BENSON — After serving the community for 70 years, the Benson Lions Club will be closing its doors.
“It saddens me to think that our charter is forced to do this, but we have no choice,” said Gloria Ronquillo, the club’s president and treasurer. “These last few months have been very, very stressful for me. Two of our long-time members have passed away, we’ve had to go through COVID shut-in issues, and now our charter is disbanding because of a dwindling membership.”
While the decision to close is sad news for Ronquillo and other club members, the City of Benson is benefitting from the closure.
The Benson Lions Club Foundation will be donating tits building, located at 599 S. Dragoon St., to the City, effective Jan. 1, 2021.
“I found out two weeks ago about the donation, and I couldn’t believe it,” City Manager Vicki Vivian said Friday while she and Mayor Toney King were at the building with Ronquillo to sign documents that outlined the transfer of ownership. A notary was on hand to witness the transaction. “Toney (King) and I came here the same day that I got the call and looked at the building,” Vivian said. “We’re absolutely thrilled. This is just an amazing opportunity for the city.”
The 3,200 square foot building comes with a common room capable of holding 287 people, a fully equipped commercial kitchen, pantry and office, as well as two fully equipped ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant bathrooms. The property has a large, paved parking lot and a storage building out the back door.
“As Benson continues to grow, there are multiple uses this building could provide the city,” King said. “The council will be discussing some of the potential uses at later meetings as we get closer to taking possession of the property.”
King said the building is only about 12 years old, has been well maintained and is in beautiful condition.
The Lions Club, which has been in existence since 1950, is involved in a number of community outreach projects. All proceeds from the organization’s fundraisers stay in the community to support scholarships for Benson and St. David school districts, books for school libraries, the donations for the Benson Area Food Bank and an eyeglass program for those who cannot afford glasses. Through the years, the club has been the place for Friday Bingo games and a popular homemade dinner at reasonable prices. It’s also where residents come for breakfast on the first and third Sundays of the month and most importantly, where folks gather for camaraderie.
Despite concerted efforts to recruit new members, the club’s membership is down to eight.
“We’ve tried reaching out to the community to find members, but we just haven’t had any luck,” Ronquillo said. “All of the people in our club are elderly and the younger crowd just doesn’t seem interested in volunteering and community service.”
Ronquillo said the club plans to continue its Friday evening Bingo games through Dec. 18, and then will plan to shut the facility down.
“That gives us two weeks to vacate the building,” she said. “We need to take the memorabilia off the walls and clean out the storage shed.”
The Bingo equipment and PA system will be donated to another club, while tables and chairs will be donated to churches.
Benson City Council approved the Lions Club’s offer at Monday’s meeting. Plans for how the building will be used will be discussed during a future council meeting.
“In just the short time that we’ve known about this, a lot of ideas have been tossed around,” Vivian said. “We’ll be considering different options in upcoming meetings.”