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History of the Sint Maarten Lions Club, the early years.

lionsclub10122020PHILIPSBURG:--- The Sint Maarten Lions Club was chartered on December 12th, 1970, and will celebrate 50 years this coming Saturday. The idea for starting a Lions Club on Sint Maarten was initiated by the late Lion Donny Bakhuis, who was a government auditor and visited the island for work from the Federal Government in Curacao. The Club was eventually chartered by the Bonaire Lions Club with Lion Ben Vlaun serving as its first Lion President with 22 Charter members.

Since this was the first service club on the island in 1970 it took some time for the community to understand and accept this service club concept, because it was not a religious, fraternal, or political organization. Nevertheless, with proper leadership, the Sint Maarten Lions Club promoted itself through its many selfless activities that met varied community needs on the island.

Through its hard work, projects, and services, the community appreciated the organization and supported its many fundraising activities that were used to ultimately benefit their communities. The club maintained its profile as a service organization that took “active interest in the civic, cultural, social and moral welfare of the community.”

Internally, the Sint Maarten Lions Club was guided by coordinated activities and standardized administration by Lions Club International. It was done to create and foster a spirit of understanding among people structured programs and activities by Lions Club International that united its clubs, in the zones, regions, and districts to become the world’s largest not-for-profit service organizations with over 1.4 million members, 48,000 clubs, and in over 200 countries.

The Sint Maarten Lions Club held its weekly meetings at the popular Le Gran St. Martin Hotel on French St. Martin and as it gradually grew with members and activities. It attracted service conscious members who enjoyed the idea of meeting community needs through volunteering their valuable time and resources to improve life livelihood on the island. One of its members was Lion Sigfried Dressner who was one of the operating officers of the Pott Rum Distillers in Point Blanche offered his company’s conference room facility to the Sint Maarten Lions Club to conduct its regular weekly Lions meetings. The club was able to meet its membership needs and do more community work with fund-raising projects, community programs, and other valuable community service activities.

From 1970 to 1975, the Club formed part of District E-1 which consisted of the Lions Clubs of Venezuela, Curaçao, Aruba, and Bonaire. With Venezuela having the majority clubs it was obvious that at Region and Convention meetings with Venezuela having the majority clubs, the Spanish language was the language that was mainly used at these meetings. St. Maarten Club members came from a predominantly English-speaking island and the majority of Venezuelan members were not well versed in the English language, so those meetings were held in the Spanish language. Only when we would attend Zone meetings with the clubs of Aruba, Curaçao, and Bonaire, the English language was used.

The membership made a decision to move to an English-speaking District known to Lions Clubs International, as we would feel more comfortable with the English speaking Caribbean islands. The then-president Lion Lou Peters was very instrumental in getting International to move us to an English speaking district.

In 1976, Lion Lou traveled with a delegation to Guyana for the District 60 Convention and there we were official accepted into English speaking District 60, comprising of Clubs from Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad, and all other English speaking Lions Clubs in the Caribbean.

The Sint Maarten Lions Club immediately placed its mark within this new District and through the many meetings, workshops, our club became a Lions Club to be reckoned with and many within the district considered our club as a very vibrant club as we were at every Zone, Regional and Convention meetings and always with large delegations. Joining this District was definitely a great asset to our Club. We learned a lot from the various projects and activities of the various clubs and were able to implement several worthwhile projects in the St Maarten community.

In those days, Lions Clubs only consisted of male members and woman could not join a Lions Club. Wives and companions of the all-male club formed a Lioness Club in 1973 as was being worldwide.
These ladies became quite an asset to the Lions Club. They immediately hit the road running with their eye-screening project. It is the Lioness Club that really put the project of eye-screening on the map in Sint Maarten. Special simple eye-screening machines were purchased with which the Lionesses visited all the elementary schools on the island and on a weekly basis, they tested the eyes of the elementary school children.

Every week Lionesses Sonia Vlaun, Irma Hazel, and Amalia James would go out to an elementary school to do the eye testing of the children. Every week the Lions would receive the results of the eye-screenings which were carried out by the Lionesses and in this way the Lions Club got in touch with the parents of those children who needed glasses. Those parents who could not afford to purchase the glasses for their children received glasses purchased by the Lions Club of Sint Maarten.

