History 1990-2000 12 Lighthouse

A Brief History of the Georgia Lions Lighthouse Foundation, Inc.

March 1949 to April 1999

by PDG Mel Johnson

It has been said many times and by many people that the formation of the Lighthouse in 1949 was the fruition of the dreams of a blind man, Tom Bingham, and the result of many hours of work by many Lions across the State of Georgia. The rapid growth of the services provided by the Lighthouse over the period of this fifty years represents a great amount of dedicated work by many Lions.

Tom Bingham was a member of the Atlanta Lions Club. He had lost his sight in a hunting accident at the age of 25 years. Tom was the Chairman of the Sight Conservation Committee of the Atlanta Lions Club. His loss of sight made him aware of the importance of sight conservation. He probably soon realized that one person or one Lions Club was limited in how much they could help others but if we banded together as a larger group we could vastly multiply our results.

Tom was aware of the wonderful help of Seeing Eye dogs. He investigated this possibility and was told that because of the great stress of suddenly becoming blind a person had many adjustments to make and was not ready for a dog until approximately one year from blindness. Tom was insistent and was impressed by Tom and the decision was made to accept Tom. His dog “Cita” became an important part of Tom and Mildred’s lives. “Glitters From the Dark”, written so beautifully by Tom’s wife Mildred, ias a wonderful story of their adjustment to Tom’s blindness.

Tom, with much help from Lions of the Atlanta Lions Club and Lions across Georgia, began working toward establishing an organization to help others with sight problems.

An important factor in Lions being interested in Sight Conservation came from the fact that at an early Lions International Convention in Ohio in 1925 a young woman by the name of Helen Keller, who was both deaf and blind, addressed this world wide convention and challenged these Lions to become “Knights of the Blind in a crusade against Darkness”. How eloquent Helen Keller must have been! The Lions in this convention adopted Sight Conservation as the first world wide service activity for Lionism. In a short time “sight conservation” and “Lionism” became synonymous. Lions International would not adopt another world wide service activity for Lionism until early 1970’s at an International Convention in Japan were a second world wide activity “Hearing Conservation and work with the Deaf” was adopted.

In March, 1949 the Georgia Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc., was established. Three Lions Clubs, Atlanta, Albany and Moultrie put up $1000. each as beginning funding. Records reveal that only $1740 was used that year. Tom Bingham because the first Executive Director of the Lighthouse and would remain so until his death October 11, 1950. The first Lighthouse patient to have surgery was Max Parker, Moultrie, GA in 1949. He was 4 or 5 years old and still lives in Moultrie.

The first office of the Lighthouse was originally in the basement and then moved to the first floor of the Georgia Baptist Book Store, which was well known and was located at 291 Peachtree St, NE at the intersection of Peachtree, West Peachtree Street and Baker Streets.

After Tom’s death, a blind man by the name of Jim Corbett was selected as Executive Director. Jim lived in a multi-story apartment across the intersection on West Peachtree St. The Lighthouse then rented a one bedroom apartment for an office in the same building that Jim Corbett lived in.

Lionism in Georgia was growing rapidly and at a Lighthouse Board of Directors meeting on October 17, 1954 it was announced that Georgia had been redistricted and that the number of sub-districts had been increased from four to six.

Lighthouse services were growing at a rapid pace and various means were devised to raise funds. The Lighthouse developed a series of baseball games over several years. High school players were selected by Atlanta Constitution sports writers in cooperation with high school coaches from across Georgia. Earl Mann, owner of the Atlanta Crackers was involved. The game in 1950 netted $10,000 and the game was played on June 9, 1955 netted $16,246.45. No other figures are available.

At a Lighthouse Board of Directors meeting in Macon on February 20, 1955, it was announced that the board had requested permission from the Lions International Board of Directors to change the name of the Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc. to Georgia Lions Lighthouse for Sight Conservation, Inc. It was reported that Lions International requested that a written Resolution from 100% of the Lions Clubs in Georgia, stating that they support this change, be submitted to Lions International before they would consider it.

