Following a Patch reader inquiry, this week I’ve taken a step back from my regular weekly column to give some background on a well known fixture at the Sims Park playground—the lion in the park, more commonly known as Leo the Lion.
OK, so it’s not a real live lion, but if you have children or have visited the playground, there’s no doubt you’ve seen the brave little youngsters sticking their head in the mouth of this beast to get a refreshing sip of water.
So, where did this unique and well-known drinking fountain come from and why a lion?
Simply put, this was a project kicked off by the Cotee River Lions Club in 1993, according to the West Pasco Press.
The idea came about during the annual Chasco Fiesta event when Ken Huber, an officer of the Lion’s Club, and West Pasco Chamber of Commerce Executive Joe Librandi, now deceased, discussed how the club could go about installing such a fountain.
For the next 10 years, after each Chasco Fiesta and from club fundraisers, little by little the Cotee River Lions Club reserved money in a special fund until enough was saved to purchase the fixture from Lions International.
The total cost of the fountain at that time was $3,200, according to Ken Huber, who is still an active member and officer of the local club.
On March 21, 2003, the first day of that year’s annual Chasco Fiesta, members of the Cotee River Lions Club and officials from the city gathered in Sims Park for Leo’s official dedication.
According to Ken Huber, the project was held in conjunction with the City of New Port Riche,y who’s Parks and Recreations Department, headed at that time by Bob Consalvo, poured the concrete pad and installed the playful looking creature.
But, Leo’s short life in the park hasn’t always been an easy one.
In July 2004, vandals ripped the popular, 100 pound, lion-shaped drinking fountain from its foundation and dumped it in the Pithlachascotee River, according to the Suncoast News.
Fortunately, city crews successfully retrieved the iconic fountain from the river and were able to get it back in place where it still stands today, bringing joy to the many children who visit the park each day.
So, what is the Lions Club?
According to a club brochure, Lion International was founded in June 1917, in Chicago, Illinois by a group of businessman, led by Melvin Jones, pooling their many resources and talents together for the service, aid, and help to others.
Through the years, their efforts have grown to more than 1,400,000 members in more than 187 countries and geographical locations.
Locally, the Cotee River Lions Club was founded in December 1975 and chartered in March 1976.
Our local Lions Club has been involved in many service activities since, which include but are not limited to more than 8,700 eye examinations, providing more than 8,500 pairs of glasses, 71 cataract surgeries, 6 corrections of crossed eyes, and 10 surgeries for detached retinas.
In addition, the local club has also purchased two mini-speaker machines for local boys suffering from cerebral palsy. These machines allow the children to communicate through the use of a laser activated voice module.
Each summer the club also sponsors 5 youth, from ages 6 to 18, to attend the Lions Camp for the visually impaired.
These services are funded through a wide variety of club fundraiser which include a monthly pancake breakfast, chicken bar-b-que, fish fries, pork bar-b-ques, white cane days, and bowl-a-thons to name a few.
Over the past 37 years, the Cotee River Lions Club has raised more than $600,000, all of which has been distributed to the less fortunate and ailing.