When the late Dr. Ersdaile Jacobs, who was a general practitioner as well as an Eye Specialist on St. Maarten, joined the club he came up with the idea to set up a project for once a month free eye-testing for the general public. When this idea was brought to the club, the fundraising committee took the project a little further. Once a month, the club organized free eye-testing under the tent on the Cyrus Wathey Square opposite the then Windward Island Bank by Dr. Jacobs in combination with the Sint Maarten Lions Club monthly fundraising “Breakfast Morning”.

Lions and Lionesses could be seen preparing all sorts of breakfast dishes, not forgetting bush tea, mauby etc. and these were sold to the general public while having their eye-testing done free of charge by Lion Dr. Jacobs. This had become a very popular service in combination with a fundraiser to raise the necessary funds to finance the Lions Community Projects. The community really looked forward to the breakfast morning but also to the eye-screening. In particular, the elderly persons in the community-made good use of this service.

Another popular eye-care project was “Journey for Sight”. Lions and their families wore specially designed polo-shirts with “Journey for Sight” inscription and marched through the streets of Philipsburg and this brought awareness to the community to take good care of their sight. Later this “Journey For Sight” was extended with the joined participation of the then Lions Club on the French side.

The need to move from simple eye-testing equipment to more modern testing was the initiative of the late Lion Rudy Hoeve who took on the challenge to find the necessary finances to purchase more modern eye-testing machines for the club. Lion Rudy was able to interest the business community to donate towards the purchase of these machines. With these eye testing machines, Lion Jacobs was able to handle many more persons during our monthly eye-screening and fundraising breakfast mornings.

The Lionesses were also very much known for their “West-Indian” fundraising food sale, which was held monthly at the Sundial School offering the public all sorts of Caribbean dishes prepared by the Lionesses. This fundraising project of the Lionesses had become so popular that it became the idea of other organizations to also have fundraising cook-outs. The most outstanding fundraising project of our Lionesses was when they were able to bring the “EBONY FASHION SHOW” from New York to Sint Maarten, with well-known international models who performed before a full capacity crowd at the new Sonesta Maho Hotel.

Lion Cyril Hazel, who worked for Public Works at the time and who had insight into the living conditions of people especially the elderly came up with a brilliant idea that was unanimously accepted by the board. There were several elderly persons whose houses needed repairs or just a paint job but were nowhere in a position financially to do the repairs. Lion Cyril brought this to the attention of the Club and all hands went on deck immediately.

The homes were selected by Lion Cyril and a description of the repairs or painting was presented to the Board and once accepted, every Saturday morning Lions and even some of their children who tagged along could be seen early in the morning with tools, material, and paint to either repair or paint an elderly’s home who could not afford it. For several years Lions did these types of chores for the elderly on St. Maarten. This project was loved by Lion members in those days and everyone looked forward to giving a helping hand to the elderly.

The Sint Maarten Lions Club had some members in the club who loved deep-sea fishing such as, Lions Celeste Beauperthuy, Ronchie van Grieken, Cyril Hazel, and Ben Vlaun. These Lions came up with another fundraising idea. At that time there were quite some people who had well-equipped fishing boats.
The Lions who were very good fishermen came up with the rules and regulations. These were discussed with the local fishermen and owners of boats, who of course were all for it. And just like that, another fundraising project was created which became very popular. In order to register, the boat owners would pay a participation fee. The boats would leave at 4.00 or 5.00 A.M. and would return around 11.00 – 12.00 o’clock with their catch and according to the rules and regulations the winners were announced after the weigh-in of fish that were caught.

Usually, 35 to 40 boats took part in this fishing tournament which had become another major fundraiser for the Club. While the boats were out fishing the Lions were selling BBQ and drinks to the crowd while they were waiting for the fishing boats. Not only was the large crowd there for the BBQ but particularly for the fish, they could either get to buy at a reasonable price from those who went out to fish.

Throughout the years' many community projects were financed from funds raised from our quarterly fishing tournament. From one fishing tournament in 1985, US$ 13,000 was raised and we were proud to purchase and donate the very first dialysis machine to the St. Rose Hospital on Front Street. This worthwhile donation was very much appreciated by the hospital as that meant that patients needing to be dialyzed no longer had to travel abroad from this service. The Sint Maarten Lions Club never shied away from taking on whichever fundraising idea to raise the necessary funds to finance our community projects to assist the Sint Maarten community such as the idea of organizing Car Rallies whereby participants would dress-up their cars to take part in the Lions Fundraising Car Rally.
During 1980-1981, it was brought to our attention that the youths of St Peters who were interested in the game of basketball had no court to play the game on. A piece of Government land was available in St. Peters and the Sint Maarten Lions Club was able to obtain it for the purpose of turning it into a basketball court. It was during Queen Beatrix’s official visit to St Maarten, she laid the cornerstone for the construction of the court which was built immediately after and until this date is where many youngsters in St Peters have learned to play basketball. The members of the Sint Maarten Lions Club are very happy and proud to see that the court is well kept and that the youth continues to enjoy.