At the Lions Convention in Savannah on June 5, 1955 the Lighthouse financial report showed that since inception in 1949 the Lighthouse had receipts of $108,742.95 with disbursements of $95,270.33 and a balance on hand of $13,472.62.

At a Lighthouse Board of Directors meeting June 10, 1956 International Director from Georgia Marvin Pound stated that at last Lions International Board meeting in Chicago the board had agreed for the Lighthouse to place the word Lions in the name of the Organization. The name change from “Georgia Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc.” to “The Georgia Lions Lighthouse, Inc” was approved June 10, 1956.

The name was changed again to “Georgia Lions Lighthouse Foundation, Inc.” on July 25, 1961.

Georgia Lions Eyebank at Emory: By the late 1950’s and early 1960’s cornea transplants were beginning to be widely used. The Lighthouse has a long history of working with Emory Hospital on sight and hearing problems. In early 1960’s Emory approached the Lighthouse with regards to establishing a Georgia Lions Eye Bank at Emory. Since there were many Lions across Georgia and the great need in this effort was obtaining corneas, this was a natural association. In 1963 The Georgia Lions Eye Bank at Emory was established. It began as a refrigerator in a closet at Grady Hospital, which was associated with Emory. As the source of corneas began to grow with education and growing number of transplants, the Eye Bank was moved into an older house on Emory Hospital grounds. A hard working young lady, by the name of Janie Benson, was hired as Director. The Lighthouse paid all bills for the Lions Eye Bank at Emory and also for the Augusta Eye Bank which was located at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta. All bills were submitted to the Lighthouse and paid. The Lighthouse paid rent on a car used in of tissue for the Lions Eye Bank at Emory. In July, 1977 Emory approached the Lighthouse stating that they were preparing to build a new $8,000,000 Emory Eye Care Center on the hospital grounds. They offered to allow the Lighthouse to purchase 1748 square feet of space in this proposed building for the use of the Georgia Lions Eye Bank. This was broken down as follows: $131,000 for the 1748 ft of space; $30,000 for lab equipment $30,000 for research and $10,000 for office equipment and supplies. Total cost to be $201,000 due in three installments to begin in late 1978. Emory was to pay all utility and maintenance cost associated with this space. The Lighthouse agreed to do this and paid the full amount without having to go to the trust fund for any part of it. As soon as the Georgia Lions Eye Bank reached the point where it approached bring self supporting it was taken away from the Lighthouse and the Lions of Georgia.

In October, 1977 Emory approached the Lighthouse with the statement that they desperately needed research funding support from the Lighthouse in the amount of $20,000 in order to attract a Dr McCarey as a faculty member at Emory. Dr McCarey was an outstanding Ph D Researcher and was very much in demand. The Lighthouse made this grant. As a result Dr McCarey and a fellow researcher, Dr Koffman, perfected the McCarey- Koffman solution for preserving cornea tissue, extending the life of this tissue to the extent that instead of having to be used within hours of enucleation today cornea transplants can be scheduled almost at convenience.

The Peach Bowl: Post football NCAA bowl games became very popular in the 1960’s Past International Director George Crumbley was among a large group discussing bringing a post season bowl game to Atlanta. Lion Crumbley formed a committee composed of Sim Manning, Jim Corbett, Max Preston and Jack Jackson who met several times with the NCAA Committee attempting to obtain a bowl game before finally succeeding.

In 1968 the first Peach Bowl game was played. This game gave much publicity to the Lions of Georgia and to Atlanta and was seen as a great success. It was apparent that without an indoor stadium the weather hazards were great and that much of the success of the game was determined by the caliber of the teams available to the Peach Bowl. One year the game was played at Grant Field and the day started beautifully but it began to get very much colder. By half time it was snowing so hard one could hardly see the players on the field. Each year larger pay outs to the teams was required. It was extremely hard to get the business community in Atlanta to support the bowl. Because of all these factors, Lion Crumbley and his committee recommended that the Peach Bowl be released to the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. The Board of Directors of the Lighthouse agreed with Lion Crumbley and the Lions of Georgia as well as raising several hundred thousand dollars for the Lighthouse.

