The Lafayette Lions Club, the “mother club” of the current Beaver organization was established on December 13, 1939 and chartered by Lions International in January 1940. Charter members included a substantial number of leading businessmen, lawyers, and elected officials who had not been moved to join other, more traditional civic clubs. Fund-raising during the World War II era was on a modest scale and directed primarily toward the Lions Club eyeglass and children’s assistance programs, but shortly after World War II, the lions club took a momentous step which would transform it into Lafayette’s premiere civic organization.
In the 1930s, the Girard family donated to the City of Lafayette a large wooded tract adjacent to Southwestern Louisiana Institute (present-day University of Louisiana – Lafayette). Though the donation stipulated that the tract was to be developed as a park or that ownership would revert to the Girard family, the city was unable to undertake the project because World War II had effectively removed the necessary money and manpower from the community. In October 1946, the Lions club entered into a five-year contract with the city to raise funds for clearing the property and developing it into Lafayette’s first major park. The city trustees approved the proposal, and the ambitious park project was underway!
A single truck for removing felled trees constituted the only power equipment utilized by the club in the early stages of the park’s development. Almost all the clearing was done by hand with axes and crosscut saws. Most Saturdays were “work days” with the members and their families turning out en masse. One report indicates that the position of one member as a beer company representative kept the project going. By 1951 the major work had been completed. The club constructed the park lake in 1952 and added an open air amphitheater the following year. The Lions Club funded these improvements by staging an annual minstrel show. Talent in the group was exceptional, and most shows were sellouts. During the mid-1950s, the Lions used a radio auction for fund-raising, designating most of the proceeds to park improvements, the eyeglass program, and the wheelchair fund.
In 1959, the club was notified that a group of men had approached the Lions International to charter a second Southside Lafayette Lions club. The officers of the existing club pleaded with the International officials to deny the request noting that it could only lead to confusion in fund-raising, and that the “hands-on” approach to park improvements required as much manpower as could be mustered. When the Lions International authorized a second Lafayette chapter, the Hub city’s original Lions group surrendered its charter and became an independent organization. By mid-1959, the group had reorganized as the “Beaver Club”, the name symbolizing the club’s eager-beaver involvement in parks.
As the club made itself over, it also changed its approach to fund-raising, moving its auction from radio to television. The generosity of local merchants, who donated merchandise for the auction, and the new television format proved a most successful combination.
The success of their first TV fund-raiser led the Beavers to undertake their first major project as an independent club. The airport grounds in 1960 included a low, heavily wooded area along the Vermilion River. The Beaver Club proposed to transform this area into another major city park, and with approval of the city administration, the organization did just that! Playground equipment, picnic area, baseball diamonds, tennis courts, a fishing lake, and a boat launch site transformed this once abandoned area into a citywide recreational center.
The improbable, irreverent, irrepressible Beaver Club! No dry recounting of their history really captures the spirit and the camaraderie that are the basis of their existence. Despite premature predictions of an early demise, the club became and remains a dynamic, one-of-a-kind organization. Club presidents have consistently struggled to maintain some semblance of decorum in meetings that are often characterized by verbal barbs and bombshells, sometimes ribald humor and an enduring conviction that meetings should be fun – and sometimes even enlightening. After over a half century, the Beavers are still intent on keeping alive the treasured tradition of service to the community – while “passing a good time”!