misses a local meeting he finds a way to make it up by going somewhere else. He’s just amazing.”

Attendance certificates are given in five-year increments, so when Gaskin got that first one (1952) and the accompanying award pin, it became a bit of an obsession. He wanted another -- 1957, 1962, and all the years to follow through 2007 when he received the 60-year certificate.

“I don’t think they make them beyond that,” he quipped.

Gaskin is a humble man, and although he has more than 200 pins, he wears only two on his traditional Lions vest -- a Sevierville, Tenn., Lions Club pin, which he received only a month after its design, and his South Carolina pin, worn over his heart. His home could be wallpapered with recognitions and awards, but only three plaques are modestly displayed: the Camden Lions Club Presidency Plaque, a Life Membership award and the Melvin Jones Outstanding Service Plaque. A brass lion figurine holds a place of honor on a coffee table.

“This was presented to me by the Boston Lions Club in 1980,” Gaskin explained, “a club I frequently attended when I was working on a job up there for Harvard.”

Frances, his wife of 74 years, has accompanied him on extensive travels as he was welcomed by Lions Clubs from Boston to Dallas, Canada to California.

“We’d drive to a town and see the Lions Club welcome sign. I’d consult a directory for location and time, and tell Frances to go shopping while I went to the meeting,” he said, laughing.

Gaskin estimated that he’s attended well more than 100 such meetings, delighting in speakers and programs from all over the country. He guessed that he’s driven more than 100 miles just to make up a meeting to preserve his attendance record.

As the son of school teachers, education has always been a priority in Gaskin’s life. He entered college at age 16, earned his degrees while teaching surveying and mechanical drawing classes and working second shift for the railroad at 25 cents per hour. He recalled how 10 to 15 men showed up every day at the railroad, hoping to get work, with the country still in the grips of the Great Depression. Gaskin kept meticulous records of his expenses, down to the chewing gum.

“Can you believe my meal ticket at USC for 21 meals a week was only $5?”

As he reflected on a life of changes and challenges, he reminisced on the start of World War II.

“World War I was supposed to be the war that ended all wars,” Gaskin stated, “until December 7, 1941. I was fooling around on my ham radio when a voice came on and said ‘Get off the air -- Pearl Harbor’s been attacked.’”

With both electrical and civil engineering degrees and a job with a power company, he was advised that he was more critical to the war effort by staying out of the service. For a while he did, but that “We serve” Lions ideology trumped the power company boss, and Gaskin enlisted. He joined the Navy where one of his assignments was working on controlled missiles, known today as drones.

After the war he continued in the Naval Reserves but joked, “What I really wanted to get most out of the Navy was me!” The end of military duty marked the beginning of Gaskin’s Lions Club duty as a full-fledged member in Greenville. He immediately recognized the difference between a service club and a social club.

“The Lions work hard,” he said with pride. “We are all about service.”

Gaskin’s point is proven through the club’s work to improve sight and prevent blindness through vision screenings, eye banks, and eyeglass recycling. Hundreds of thousands of eye care professionals have been trained, millions of cataract surgeries have been performed and thousands of seeing-eye-dog training programs have been funded by Lions Club International. Gaskin has fond memories of going door-to-door selling brooms and light bulbs, fund-raisers that were once synonymous with the Lions.

“There are no more brooms or bulbs,” Gaskin said, chortling, referring to today’s energy-efficient light bulbs as “curly lamps.”

“Our major fund-raisers are a barbeque dinner, community candy sales, and a golf tournament,” Camden Lion Club President Pete Demeter explained. “And we always collect eyeglasses for recycling.”

Demeter shared the story of a missionary pastor serving in Peru who recently delivered 400 pair of glasses to needy villagers, thanks to the Camden Lions.

“The best part of being a Lion is helping the local schools get eye exams and glasses for students,” Hick Etters, who has been a Camden Lion for 55 years, remarked.

He beamed with satisfaction recalling a day he was working the candy sales outside IGA.

“A woman gave $20. She said the Lions had helped get her glasses when she was a child.”

Gaskin noted that the Lions have broadened their focus to include hearing preservation and diabetes prevention. Humanitarian projects have also been supported and youth have been served with scholarships and mentoring through school Leo Clubs. The defining cause of the Lions, however, remains sight programs.

In 1925, Helen Keller called on the Lions to become “Knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness,” and they have kept true to that challenge, just as Grover Gaskin has embraced every challenge and short-changed none.

Part of  the lyrics to the Lion’s Song are “Hear those Lions roar, as they feed and growl for more.”

In this case, more perfect attendance certificates.

“There’s no doubt Grover’ll make it to 70 years, and probably 75! He surely will!” Etters exclaimed, chuckling.

At 94, Gaskin still drives to local meetings and beyond. The 70-year certificate and pin are only a short four years away. And even if his driving days came to a halt, fellow Lions would make sure he had a ride to meetings.

So the organization better go ahead and design that recognition, for Grover Gaskin is on the prowl.

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