Hearing Conservation & Hearing Aid Bank: In the early 1970’s the Board of Directors of Lions International adopted the second world wide service activity “Hearing Conservation and Work with the Deaf”. The Lighthouse then established a Hearing Conservation Committee. This Committee, in talking with Doctors and audiologist who worked with persons with hearing problems, them recommended to the Lighthouse that a Lions Hearing Aid Bank be established. This was done in 1977. The first aid was dispensed to a lady in Moultrie in 1978. Ed Synder of Athens was the first Chairman of the Hearing Aid Bank. It was decided to let the Speech and Hearing Clinic associated with the University of Georgia in Athens be the custodians of the hearing aids. Procedures and application forms were then developed. It was decided to use reconditioned hearing aids because of the great savings. Starkeys out of Chicago would recondition our aids and guarantee for a period of time at a very low cost.

Ed Synder was elected Vice President of the Lighthouse and Mel Johnson was named Chairman of the Hearing Aid Bank, and the Hearing Conservation Committee. It was soon obvious that having the hearing aids housed in Athens was not a good idea. In talking with an audiologist in Atlanta who did a lot of work with us he stated that he could train one of the girls in the Lighthouse office to be able to determine aids to be dispensed. We then moved the aids to the Lighthouse office in 1979. This bank became an instant success as we dispensed many aids the first year. Our success became known all over the state and we were getting increasing numbers of aids and applications.

As a result of our success Chairman Mel Johnson was invited to speak on the subject of “Establishing a Hearing Aid Bank” at the Hearing Seminar at the Lions International Convention in San Francisco in 1984. As a result the Lighthouse had request for forms and procedures from many areas. One Lion from California flew in to Atlanta and stayed with us for two days learning all he could.

In 1987 the Lighthouse had a request from Emory for a grant of $50,000 for purposes of establishing a “Georgia Lions Hearing Research Laboratory” at Emory. This laboratory included some sophisticated equipment which included a microscope with a camera attached where doctors could sit in a balcony and watch on a screen delicate surgery being demonstrated where previously thay had to walk by one at a time to observe. A plaque on the outside wall of this laboratory is still in place stating “Georgia Lions Hearing Research Laboratory.

Lighthouse Trust Fund: In 1963 the Lighthouse Board of Directors had received a bequest of $75,000 and as there were already some surplus funds, it was suggested that a Trust Fund be set up. This was done with the Trust Department of C&S Bank on January 24, 1963. A policy was established that 10% of regular contributions and all non-designated memorial gifts would go into this fund. The goal of this fund was to build it to the point where the income from this fund would pay all operating cost of the Lighthouse so in soliciting funds we could say that every dollar contributed goes to pay for services. In 1983 in reviewing the results from this fund the Board of Trustees came to the conclusion that C&S probably was not doing as good a job as they should. Several organizations were investigated and on February 7, 1984 the decision was made to move this account to Montag & Caldwell. They have done an outstanding job for the Lighthouse. On February 7, 1984 when this account was transferred the market value was $640,000. At the meeting of the Trustees in Macon on February 10, 1999 the market value was $3,674,093.47 with an annual income of $85,472.42. On the other hand, annual budget for operation of the Lighthouse have risen to over $1,500,000. The Trust Fund is administered by a Board of Trustees. The President of the Lighthouse is chairman of the Board. There are three board members appointed from each District for a three year term.

White Cane Day: White Cane Day had its beginning in Georgia in 1980. This has become the largest fund raising effort each year. Most years, unless the weather is bad, more than $100,000 is collected with $180,000 having been collected in 1993. This is usually scheduled for the first or second Saturday in April. This is also the one day in the year when we Lions wear identification as Lions. It is rewarding to have someone come up to you and give a $5, $10 or $20 and say something like “I appreciate what the Lions do, they bought my father a pair of glasses when I was a kid”, or something similar to this.

