Mary Kay Thayer is a lion. A female lion. Not a lioness.
Lions Club International lifted its 70-year-old ban on female members in 1987.
But it was not until 2002 that Mrs. Thayer become Bedford Township's first Lion.
Yesterday the Lions Club of Bedford held its first annual Bedford Lions Partners in Service Recognition Dinner.
It had been called Ladies Night, but the board decided that the title was no longer appropriate considering that 8 of its 57 members are women.
"Well, you know, some of us have male spouses," Mrs. Thayer said. "We thought, why don't we call it partners in service, because that's exactly what they are."
Mrs. Thayer is the club's president, and Garnet Francis, the other female board member, is second vice-president.
The men used to give a flower to every woman at Ladies Night. This year, the Lions will give their partners a pot of African violets.
They decided that was a little more gender neutral.
Lions Club members work to end preventable blindness and participate in a variety of community projects, from cleaning local parks to helping during natural disasters.
The International Association of Lions Clubs was started by a Chicago businessman, Melvin Jones, in 1917.
In 1925, Helen Keller addressed the Lions: "Dear Lions and Ladies," she began at an international convention in Ohio. Keller challenged the Lions to become "knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness."
On May, 11, 1987, Lions Club International gave its chapters in the United States permission to begin admitting women. The move was largely in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision on May 4, 1987, that allowed states to order service organizations such as Rotary International to accept women as members.
Lions Club International had gone to court to revoke the chapter in Ann Arbor, which admitted a woman. Women had always formed Lioness Clubs as unofficial affiliations of Lions groups, but it had been understood that the Lions Clubs were all-male affairs.
Then at Lions Club International's 70th convention in Taipei on July 4, 1987, club delegates voted to allow female members worldwide.
"The presence of women should add new life and vitality to Lions Club International," Brian Stevenson, the service organization's then-president, said during the convention. "The problems of the world are too serious to limit their solution to only half of our population."
Today, Lions Club International has 1.3 million male and female members in 200 countries.