Ashwaubenon Lioness Club disbands after 43 years
By Lea Kopke
ASHWAUBENON – Since the Ashwaubenon Lioness Club’s charter meeting March 18, 1978, the group has donated more than 2,000 hand-made baby quilts to Wisconsin hospitals and raised more than $320,000 for local charities.
The club rang its meeting bell for the last time at a dinner June 9 at D2 Sports Pub.
Two years ago, a communication from Lions Club International stated the Ashwaubenon Lioness Club would have to either disband or join the Lions Club by June 2021.
Vice President Dawn Hohenstein, who joined in 2007, said this chapter was one of the last ones left in the country.
“Actually, Wisconsin was the last state that they came to,” Hohenstein said. “They let us go for I don’t know how many years, but we had such a strong Lioness club throughout the state that they left us alone for maybe five years or more.”
Audrey Leisgang, one of two remaining charter members, said this was the third time the international group tried to end the Lioness program.
Leisgang said though she understands why this decision was made – because the organization feels it can no longer turn away members based on gender – she was still disappointed.
“I just feel like they don’t think we’re worth keeping, so I won’t be a part of the (Lions Club),” she said. “I was very disappointed. We’ve always worked well with our Ashwaubenon Lions, and that’s the same for many clubs… It’s just a deep feeling like (International) didn’t respect us.”
Leisgang said the Lioness Club has been a large part of her life for 43 years.
“I’ve enjoyed doing many things, and I did many things I didn’t realize I would ever do,” she said. “I was what was described as secretary, then president three times, and then district president. I never thought I would do those things.”
Bonnie Fonferek, a member since 2013, said she was sad about the decision.
“We really didn’t believe it at first, it’s sort of incredible,” Fonferek said. “There are some benefits to joining the Lions Club. But we’re a group of all women, and we liked having that.”
Hohenstein said she enjoyed the people she’s met through volunteer projects and the joy she’s found in helping the community.
“I’m really gonna miss everything that we did,” she said. “It’s going to be a really hard adjustment.”
Hohenstein said while a few members decided to join the Lions Club, most were not planning to join.
This is in part because the group meets at night, when many Lioness Club members have difficulty driving due to vision trouble.
The meeting itself kept true to its title of Reminiscing, Remembering, Rejoicing.
The club reminisced on its donation projects, specifically recalling the hours it put in raising money through the Packers parking program and the baby quilts it knitted over the years for ill children in state hospitals.
The Lionesses remembered their late club members by reading off each of their names – 37 in total – and chiming the meeting bell for each one before having a moment of silence and prayer.
The club’s bell, mallet and flag will now live at the Ashwaubenon Historical Society, Hohenstein said.
Then, the women rejoiced at the time they’d had in the club with a steak dinner, cake and several rounds of bingo.
Hohenstein said even though the official club is disbanding, many members still plan to meet at a lesser capacity.
She said nearly all members were interested in meeting up for monthly lunches and finding a way to continue the baby quilt project – a task made more difficult without funding from Packers parking.
Charter member Mary Hammond said she will miss the community she found in the other Lionesses.
“But all things must come to an end, and we’ve been long-lived,” Hammond said.