Lion John Davis jokes with a tour group from Pennsylvania

Our Brown County

by Paul Pakyz

People often think of the Lions Club organization when passing a recycled eyeglass bin. Relatively few are aware of the vast amount of work done by this volunteer service organization, like the seeing-eye dog and hearing aid recycling programs. Likely fewer are aware of the twenty to thirty thousand dollars given each year to Brown County, or the fact that the State Lions purchased the Gamma Knife at the Cancer Pavilion in the IU Medical Center in Indianapolis.

We might eat at their pancake breakfasts or enjoy their fireworks display on the 4th of July. Perhaps we notice with gratefulness their concessions at the Brown County Playhouse. But for most in and around Brown County, the Lions Club quietly blends into the background of everyday life.

Until now.

On a beautiful day in downtown Nashville, a laughing group of visiting tourists surrounds a genteel man in a white jacket. He is giving them directions to the local delights and places to eat. He is equipped with a broom and dust bin, and he is sweeping litter from the street in front of Grasshopper Flats. A bright emblem gleams prominently against his clean white jacket. This is John Davis, and he is one of about eight or so men who have revived the spirit of community service. He is a Lion, and an Ambassador for Brown County.

When asked, Mr. Davis will gladly tell you why the Lions are out keeping the streets pristine in Nashville.

“Many of the Lions’ activities are designed to raise funds for the services we sponsor,” he said, “but this Ambassador Program is just about giving. There’s no money involved at all.”

Discussing how this idea came about, Mr. Davis laughingly says that it came to him one night while lying in bed. “I remembered the old street sweepers from when I was a boy, with their neat white uniforms. I thought, what a nice way to bring a taste of nostalgia back to Nashville, and do something meaningful at the same time.”

It’s an excellent way to show appreciation to the merchants of Nashville who generously support the Lions, by keeping the town clean and inviting to visitors.

The visiting tourists are benefited by having friendly local faces greet them as they stroll through town. “There are always plenty of questions,” Mr. Davis said, “and we give directions and comment on local attractions. It keeps the small-town sense of community alive, and people really enjoy that. I think they take it home with them.”

The Lions themselves benefit from the ready exposure they get all over town. They have become celebrities of sorts. Mr. Davis elaborates, “I just received a call from a man in Washington state, who said he heard of our Ambassador Program on the internet. He wants to write a piece on our program in a national street sweepers magazine. It’s amazing.”

As for his role in the arrangement, Mr. Davis explains, “This was something new to me. After being on so many committees, boards and councils over the years, thinking up ideas to benefit the community, here was an opportunity to actually get out and do the work!”

And work they do. By the end of August these men, mostly retirees working on flexible schedules, had logged over 80 hours in this valuable service, greeting passers-by and cleaning the streets of Nashville. They have plans to keep this program going right through the fall season.

Mr. Davis continued. “I love talking to people as I make my rounds along Van Buren Street. Especially the husbands who sit along the sidewalk benches while their wives are shopping. ‘You’re in the parking lot, aren’t you,’ I’ll say to them as I go by, ‘and next you’re going to be a pack mule!’ They laugh because they know they’ll be taking a lot of goods home with them. I meet fascinating people from all over, and I enjoy knowing they are making good memories here. They comment on how clean the town looks, and I think that’s how we should be remembered.”

Serving the community has been a life-long commitment for John Davis, as many people in the county know. Besides having been a member of the Town Council, the Board of Education, and other local committees, he has devoted the majority of his life to education. He was the school administrator for the Biological Science Program at I.U. in South Bend and through the years he has taught every grade except post graduate.

So, this isn’t just a case of someone not having anything else to do. What a tremendous benefit it is, that Lions like John Davis and his team of Ambassadors volunteer their years of experience to the streets of Nashville. Not just sitting, or walking or shopping—but representing our county to those who come to visit. Sweeping the streets like men from a bygone era, smiling and rekindling a spirit of community service.

Perhaps now the next time people see an eyeglass recycling bin, or a pancake sale, they’ll pause for a moment and remember a wonderful visit to our Brown County and Nashville, where the Lions are, and the faces and smiles that belong to them.