The Syracuse Lions Club built the Syracuse we know and love today
BY JENNY GOLDSBERRY
We just celebrated Heritage Days, a festival we look forward to every year. Have you ever wondered how it got its start? Would it surprise you to know that the Syracuse Lions Club is behind it all?
In the 1900s, most communities did not have the resources to fund themselves. This included many of the needed entities, such as parks, sports fields, community gathering places, and public restrooms, just to name a few. Instead, service and community groups stepped forward. Lions International was among them, founded in Chicago in 1921. From there, chapters all over the world popped up.
30 years later in 1951, one man stepped forward for Syracuse. Seeing the need in the town of Syracuse, James “Jim” Rentmeister, along with 25 other men, instituted the Syracuse Lions club at Ma’s and Pa’s Restaurant in Roy. Jim was the driving force behind the club’s endeavors, and they could not have accomplished all they did without the help of their wives and other women.
Their first order of business was a Christmas party only a few months later. They wanted to give the kids in town a chance to meet Santa at a party without having to drive out to a mall far away. Right from the get-go, it was a huge success. The party went on for 40 years. While the party was mainly for the kids, the club was able to make a small profit by also hosting a raffle.
Next, the very following year, the Lions started “Friendship Days,” the precursor for Heritage Days. At the time, they celebrated on July 4th. Celebrations always began with a breakfast, then carnival rides, baseball games, bingo, fishing derbies, concessions, fireworks, and sometimes dances. Friendship Days went on till 1974, when it morphed into Heritage Days. At first, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sponsored the festival, but today, Syracuse City hosts it.
From then until now, the Lions built the Syracuse we know and love today. They built the tennis courts at Founders Park, restrooms, lights, storage, bleachers, backstops, drinking fountains and lights for the softball park, and even their own clubhouse. When they built the clubhouse, there was only one church in town at that point. Weddings, large parties, and family functions took place there; nowadays, they might happen in a church or venue.
Besides providing infrastructure, the Lions also provided service and charitable donations. They sponsored eye operations, blood banks, health tests, eyeglass donations, foreign youth exchanges, food and gift donations, among other philanthropic efforts. In 1963, the wives and other women formed an adjunct group for women: The Syracuse Lady Lions. They furthered the work of their male counterparts and also added their own charity work for the city. Together, they funded the publishing of the very first “History of Syracuse” book, an early version of the book you can buy in the Syracuse Museum today. The museum’s barn was also funded by the Lions.
When the first Syracuse Lions Club was born, Layton was the only other Utah city with a Lions Club. At its peak, Utah had roughly 5,000 members. Today, there are about 900 members across the state. If you joined the Syracuse Lions tomorrow, you’d still be working with a couple of the charter members who started the club. All members of the Syracuse Lions and Lady Lions are a part of history. A handful of members have gone on to be mayors of Syracuse, successful businesspeople, and more. So, if you’d like to be surrounded by that crowd while also accomplishing community goals, consider joining the Lions Club. There’s no limit to the number of members.