Eye Glass Recycling: There is a great need for eye glasses in many countries and it is amazing the number turned in to the Lighthouse. Past Lighthouse President Ken Massingale and his committee have become experts in sorting the eye glasses. Ken takes his van to all Lighthouse meetings and barely has room to bring all back. In their processing they separate those frames containing precious metals and the Lighthouse receives thousands of dollars each yearfrom this metal. Glasses are sorted and those going out of state are boxed ready for shipping.

Operation Eye Care: This Operation was established in 1994 and provides reconditioned, recycled glasses throughout Georgia. these glasses are cleaned and then sorted by male or female, single strength, bi-focal or tri-focal. the Lighthouse has the equipment to read the prescription on the glasses which are then placed in a clear container. The glasses are then put in inventory by putting the prescription into the computer program. A number is assigned and placed in numbered boxes, all in the computer program. When a request is received from vision care providers the program secretary goes into the computer, takes the prescription needed which gives the box and number for the matching glasses. We have room in this facility for about 50,000 pairs of glasses.

Lions Mobile Eye Clinic: In 1996 the Lions Lighthouse purchased the Mobile Eye Clinic at a cost of more than $250,000. This unit can be moved from location to location across the state. It has the latest equipment to provide eye exams, glaucoma screening and low cost “instant glasses”. This equipment was expensive to buy, expense to operate but has the ability to be moved from area to area in the state of Georgia checking the vision needs of a vast number of Georgians per year than any other Lions program.

The Georgia Lions Children’s Eye Care Center at Emory: Sometime after the Lions Eye Bank moved from the space purchased by the Lions Lighthouse in the Emory Eye Care Center, Dr Lewis Wilson, head of that department at Emory, met with a small group of Lions. He stated that Emory had an idea for the Lions use of the former Eye Bank space. He stated that there was no central place in the southeastern United States that specialized in children’s eye diseases and that Emory was very interested in this. He stated that Emory would like to get the Lighthouse and Lions involved in this and suggested that the Lions Commit to an amount each year to support this cause. He stated that in children’s eye diseases it was important that problems be diagnosed quickly which sometimes required special equipment, and that when Emory needs special DNA testing the nearest analyzing equipment was in Des Moines, Iowa which took days to get there and get answers. He said he would like for the Lions to consider purchasing this equipment at a cost of approximately $100,000. The Board of Directors of the Lighthouse approved this request and the commitment to the Lions Children’s Eye Center at Emory. This center has been established with its own Medical Director, Dr Arlene Drack, who is a well known genetics expert. The Lions can expect great things from this association.

Lighthouse Presidents

3/49 – 6/50 Ollie Reeves 6/73 – 6/75 Frank Hollberg III
6/50 – 2/52 Ancel Leake 6/75 – 6/77 Ed Daniel
2/52 – 6/54 George Rankin 6/77 – 6/79 Don Schmidt MD
6/54 – 6/56 J D Cartithers 6/79 – 6/82 Ken Massingale
6/56 – 6/58 Bob Mathews 6/82 – 6/85 Marion McTyre
6/58 – 6/60 General Lester Henderson 6/85 – 6/87 T G Crosby
6/60 – 6/62 W T Cooksey 6/87 – 6/90 Charles Pickell
6/62 – 6/64 Joe B Davis 6/90 – 6/92 Tom Williams
6/64 – 6/66 Hughes Willingham 6/92 – 6/94 Donald Hardigree
6/66 – 6/69 Sims Manning 6/94 – 6/96 James McCall
6/69 – 6/71 Willard Kimsey 6/96 – 6/98 David Sargent
6/71 – 6/73 Maurice Newman 6/98 – 6/00 Jerome B Ney

