If anyone can revive the old Lions Club, she can

Raija Rosenthal
 Raija Rosenthal [Photo: Patricia Phenix]
Raija Rosenthal is on a mission to find members for a new Leaside 100 Lions Club. So far she has signed up 16 people. She needs 20 to obtain a charter.

If her history in the Lions is an indication, she’ll do it.

In 1972 she joined the Lions as a Lionette, then a Lioness, both programs developed by male members of the mainstream Lions Club. While each program allowed women to assist men in community activities, such as rummage sales and raffles, it did not confer voting status upon them.

“The men didn’t want women in their club,” says Rosenthal. “I told them they were fools, but they simply said, ‘We like it the way it is.'”

It was not until 1987 that the Lions Club constitution was ratified to allow women equal status. As soon as she heard the news, Rosenthal developed the North York Trillium Lions Club, where she served as governor 1994-95. She was only the second female governor in Canada, and one of 16 in the world.

In 1997 she founded the Toronto Rainbow Lions Club, the first gay club.

Having worked for 27 years for the Toronto District School Board and the North York Board of Education, also makes Rosenthal no stranger to struggling to reach a goal.

Rosenthal acknowledges the existence of a previous Leaside Lions Club, now 76 years old. It twinned with the Central Demerara Lions Club in Guyana in the 1990s. Today, members of this club, primarily Canadians of Guyanese origin, live in Woodbridge, where they meet infrequently, according to Rosenthal.

Rosenthal says she invited members of the Central Demerara Club to meet in Leaside, and service the local community, bu its members declined the invitation, even going so far as to keep the velvet banner affixed with badges representing the club’s good works over the years.

Undeterred, Rosenthal seeks a charter for the newly-created Leaside 100 Lions Club (named in honour of last year’s centennial of Leaside’s incorporation), which she hopes will be comprised of Leasiders for Leasiders.

“We need young people especially,” says Rosenthal, 74, who lives on McRae Dr. “They bring relevant and timely ideas about subjects such as child rearing, education, and public safety.”

The minimum age to join is 18. Rosenthal believes that is a good time to experience the joy that giving to others can bring, while developing practical life skills.

Of Finnish descent, she is also focused on attracting members from a wide variety of ethnic groups. At least four countries attended a November meeting where Leandre Casselman, development coordinator for Spinal Cord Injury Ontario, shared memories of how he put his life back together in his 30s after losing the use of his legs in an accident.

Once 20 members sign up, she will report the names to former district governor Rollie de la Cruz, who may be able to obtain a charter within as little as a week.

“She’s a very dedicated Lion,” says de la Cruz. “Very keen and enthused in promoting projects that will help the community.”

As if all her efforts for the Lions isn’t enough, Rosenthal also volunteers once a week at the Finnish Canadian Senior Centre on Eglinton Ave., which is slated for expansion. She promises that this is where she and her husband will end up “when we get old”.