The Abilene Founder Lions Club will cut the ribbon Friday to open the club's centennial legacy project: a new Wetlands Viewing Deck at the Abilene Zoo.


Everyone is invited to see the opening ceremony June 9, at 11 a.m., in the zoo's Wetlands of Americas area. The deck dedication celebrates the 100th anniversary of both the Abilene Founder Lions Club and Lions Club International, both launched in 1917. It also marks the unveiling of the zoo's refurbished Wetlands of the Americas, featuring a new home for the zoo's sand hill cranes and a temporary home for the lesser flamingos.

"Underwriting this structure is the club's way of saying thank you to the citizens of Abilene for their continued support of Lionism and the Abilene Founder Lions Club, in particular". said Club President Jeff Eckard. "Lions Club International's motto is ˜We Serve", and as Abilene's oldest club, our members have a long history of projects reflecting that credo. Where there's a need, there's a Lion"..

Indeed, as the club marked this milestone, members decided they wanted to build something for future generations to enjoy, approaching the zoo as they looked for a worthy project.

"The deck was part of the zoo's long-term plan, and we're grateful the Lions offered their enthusiastic support", said Zoo Director Bill Gersonde. "This area is a recommended stop along the state's ˜Great Wildlife Trails of Texas" program because it's a great spot for bird-watching".

The new shady spot in the zoo's wetlands section, which features animals native to swampy habitats along the North American coast, will give guests a quiet spot to watch both the animals in the zoo and the native wildlife that frequents Nelson Lake. The deck was constructed by zoo staff, who also worked to spiff up the exhibits for the other wetlands species, including a new home for the sand hill cranes and a temporary home for the zoo's new African lesser flamingos.

Giving people a better view of their world has been a recurring mission among the Abilene Founder Lions Clubs many service projects. The group provides eyeglasses for needy Abilene children and adults and is a longtime supporter of the Leader Dog Training School for the Blind and the Lions District Tissue and Eye Bank. On a broader scale, favorite causes include the Texas Lions Camp for Children with physical disabilities, college scholarships to AISD graduates via the Watkins and Wells Scholarships, and support to the local Lee Elementary School by purchasing classroom supplies and honoring the teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week.

The local club gets bragging rights to use the prestigious title of "Founder" thanks to its leadership role 100 years ago. On June 17, 1917, the Abilene group joined forces with 16 other independent Lions Clubs from around the country at a momentous meeting in Dallas, Texas. Those 17 clubs ambitiously formed Lions Club International -- now the world's largest service club organization, with 46,000 clubs and 1.35 million members.

courtesy Abilene Zoo