The idea to start a LEO Club on St Maarten came about when every Saturday morning some club member’s children would go hill climbing. It was not long after that child from the neighborhood joined us and this became an every-Saturday morning activity. Most of the children taking part in the hill-climbing were children of Lion members. Having heard of Lions Club International’s Leo program, the idea was born to start a Leo Club on St Maarten. Our club wrote to the Youth Division of Lions Clubs International and received all the necessary information. After a thorough study of the program, we were very enthusiastic to start a Leo Club.

The idea struck Lion Wally Havertong to make a count of all the children whose parents were Lions. He was able to come up with a total of 16 boys and girls between the ages of about 12 to 16 who were children of Lion members. Having gathered all material and information from Lions Clubs International, Lion Wally approached the Lions Club with the news that he was ready and after discussions with the Board and membership the idea was unanimously accepted by the club and on April 16th, 1983 the Sint Maarten Alpha Leo Club was certified and launched and all 16 boys and girls children of Lion members were duly installed with Lion Wally as their Leo Club Advisor at a Gala Installation Ceremony which took place at the WIFOL Building. The enthusiasm among the young Leos was so great that they immediately took on their first fundraising project, a car wash at the then Food Center parking lot where some NAF 1,300 was raised. Those funds were used to purchase and present a wheelchair to a physically challenged child.

On April 16th, 2021, Sint Maarten Alpha Leo Club, the oldest in the Dutch Antilles will be celebrating its 38th year of existence. During these 38 years, this Leo Club through the Leo program has prepared and produced many of our outstanding professionals on St Maarten who today after their studies abroad have returned and today hold managerial and senior professional positions in this community, an achievement that our Sint Maarten Lions Club is very proud of.

Our Lions membership is also proud to see several of those Leos of the past and in particular of the beginning years, as active Lion Members who have climbed the ladder and have held and continue to hold prominent positions in the Lions organization such as Zone Chairman, Region Chairman, District 60B Cabinet Secretary Treasurer, District 60B District Governor and now also Incoming District Governor for 2021-2022. Former Alpha Leo Club members (ages 12-18 years) also form part of the Sint Maarten Omega Leo Club (ages 19-30 years) and both clubs continue to excel in giving that unselfish service to the community of St. Maarten.

After serving as Leo Club Advisor of the Alpha Leo Club for 20 years, Lion Lisandra Havertong recently passed on the advisory role to Lion Jennifer Johnson. During the past 20 years the Alpha Leo Club has distributed thousands of fully loaded Christmas baskets to the less fortunate on the island through their “Tis The Season” Christmas Season Baskets project. Presently they can be seen at the various supermarkets collecting non-perishable goods from the shopping community to once again distribute Christmas baskets to the less fortunate during December.

Getting back to us being part of Lions District 60. This move was a great asset to our Club. We learned quite a lot from the experience of the clubs that had been existing for quite some years. The bigger countries and islands offered more possibilities and there is where we could learn from their worthwhile projects and start implementing them here also.

Sint Maarten Lions Club members always attended Zone, Region, District, and Convention meetings with large delegations. The workshops, lectures, etc. which we attended were worthwhile experiences for our members. In particular, we learned a lot from the various projects which those clubs were able to execute for their communities. With these experiences, our club developed into one of the most important clubs in District one which many looked up to.

In 1980 District 60 consisted of 108 Lions Clubs. With the District Governor at that time having to visit 108 clubs in one year it had become obvious that this was too much of a task.
It was at the Convention in May 1980 in Antigua, that the decision was taken to split the District 60 into two Sub-Districts namely Sub-District 60A consisting of the Lions Clubs of Suriname, Guyana and Trinidad. Sub-District 60B consisted of the Lions Clubs of Jamaica, Cayman Islands, Barbados, Grenada, St. Vincent, Saint Lucia, Union Island, Antigua, US Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, St. Kitts, Nevis, Sint Maarten, Sint Eustatius, Saba, and Anguilla. Each sub-district then had their own District Governor. This way Multiple District 60 consisting of the Clubs of Sub-District 60A and those of Sub-District 60B was created. Each Sub-District has its own District Governor and at the head of Multiple District 60, there is a Council Chairperson, a position which is altered each year between the outgoing District Governors.
This year’s Council Chairperson is from our District 60B in the person of Lion Denise Forest PMJF from Jamaica.

