Photo by Dermot Connolly
Worth Lions Club members (from left) Tony Zartler, John Dellorto and Greg Mazak team up to trim the trunk of one of the last Christmas trees left for sale in the Lions Club lot at 116th and Harlem Avenue on Sunday.
‘Tis the season for local Lions clubs to sell Christmas trees, and by all accounts, it has been a very good season for sales.
But any stragglers still looking for trees in the Lions lots this week may be out of luck, because their inventories are almost gone.
Worth Lions Club is credited with starting the tradition of selling Christmas trees soon after the organization was founded in 1953. The Palos and Orland Park Lions clubs soon began doing the same. Now tree sales are one of the biggest fundraisers for all three chapters of the service organization, and a friendly rivalry has developed about which club can sell more.
The Worth Lions tree lot, at 116th and Harlem Avenue, was nearly empty on Sunday. The club typically starts out with 1,000 trees of various sizes.
Lions Greg Mazek, Tony Zartler and John Dellorto were eyeing the traffic on Harlem, waiting for their next customer.
“This is our 64th year here. We’ve been selling trees since 1953,” said Mazek.
One of the club’s charter members, George Cernicki, 98, has been there from the beginning and still helps out every year.
“In addition to providing glasses and hearing aids to people who can’t afford them, all the money we raise goes toward local charities and non-profits like the Worth Athletic Association and Park Lawn,” said Mazak.
All the money raised goes back into the communities. In addition to providing eyeglasses and other vision care for local children, a main focus of Lions Club International, which celebrated its centenary this year. The groups also donate to local food pantries, or provide holiday baskets of food to the needy themselves, and as well as scholarship programs for local students.
The three clubs began selling trees and wreaths the day after Thanksgiving, and business was evidently good for the Palos Lions, which started with 477 trees. The operation at the corner of 126th and Harlem Avenue closed up a week ago.
Nobody had a problem finding the Orland Park Lions either, which moved their temporary tree lot from 143rd and LaGrange Road to the parking lot of the village hall at 14700 S. Ravinia Ave. this year. Co-chairs Dave Sjo and Dave Neubauer, along with Daniel Parr, closed up shop a little early on Sunday, since they were down to about a dozen trees.
“This has been a very good year, with 660 trees sold. It seems like real trees are in again,” said Sjo. “That is an increase of something like 130 trees over last year.”
“This is a great spot and I hope we get to stay here,” said Sjo. “It is a good partnership with the village. Tree sales draw people here, and they enjoy all the holiday light displays on the grounds.
“The warm weather didn’t hurt, and some of the big box stores have been sending customers to us when they ran out,” he added.
“Worth always sells more, but it makes for a lot of teasing over breakfast with the club members,” said Neubauer.
“We will donate what is left to local churches, or people who can’t afford them. We’ve already given some away, and we will cut the tops off for people who just want a tabletop one,” said Sjo.
Each day since Thanksgiving, the Lions Club members have been assisted by several students from Sandburg, Stagg and Andrew high schools earning community service hours.
“We work on goodwill and donated coffee. Maybe doughnuts sometimes too,” said Sjo.
Just as they thought their work was over Sunday, they were called into service as several latecomers arrived looking for trees.
Orland Park residents Mary and Evan Manolis piled out of one SUV, and Nick Houlis, the eldest of their five children, quickly chose the biggest tree left, which they estimated to be 14 or 15 feet tall.
“We come here every year, and the kids take turns picking the tree,” explained Mary.
The one Nick chose was so big that the Lions would not allow them to take it home on top of their vehicle, for safety reasons. Instead, they offered to deliver it, and the students carried it to a flatbed truck.
“This is my first year, and I just do it for fun,” said Jace Hill, an Andrew sophomore from Orland Hills, after tying a smaller tree onto Palos Park resident Dan Hoyme’s car.
“It’s fun and it doesn’t feel like work. It is all about helping people,” agreed Sandburg senior Ryan Steinbach, from Orland Park.
“I am glad they were here. I usually buy my tree earlier, but we were busy this year,” said Hoyme.
“We also provide annual scholarships to students at Shepard and Stagg high schools,” he added.
“We delivered Christmas baskets of food (on Saturday),” said Zartler. “People got a lot of good, healthy food. There are still too many people in need.”