BENSON — Gloria Ronquillo’s introduction to the Benson Lions Club was through the organization’s weekly Bingo games.

It was during a time when the Lions Club welcomed women volunteers, but did not accept women as actual members, or “Lions.”

In 1987, Ronquillo changed all that.

Recognized by Lions International as the first woman to be accepted into the male-dominated organization, Ronquillo broke a tradition that started back in 1917.

“After serving as a volunteer for three years, I told the men in our club that I refused to be a Lioness, but wanted to be a full-fledged Lion. I challenged them to drum up the nerve to submit my application to Lions Club International for acceptance for membership.”

The men agreed, and in 1987 Ronquillo became the first woman member of Lions Club International. Described as a “groundbreaking, historical event,” her membership opened the floodgates for women members across the globe.

“I was featured in the International Lions magazine and I immediately became a ‘Tail Twister,’ which is an officer that promotes enthusiasm during meetings,” she said. “A good Tail Twister keeps meetings going and imposes fines for different infractions.”

There are now more women Lions Club members than men, Ronquillo said.

“We’ve had a woman district governor and our international president has been a woman. Through the years, the woman’s role in Lions has totally ballooned.” she said.

While Ronquillo describes her years with the organization as some of the most fulfilling in her life, the Benson Club is in the process of disbanding because of a dwindling membership, with Dec. 31 as the organization’s last day.

“I’ve been involved with this club for half my lifetime,” she said. “I am completely committed to the Lions Club and believe in all the good community outreach projects that we do. I don’t know what I’m going to do once the club closes.”

Ronquillo has served several terms as club president through the years and is the organization’s current president and treasurer.

“The Benson Lions Club has been in existence since 1950, so the club has been serving the community for 70 years,” Ronquillo said. “It saddens me that we’re being forced to close our chapter. The building was put in the Benson Lions Club Foundation and is registered at the recorder’s office as a donation to the City of Benson.”

The transfer of ownership is effective Jan. 1.

From volunteer to full-fledged member, Ronquillo’s involvement with the Lions Club spawns 26 years.

“Her commitment to this organization and her dedication to the community are amazing,” said 15-year member Jan Santigati. “I’m going to miss all the fun activities we do with Gloria through this club, and I’m going to miss the camaraderie it provides. We’re like a family here.”

Another member, Robert Olivas, is someone Ronquillo describes as her “right-hand man and muscle.”

“I help Gloria whenever she needs me,” he said. “I help set things up for different activities, I run the 50-50 raffle and help clean the building. I’ve made some good friends here during the weekly Bingo games.”

Sherri Shurtz is a Lions Club volunteer, but not one of its members.

“People in this community and surrounding areas come to the Bingo games here on a regular basis,” she said. “This place is all about the people. I’m going to miss everything about this place. This club has done so much for the community over the years. It makes me sad that it’s going to be closing.”

Bingo at the Lions Club will continue through Dec. 18. After that, the building will be vacated and prepared for the City of Benson.

“This represents the end of an era for Benson Lions,” said Ronquillo, who vows to stay in touch with the members, volunteers and friends she’s made through her years with the organization.