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A European First

The first Lions clubs in Europe were founded in Stockholm and Geneva in 1948.

The first Lions clubs in Europe were founded in Stockholm and Geneva in 1948.

A European First

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Touchstone Story #33

After years of conflict during World War II, Europeans in the late 1940s were slowly rebuilding their cities and reassembling their lives. What better location for a service organization with a focus on building peace and international understanding to set its sights?

Lions Clubs International had clubs in North America, South America, and Asia, and with the help of a few dedicated advocates, it wouldn’t be long before Lions counted Europe as a part of its global presence.

Torgny Lange, a 29-year-old from Stockholm, knew nothing about Lions when he first arrived in the U.S. on a Swedish-American Foundation scholarship to study journalism in Syracuse, New York. But once in America, he met Harold Curran, a fellow aviation enthusiast who also happened to be a district governor of New York. Curran told Lange all about Lions Clubs and its activities, and when it came time for the 1946 Lions International Convention, he invited Lange to fly with him to Philadelphia and attend as a guest of the Syracuse Lions Club.

A European at the convention was big news. Lange met many leaders of the organization, including the founder of Lions Clubs International, General Secretary Melvin Jones, whom he discovered shared the same birthday. By the time Lange left the convention, he had promised to start a Lions club in Sweden.

Once he returned to Europe, Lange found that explaining the service club and recruiting members took more time than expected. He kept in touch with Lions headquarters on his progress, however, and received a letter from Jones, encouraging him to continue his efforts. In early 1948, Lange determined that enough people were interested to fulfill his promise. Looking for more specific advice on founding a club, he contacted A.A. Delage, a Lions representative sent by Jones to Geneva to encourage key local leaders to organize a club there.

The designation of the first European Lions club was a close call. On March 24, the Stockholm Lions Club formed with 20 members at the Hotel Carlton. A club in Geneva formed a few weeks later on April 16. By May both the Geneva Lions and the Stockholm Lions received their official charters from International President Fred W. Smith—Geneva on May 19 and Stockholm on May 23. But the Stockholm club had completed its organizational requirements first, making the Swedish club the first Lions club in Europe.

The Stockholm Lions Club continues to represent the global appeal of the Lions organization. Its members hail originally from Hungary, Bangladesh, Estonia, England and Gambia, as well as Sweden. Together, they eagerly raise money for a children’s cancer hospital, collect and recycle eye glasses, give scholarships to students, support a drug awareness program for teens and partner with other Lions clubs in Gambia to help educate children about computers. “We know Lions do good work,” community members tell Club President Anna-Märta Israelsson, “because they don’t take money for themselves.” Any funds raised go to help those in need.

While Lions Clubs was virtually unknown in Sweden in 1948, it certainly is recognized decades later—by its members’ generous spirit and actions.

Historical photo

Decades later, Lions Club Stockholm remains an active and enthusiastic club.

Decades later, Lions Club Stockholm remains an active and enthusiastic club.

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