The Lions Club International was founded in Chicago in 1917 and today ranks as the world’s largest humanitarian service organization. There are 1.4 million members in 180 countries and geographic areas.
Dean Watson, a prominent real estate and insurance man, and primary organizer with encouragement from Johnny Miller, established the Brentwood’s Lion Club in 1929. Miller was an active California Lions member and approached Watson about starting a Brentwood Lions Club. Miller, a Richmond resident, later became Contra Costa County sheriff. Watson served as the organization’s first president and Charles French served as secretary for 11 years.
The Lions Club has played an active role in the development of Brentwood and outlying areas, working with the Park Council to develop land donated by the Stanford family, which is now City Park. Other early activities included sponsoring Christmas and Halloween parties for local children; making Christmas baskets for needy families; and honoring Liberty Union High School’s football players at an annual dinner. In 1933, the Lions purchased new football uniforms for the team, and it is reported that the team was called the Liberty Lions after the Lions Club.
Other early projects included organizing a drive in 1939 to form the Brentwood Sanitation District in a joint effort with the American Legion to promote a state-of-the-art sewer system for the community. The Brentwood Lions also joined with the national organization to back a campaign to provide the blind with the white canes.
Over the years the Lions have donated several hundred thousand dollars to Brentwood, collected and purchased hundreds of pairs of eyeglasses for children, and financed and supported vision correction for numerous children. They have supported 4-H entries in the county fair, supplied playground equipment, picnic tables, restrooms and landscaping for Brentwood Park, and involved themselves in many of the community’s worthy projects.
Brentwood Lions have supported the youth of the era, the schools, the library, the Scouts and the volunteer fire department. They have held Easter egg hunts, Halloween parties and Christmas parties for the local youth, purchased band uniforms and athletic uniforms, placed benches in the city park, and an endless list of other contributions to our community.
Few old-timers can think of the Lions without remembering the wonderful Fourth of July Carnique held in the eucalyptus-covered Brentwood Park for many years. “Carnique” originated from the words carnival and barbeque. The event, which started at Legion Hall, was moved to Brentwood Park in 1953 when Art Honegger was president and Ken Dwelley was chairman. The event was the Lions’ primary fundraiser until 1977.
The Carnique featured food booths, game booths, a car raffle and entertainment. The day’s activities were capped off by a fireworks display ignited by Jack Adams. Over the years, the Carnique generated between $4,000 and $6,000 annually. These funds enabled the Lions to contribute to an endless list of service projects for our community.
Early meeting places for the Lions included the Methodist Church, American Legion Hall, Rolando Inn, Borden Junction, the Continental Hotel, and the barn on the Maggiore Ranch. In 1971, the organization built the existing Lions Club community building on Walnut Boulevard, and it has been used for meetings, dances, political gatherings, wedding receptions, a polling place, and innumerable other purposes since then.
The Brentwood Lions Club has left many footprints in the chapters of Brentwood’s history. The club continues to support community functions as well the Brown Bag and Food Pantry programs, East Contra Costa County Historical Society and the Nail House, a local yearly Smith Ranch Jamboree for Handicapped Children, and an annual fresh vegetable U-pick Day for the blind at Dwelley’s Ranch. The Lions remain a vital part of our community today.
Kathy Leighton’s book on far East County history, “Footprints in the Sand,” is available through the East Contra Costa Historical Society and the Brentwood Chamber of Commerce.