Assistance to blind Gifford native evidence of Lions Club's caring attitude

GIFFORD — When Mike Busboom was born premature 60 years ago, he was placed in a hospital incubator. But he received too much oxygen, which caused him to go blind.

Gifford Lions Club members took it upon themselves to help Busboom however they could.

Ironically, 2017 marks the 60th anniversary of both Busboom’s birth and the formation of the Lions club. Their story is intertwined.

“I love those guys; they’re great people,” said Busboom, a 40-year resident of Vienna, Austria.

Busboom, who has spent much of his life trying to perfect methods to assist the blind, won’t be back to celebrate the club’s 60th anniversary Wednesday evening, but he says he tries to stop by and see club members when he is back in the States every year or so.

After Helen Keller, who was an advocate for people with disabilities, urged Lions Club International to become “knights of the blind,” at the Lions’ national convention in 1925, clubs have become advocates for sight programs aimed at preventable blindness.

The Gifford Lions sponsor the Sight and Sound Bus on its annual visit to the community, according to club past-presidents Earl Smith and Roy Roberts.

“Also if someone comes to the community, especially a grade school child who can’t afford glasses, we pay for it,” Roberts said. “We also do that for hearing aids.”

“I feel that perhaps I was a project for the Gifford Lions Club,” Busboom said. “I was a blind person living in my community. What really helped was they believed in me. They were very encouraging, interested in my life, what I’m doing.”

The club presented Busboom with his first Braille watch as well as a Perkins Braille writer — a mechanical device to put Braille on thicker paper. The club also sent Busboom to a special Lions camp for blind and sight-impaired children. It gave him an opportunity to meet other blind people.

The club also helped him to acquire his first Braille computer.

“It really got me interested in computers and how they could help blind people,” Busboom said.

Interested in German language
Busboom moved to Austria because of his interest in the German language. Germans helped to settle Gifford, which is tucked in the northeast corner of Champaign County. The town’s community facility is called the German Fall Festival Building.

Busboom had a grandparent on each side of the family who spoke German. Not fluently, “but it was more than enough to get me interested,” he said.

And the wife of an Air Force major who lived across the street from Busboom was German.

“They were like second parents to me when I was growing up,” Busboom said.

In Austria, Busboom has worked to develop adaptive technology for the blind. He has worked to develop strategies to make goods and services accessible to the blind. Busboom has also been a translator. Currently he is working on a project with a group of Austrians and Germans to develop new technology to make electronic Braille less expensive.

‘They believed in me’
“The Gifford Lions Club did something really wonderful,” Busboom said. “They believed in me, and I would like to think that I did them proud.”

Busboom and his wife, Regina, have three children.

The club will celebrate its 60th anniversary Wednesday evening at the community building. A 6:30 p.m. social hour precedes the 7 p.m. meeting. Per usual, the “German Fall Festival ladies” will cook for the club, Smith said.  

Among those attending will be present and future Lions district governors — Lori Bennett and Darren Van Dyne — and two widows of charter members and the sister of a charter member.

A moment of silence will be observed for deceased club members, and the names of all charter members will be read, with the sounding of a bell after each name.

A history of the club’s 60 years will also be read.

The Lions an active club
Smith said the club has been quite active through its six decades. He said the town’s nursing home, one of its parks, development of a veterans memorial and bringing Dr. Robert Basler to town in the ‘60s were all ideas that were broached at Lions club meetings.

The club presents scholarships annually to graduating seniors from the three school districts represented by the club. Members hail from Gifford, Thomasboro, Penfield, St. Joseph, Royal and Rantoul.

“All of our money at the end of the year is dispersed (to worthy causes),” said Roberts, who joined the club in 1983. “We don’t keep anything other than a startup fund at the end of the year.”

“Gifford Lions Club has always been an active service club,” said Smith, a 24-year member.

Fundraisers include chicken dinners at the community building, and once a year the club has a fish fry at the old school building in Penfield for the I&I Antique Tractor and Gas Engine Club’s Historic Farm Days. The fish fries usually sell out.

Membership remains strong
The club, which has about 60 members, continues to thrive. The same can’t be said for all of the area Lions clubs, some of which have folded due to lack of members.

The Gifford club was sponsored by the Rantoul Lions Club. Ironically, the Rantoul club disbanded after the closure of Chanute Air Force Base. The Gifford club sponsored the Thomasboro Lions Club, which has also shut down. Members of the Rantoul and Thomasboro clubs were eligible to join the Gifford Lions.

Roberts attributes the longevity of the club to Gifford being a “caring community.”

Added Smith: “When people who move to town see the fellowship we have and the camaraderie and the giving and the caring ... I think that’s what gets them involved.”

The Lions were active in assisting victims after a twister destroyed about one-third of the town in November 2013. The club received help from several other Lions clubs in the state, including more than $3,200 from the Mahomet Lions and more than $10,000 from the Elburn club, plus $5,000 from the Lions district and another $10,000 from the Lions Foundation.


Categories (3):News, Living, People


Rantoul Press embraces discussion of both community and world issues. We welcome you to contribute your ideas, opinions and comments, but we ask that you avoid personal attacks, vulgarity and hate speech. we reserve the right to remove any comment at its discretion, and we will block repeat offenders' accounts. To post comments, you must first be a registered user, and your username will appear with any comment you post. Happy posting.

Login or register to post comments