Thomas B Williams


Savannah Lions Club

Donald R Hardigree


Winder Lions Club


James E McCall


Atlanta Lions Club

Dr David Sargent


North Hall Lions Club


Jerome B Ney


Savannah Port City Lions Club

Lighthouse Executive Directors

Thomas Bingham 1949-1950 Marlene Lague 1985-1996
Jim Corbett 1950-1973 Linda Wilson 2/96-12/96
Mary Marsh 1973-1979 Linda Bassett 12/96-
Nancy Bolch 1979-1985

Lighthouse Officers

The Officers of the Lions Lighthouse consist of a President, a Vice President from each of the sub-districts of Georgia, a Secretary, and a Treasurer – all are members of the Board of Directors. Three Lions from each sub-district in Georgia serve as regular Directors for three year terms. Each Lions Club in Georgia is entitled to have one Associate Director serve on the Board of Directors, appointed by the Club President. District Governors and Vice-Governors and committee chairs serve as Directors during their terms of office.

Lighthouse Offices

291 Peachtree St NE 1949-1950
West Peachtree St NE 1950-1978
Freeway Office Park, N Druid Haills Rd, I-85 1978-1986
1775 Clairmont Rd, Decatur 1986-

In 1984 the Lighthouse office was in Freeway Office Park located at N Druid Hills Road and I-85. Our lease would expire in two years. We had outgrown our space and rents were going up very rapidly. In 1984 the Lighthouse Board of Directors in a meeting in Macon discussed the question of continuing renting or make an effort to build our own building because of the rapidly increasing rents. There was considerable discussion on both sides. The question was called and 176 Directors voted for building and 17 voting against. Our preference was to be located where Lions would find it easy to find and get to the office, and be located on a street or road with good exposure to the public.

We found the ideal spot on Clairmont Road. It was owned by a doctor who had planned on building his office there. He found that he could not build a doctors office because there was no sewer and the county would not allow a doctor’s office to be built on a spectic tank. We were able to buy it at a very reasonable price. After plans were drawn we were able to get Coin Campbell, a builder for many years who had long been President of the Atlanta Home Builders Association and was trying to retire. We were able to get him to act as the contractor for a flat fee, enabling us to get a considerable amount of material donated to the Lighthouse without effecting the amount he was to get out of the building. This saved us a considerable amount of money.

We moved into the building in 1986 and it has proven to be an excellent move for the Lighthouse. We had many compliants about Lions and Lighthouse patients having a hard time finding the building because of the inadequacy of the sign in front. We finally got the present lighted sign in place at a very good price.

Finishing additional office space in the Lighthouse: In early 1990’s there was concern that at our present rate of growth the Lighthouse could need additional office space in the near future. The Lighthouse was given a grant of $15,000 to apply on finishing the upstairs area. Mrs. Morgan Raiford, widow of Dr Morgan Raiford, one of the founders of the Lighthouse, called one day and said she would like to do something for the Lighthouse in memory of Dr Raiford. She was told that the only immediate need of the Lighthouse was to finish the basement, but that would cost a minimum of $25,000. She thought about it for a few days and sent a check for $35,000 to the Lighthouse to finish the basement. It was decided to do it with money in hand.

PDG Mel Johnson, Chairman of the Building and Grounds Committee for years, a retired builder and Real Estate Broker, had an architect draw up plans for finishing the upstairs and the basement at no cost to the Lighthouse for his services. This happened at the height of construction for the Olympics and impossible to get contractors. Lion Mel finally decided to do it with the help of Lion Ed Kent who was on the Building and Grounds Committee. Mel, with the help of Ed, and using hourly workers that he had used previously, and plumbing, heating and electrical contractors that one or the other had used, got through with it. they finished approximately 1050 sq. ft. upstairs with bath, heating and cooling unit and about 1750 sq. ft. downstairs with a bath, heating and cooling unit, a full kitchen with cabinets, refrigerator and dishwasher. All this for less than $50,000 and it took a full year to do it, with no pay for Mel or Ed.

Since finishing the basement left no storage space, a nice 12′ x 18′ storage building was built for $1800 in the rear of the Lighthouse.