Elkader Lions’ Club - Revived group has a grand vision

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Rich Witt, Meghan Bergan and Howard Mayer prepare to do vision screening with three local youngsters. Witt is with the Oelwein Lions’ Club; Bergan is the Central School nurse; and Mayer is a member of the newly reinstated Elkader Lions’ Club.

By Pam Reinig

Register Editor


A Northeast Iowa couple last summer took steps to help ensure continued vision-screening services for area youngsters. At the time, they had no way of knowing the personal turn their journey would take.

Retired Central school nurse Vicki Carolan and her husband, Howard Mayer, resurrected the Elkader Lion’s Club to keep the KidSight program going in this area. KidSight is a joint venture of the Lions Clubs of Iowa and the University of Iowa Stead Children’s Hospital. The program helps detect and treat vision problems in youngsters. 

“Ironically, at the same time Howard and I were trying to reinstate the club, we found out that our 3-year-old grandson, Tyson Ries, who was part of the KidSight program at his daycare in Adel, was diagnosed with a (serious vision problem),” Vicki explained. “He has glasses now and the opportunity to be cured.”

Without the early detection KidSight provides, Tyson’s condition might’ve deteriorated leading to significantly impaired vision in one eye. 

Their grandson’s experience strengthened the couple’s resolve to help make similar services available locally.

Vicki was introduced to the Iowa KidSight program five years ago when she was still a school nurse. Local Lion’s Club members would take pictures of preschoolers’ eyes and send them to the ophthalmology department at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Later, a more sophisticated digital camera was used and images were sent directly to UIHC by computer. Since the Elkader Lions’ Club had dissolved, members of the Oelwein group, who received a $10,000 grant to buy the camera, brought the newer service to this area.

“I appreciated the program so much that when I was preparing to retire my husband and I volunteered to be screeners in Elkader,” Vicki continued. “We discovered we had to be a Lion’s Club member to use the camera. When we went to sign up, we discovered the club here had been disbanded in July 2016.”

District leaders encouraged the couple to get the club reactivated. To due so, they needed 10 members by June 30. After June 30, the minimum membership was raised to 20. The couple used social media to recruit new members. They also held two informational meetings and called on former members to ask them to rejoin. Their hard work and determination paid off: They had enough members by the June 30 cut-off date to reinstate the Elkader chapter.

 A first order of business was a vision screening at Central Schools on September 13. Vicki and Howard, who are now certified screeners, saw 37 youngsters. Rich Witt, an Oelwein Lion’s Club member who has experience with the screening equipment, supervised their work.

“After UIHC KidSight analyzes the pictures, Meghan Bergan, Central’s school nurse, will get the results and pass them on to the parents,” Vicki explained. “If someone needs to be rescreened, that will be done. Anyone with a suspected problem will be referred to an eye doctor.”

For their next project, Vicki would like to screen youngsters at the Elkader Childhood and Daycare Center. In addition, she and Howard would like to increase their membership base.

“We only have 10 dues-paying members to date,” said Vicki. “We have no money for projects but as we acquire more people, we will start to look at ways to support other health and humanitarian efforts in our community.”

Joining Elkader Lions’ Club is easy: Prospective members pay a $35 joining fee and annual dues.

“As a child I remember the Lions having huge fish frys at the Shelter House in City Park,” Vicki said. “More recently, I know they would hold soup suppers at FreedomBank and sell turkey legs at Osborne Heritage Days. I also know initially all Lions’ Clubs were exclusively men. However, now they accept all ages and sexes.”

The Elkader Lion’s Club will have an open house October 24 for anyone interested in knowing more about the group. The event is from 6:30-7:30 p.m. in the Community Room at FreedomBank. Unused eyeglasses and hearing aids can be brought to the meeting for recycling. In addition, the camera used to take pictures of kids’ eyes will be displayed at the event. For more information on the open house or the organization, contact Vicki at vrcarolan@gmail.com.

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