In 1983 our Club organized its first Multiple District Convention at Mullet Bay Beach Hotel. This was a resounding success with around 940 delegates from the various Lions and Leo Clubs of Multiple District 60 attending. This convention made quite an impression on the attendees. The recently installed Sint Maarten Alpha Leo Club members were dressed in their specially designed uniforms were the convention flag bearers. Leos, Lions, and Lionesses modeled various outfits for the enjoyment of the attendees. The local club made an excellent impression and from that moment Sint Maarten had become one of the most preferred places to organize Conventions, Region, Zone, and Cabinet meetings.

Besides the many community projects which were executed through our fundraising efforts, in the beginning, years, and always thereafter there was always great comradery. The Mother’s Day activities were where the male Lions prepared delicious meals so that the ladies could sit and enjoy the meals prepared by the males. Our proud Lion cooks: Lion Cyril Hazel, Lion Celeste Beauperthuy, Lion Ronchie van Grieken, Lion Ben Vlaun, and Lion Wally Havertong always prepared finger-licking meals at Mother’s Day gatherings. The Lionesses never wanted to be outdone by the male Lions and always prepared delicious dishes and entertained the Lions and families when it was men’s turn to celebrate Father’s Day. Sports activities between Lions, Leos, and Lionesses at Wathey’s Estate in Cole Bay were activities that were always looked forward to. It was called a great fellowship.

In 1987, Lions & Rotary International lost a lawsuit whereby it was determined that Lions and Rotary Clubs could no longer consist of only male members. Females had to be admitted as official members of Lions and Rotary Clubs. After that, the Sint Maarten Lions Club started admitting females and Lion Lisandra Havertong became the Sint Maarten Lions Club’s first President in 2000-2001. Ever since then, female Lions have continued to hold prominent positions not only in our club but also throughout the District.

We are proud to inform you that the Sint Maarten Lions Club as a single club holds the record of providing the most District Governors in our District. The club’s very first District Governor was Lion Maxime Larmonie, PMJF who served as District Governor of Sub-District 60B in the Lions Year 2000-2001, followed by Lion Wally Havertong, PMJF who served as District Governor in the Lions Year 2006-2007 and then Lion Claudius Buncamper, PMJF who served as District Governor in the Lions Year 2012-2013. The fourth District Governor coming out of Club in the person of Lion Claudio Buncamper who will be installed as District Governor in the month of May 2020 at the Multiple District Convention which will be held here in Sint Maarten at the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort. No Lions Club in the entire District has ever provided this amount of District Governors and it is something that our little island can be proud of.

Several other Lions from our club have held prominent positions in the District with Lion Rudy Hoeve MJF serving as Lion Maxime’s and Lion Wally’s Cabinet Secretary/Treasurer and Lion Lisandra Havertong, MJF serving as Lion Claudius’ Cabinet Secretary/Treasurer. Several other Lions of our club have served as Region, Zone Chairperson or chairperson of District Committees.

With the Sint Maarten Alpha Leo Club (ages 12-18) in its 37 plus years having provided several prominent Lions who continue to provide excellent community service, the Lions Club decided to install an Omega Leo Club (ages 19-30) where Leos are groomed and prepared to become future Lions. This Leo Club also continues to place its stamp on providing excellent community projects to the island is called the Sint Maarten South Leo Club.

Throughout the years, Sint Maarten Lions Club had been meeting at several places such as Little Bay Hotel, Pott Rum Meeting Room, Holland House Beach Hotel, The Lodge Building on the Pondfill, it was decided to build our own Lions Den. The question was where? We were able to obtain a parcel of land in Sucker Garden where little by little through the assistance of Lions Claudius Buncamper and Cyril Hazel ,we immediately put down a foundation which stood there unfinished for several years. It was in 2001 when Lions Rudy Hoeve and Maxime Larmonie were involved with the organization “Cede Antillas” that was willing to assist with loan and that so we were able to construct what today stands as the Lions Civic Center Den at Sucker Garden #13 which also serves as the location for After School Activity of the “No Kidding with our Kids Foundation”. The Sint Maarten Lions Club and both Leo Clubs hold their meetings upstairs in the den.

