CATEGORY: Itawamba County

AUTHOR: EILEEN

Mantachie's pride

Lions Club celebrates 40 years

Town's only men's civic club focuses on community

By Eileen Bailey

Daily Journal

MANTACHIE -Mantachie has come a long way in the last 40 years, thanks in part to the town's only civic club for men.

Forty years ago Mantachie was not incorporated; it had no fire department or medical clinic. But all of that began to change when a member of the Fulton Lions Club and a member of Lions International met in January 1956 with 22 Mantachie residents.

A month later those 22 men became charter members of the Mantachie Lions Club. Each year since the club organized the group has held an annual banquet in the month of February. Their meeting for 1996 was Monday night at the Mantachie Seafood Junction restaurant.

At the two-hour event about 70 people, including the 25 current members of the Mantachie Lions Club, took a look back at the club's accomplishments, not only as a supporter of eye care but as a driving force in numerous community projects.

Arthur Kermit McFerrin, one of four remaining charter members, said the organization got started when several members of the Lions in Fulton came to help establish a Mantachie club.

"We did not have a civic group and needed something to help with different projects in town," McFerrin said, adding that the Lions Club acted as the town's Chamber of Commerce before other groups came along.

While there have been other men's organizations in Mantachie through the years, the Lions Club has remained, McFerrin said.

On the local, state, national and international level, the Lions provide a host of services, such as purchasing eyeglasses and seeing-eye dogs; eye testing for schoolchildren and the elderly; eye research; enlisting donors to the Lions Eye Bank; Lion Sight Services; and Lions White Cane projects.

Community projects

But for the residents of Mantachie, the club has been instrumental in securing many services, such as a clinic and fire department, and in helping to re-establish the town's charter.

Once chartered, the members of the club quickly got busy. Their first order of business was to secure a clinic and doctor for Mantachie. The planning began April 9, 1956, and a year later a $12,000 contract was awarded for construction. The clinic opened up six months later with Dr. Leon Ratliff as the first doctor.

During the mid-1960s the Lions helped the town secure a public water system, which was officially turned on in 1966, and helped obtain rural routes for the Mantachie post office.

The town's first volunteer fire department also was started by the Lions Club. The first fire chief was G.E. Sumner, who also is a member of the club. The Lions paid $3,700 for the fire truck and most of the expenses for the fire station.

"This was a much-needed service for us," Sumner said. He recalled the first fire the group ever responded to. "Our first call was a hay shed that caught fire," he said. "We got within 150 feet of the building and we ran out of gas." Unfortunately the shed burned.

He said the fire department was turned over to the town of Mantachie when it incorporated in 1969.

Mantachie was first chartered in the early 1900s but lost its charter in 1932 because of the Great Depression and heavy taxes placed on the town, McFerrin said.

The Lions Club was instrumental in reincorporating the town in December 1969. The first two mayors after incorporation were charter members of the Lions - Gordon McFerrin, who served from 1969 to 1973, and John M. Pearce, serving from 1973 to 1985. Sam Boren also remains in the Lions Club as one of the original charter members still active in the club.

Pearce said the Lions not only have given a lot to the community but have benefited themselves. "I enjoy the fellowship and helping to keep things going in the community. The Lions Club has been worth a lot to me," he said.

That fellowship comes in many forms, including meetings, which are on first and third Mondays of the month at Mantachie's Town Hall.

Tail twisting

At the meetings, the group discusses many types of business. The leaders include a president, first, second and third vice presidents, secretary, treasurer, tail twister, Lion feeder, Lion tamer, board of directors and membership committee.

During the meetings, this year's tail twister, E.V. Camp, prowls through the group keeping a watchful eye on his fellow Lions. If a mistake is made, such as not using a correct title, a fine is imposed.

Even the Lions who attended Monday's annual banquet did not escape this ritual. It didn't take Camp long to find his first prey. Lions Club President Ed Calvert was fined during the first few minutes of his opening remarks. Not having a quarter on him, he dropped his car keys into the large glass mason jar Camp was using to collect fines.

"The job of a tail twister is to keep order, but it also keeps things stirred up, too," Camp said.

Also attending Monday's meeting were several members of the Fulton Lions Club and widows of several members. Janice Rushing, whose first husband, Roy Cooper, was a member and past president, attended the event.

"They have done so many things for the community," she said. "So much of their money is spent locally. They are important to the town. I don't believe that some of the things that have been done would have been done without them."

Glen McCullough Jr., director of the Appalachian Regional Commission Office, was the guest speaker at the annual meeting. "When I look around the room into your eyes I see people who are builders and leaders in our community," he said. "You come together and identify the needs of our community. You always roll up your sleeves and get it done."

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