Lions spread joy with Christmas trees

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

trimming tree photo 12-15

Photo by Dermot Connolly

Worth Lion John Bruce trims the trunk of a newly bought Christmas tree for Mike Nelin in the Lions Club tree lot at 116th Street and Harlem Avenue on Saturday.

Members of the Worth Lions Club are happily back selling Christmas trees, a tradition that began soon after the chapter was founded in 1953.

On Saturday, the Lions Club tree lot at 116th and Harlem Avenue was bustling with activity, as people came to pick out their trees before the snow fell, and left with them either tied to the roof of their vehicles, or in some cases stuffed in the back of a van.

“This is our one fundraiser of the year. We’re here from the day after Thanksgiving to whenever the trees are sold out, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily,” said Greg Mazak, the chairman of the tree lot committee. “If we only have a couple left, we will donate them to local needy residents,” he said. “Ever chapter has to support itself with fundraisers, and our founders came up with the idea of the tree sales,” he explained. The Palos and Orland Lions Clubs also sell Christmas trees.

“We always start out with 1,000 trees, as well as some wreaths. We go through a broker, and get balsam firs from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in Canada, and Scotch pines from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He always looks out for the best ones for us.”

“We have families who have been coming here for generations. Some originally came with their grandparents, and have moved to Indiana or the northern suburbs and still come back,” said longtime member Steve Werner. And they are not just coming for the candy canes handed out to every customer.

“I’ve been coming here for 25 years,” said Mike Nelin, of Tinley Park. “They always have the balsam firs. I don’t like the Scotch pines,” he explained.

Tony and Therese Wyatt, of Burbank, stopped in to get a tree because it was convenient. “We usually like to go out as a family to a tree farm and cut down our own tree. But I’ve been working second shift and I don’t have time,” said Tony Wyatt. He declined the offer to trim the trunk of the tree, saying he would do it at home.

“I’m happy with the selection here,” he added, after hoisting the tree into the back of his pick-up truck.

Lions Club International was founded in Chicago in 1917, and now has chapters in 257 countries and territories, Mazak said. Known for providing glasses and vision care for the underprivileged, the Worth Lions donate to food pantries, and also provide scholarships that allow boys and girls to join athletic teams who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it.      

“We have a tradition that we pick out one tree at the beginning, usually one that looks the worst and wouldn’t sell. We place it under the trailer, and then when we’ve sold all the trees and are ready to close up, we burn it in honor of all the members who have passed on,” said Bob Zabka. “I’m one of the newcomers, only here since 1998,” he said with a smile.