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Kirby Marchand of North Versailles Twp., past governor of District 14-B of the Lions Club, presents the first of two awards to Annette James, secretary of the McKeesport Lions Club. (Tube City Almanac photo)
A McKeesport resident and city employee who prefers to stay out of the spotlight was honored Wednesday night — whether she liked it or not.
Before a standing-room crowd, Annette James, secretary of the McKeesport Lions Club, was presented with the Lions’ Club International President’s Leadership Award and the President’s Marketing Award.
The leadership award is the third-highest honor available in the international fraternal and service organization, founded in 1917 and based in Illinois.
James, a member of the Lions Club since 2012, “is not someone who hears of a problem or an opportunity for service and sits on it,” said Kirby Marchand of North Versailles Twp., past governor of District 14-B, which includes Allegheny County. “She takes action.”
True to form, James used her opportunity to speak on Wednesday not to talk about herself, but to encourage the audience to download the “Be My Eyes” smartphone app.
“Be My Eyes” allows people with low or no vision to send an image to an available volunteer anywhere in the country. The volunteer then quickly looks at the image on their phone and helps the other person with a task such as reading a label or locating an object.
Since the 1920s, Lions Clubs traditionally have raised money for people with limited or no sight and provided eyeglasses and vision-related services.
Last year, Marchand said, James heard about about a lost-property auction at Pittsburgh International Airport and asked if the McKeesport Lions Club could collect unclaimed eyeglasses for reuse.
James retrieved nearly 500 pairs, he said, which were cleaned, classified and distributed to needy people in other countries.
After learning from Braddock optician Linda Boss that field workers in Guatemala and Haiti were damaging their eyes because of working outdoors in bright sunlight without protection, James and other members of the McKeesport Lions Club began collecting hats and caps. Eight large bags of hats were shipped overseas as a result of the club’s efforts, spearheaded by James, Marchand said.
“She never misses an opportunity to promote all of her club’s activities,” Marchand said. “She is an asset not only to her club, but also to District 14-B and all Lions Clubs.”
James is quick to credit the other 40 members of the McKeesport Lions Club, which among other activities organizes the summer concert series in Renziehausen Park.
Last year, Lions Club members collected more than 1,000 pairs of eyeglasses during the concerts and at other collection sites throughout the city, including city hall, Fifth Avenue at Sinclair Street.
Members of the McKeesport Lions Club congratulated James on Wednesday night. (Tube City Almanac photo)
The group currently has more than 40 members and meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays at the McKees Point Cafe on the first floor of the Palisades, Downtown.
Besides eyeglasses and hats, James said the club also is collecting new and gently used suitcases, backpacks and duffel bags, which are provided to children served by McKeesport-based Auberle.
And, she said, the community has provided a big boost to the Lions’ efforts.
Last year, James said, Dr. Rachel Penney of Penney Eye Care in McKeesport donated more than 500 unused eyeglass frames. Boss went on a trip overseas, performed eye exams on people who needed glasses, came back to Braddock and made lenses for the frames at her own expense, James said.
Besides the summer concerts, the McKeesport Lions Club also sponsors an annual first-responder dinner for police, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and paramedics, and doctors and nurses at UPMC McKeesport hospital, and helps organize McKeesport’s annual Salute to Santa Parade.
“The Lions Club is such a critical part of all of the city’s recreational events,” McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko said Wednesday. “I really don’t know what we’d do without them.”
Jason Togyer is the editor of The Tube City Almanac and volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published October 04, 2019.