Throughout the years the Sint Maarten Lions Club has been successful in raising funds to execute excellent projects. In the year 1973, Lion Wally Havertong became familiar with the well-known Lions Bingo Drive at Mullet Bay Hotel. Having been a bingo caller on the island of Aruba before coming to Sint Maarten Lion Wally started attending the Lions Fundraising Bingo Drives at Mullet Bay and was once invited to call some games.

Ever since Lions bingo drives have become the talk of the town and for the past forty-plus years, it has become the major fundraiser of the Club and this assisted the club to be able to execute many worthwhile community projects. It is no secret the Lions Christmas Bingo has become the major fundraiser on Sint Maarten with some 2300 bingo players attending our Annual Lions Christmas Bingo and we are proud to say that the now “Lion Wally Havertong Christmas Bingo Spectacular” which in recent years has been named after Lion Wally after being the Lions Bingo caller for over 40 years has contributed to the funding of many worthwhile Lions projects on St Maarten.
Through our travels throughout the District, our members have gained much experience and ideas for the execution of community projects. So too we were able to upgrade our Sight program with experience gathered during our travels to conventions and other meetings throughout the Caribbean. In Jamaica for instance, we were made familiar with Canadian Vision Care where for many years this Canadian group had been visiting Jamaica on a yearly basis doing eye care and even performing cataract operations free of charge for the poor.

Our club too wanted to engage in this service and invited Canadian Vision Care to St. Maarten and in 2001 their team of ophthalmologists and optometrists of Canadian Vision Care came to St. Maarten on our invitation and tested the eyes of no less then 2000 elementary school children and distributed eyeglasses to those needing one. Their services were also extended to many senior citizens on the island. This was a very successful project.

This service was once again extended in 2018 under Past President Lion Davey Woods when on the invitation of our Club a delegation of VOSH ophthalmologists, optometrists and other eye-specialists came to Sint Maarten where they too carried out eye examination of over 2800 elementary school children whereby those needing eyeglasses received one and those with severe eye problems were referred to eye-specialists on the island for further treatment. All children received free sunglasses from the VOSH delegation, free of charge. It is nothing strange to Lions Clubs to be involved in Sight projects. In 1925 Helen Keller challenged the Lions worldwide to become “Knights of the Blind” a challenge which has been taken on very seriously throughout the years and we deer say “Yes we are Knights of the Blind”.

As was said before in our travels through the various islands in the Caribbean to attend Lions meetings etc. we have learned and copied several projects from the Lions Club throughout the Caribbean.
During Lion Wally’s year as District Governor of Sub-District 60B on his club visits in Jamaica with his Cabinet Secretary-Treasurer Lion Rudy Hoeve, they visited the “Health & Wellness” Fair organized by the various Lions Clubs in Jamaica. The idea was brought back to the Sint Maarten Lions Club and the project of Health Fair from the start has been an asset to the various health care organization on the island that has been offered the opportunity to carry out different tests and sharing vital information on health-care to the general public. With Lion Rudy Hoeve having been very much involved in health projects of the club in particular sight projects, the Annual Health and Wellness Project was named after him is now called the “Annual Lion Rudy Hoeve Health & Wellness Fair”.

Our focus has always been on our senior citizens in Sint Maarten. From the onset free eye-testing of senior citizens in collaboration with eye specialists on the island has been one of our main community projects the same goes for the less privileged in particular children who have received eyeglasses from our Club.

Since 1997 when the late Lion Nelson van der Linde was president and his main focus during his presidential year was on the senior citizens' annual festive programs and day out with the senior has been kept till this date and has been named after the late Nelson v.d. Linde and is now called the “Annual Lion Nelson v.d. Linde Senior Citizens Party”

We remember the annual Senior Citizens Parties at Boo Boo Jam where our club entertained hundreds of senior citizens from St Maarten with an annual party at Boo Boo Jam. Senior Citizens really enjoyed those days and looked forward to when it was time for their party. Later after the closing of Boo Boo Jam, these parties were held at other locations and now seniors are taken on an annual island tour and lagoon boat cruise.

After 50 years of “Humanitarian Service” to the community of Sint Maarten we are thankful for who has guided us in our call “TO SERVE”. The unselfish service has given many in the community a better quality of life. The unswerving service has touched many lives with hope. The Sin Maarten Lions Club must also express our gratitude to the community of Sint Maarten that has supported us in many ways in the execution of our many projects. Also, to the business community that has supported us throughout the 50 years particularly during our fundraising activities, we say a BIG THANK YOU. As we continue to celebrate this milestone, we are encouraged to continue serving the community of Sint Maarten for many many many more years to come.

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