One of Les O’Brien’s proudest moments was helping STARS’ founder, Dr. Greg Powell, unveil the 25th anniversary logo during a celebration at the Edmonton base in 2010. As a member of the Lions Club of Sherwood Park for 55 years – and as a STARS Very Important Patient – there is a special place in his heart for this lifesaving organization.
After 30 years, Dr. Powell can share hundreds of stories about patients like O’Brien, but he has a soft spot for Lions Club members. After all, without the Lions, STARS may never have got off the ground.
In the early 1980s, Dr. Powell and others in the Calgary medical community had been investigating potential air medical service providers, but the costs prohibited the successful startup of such a service. Soon after the Lions were identified as a potential donor, an introductory meeting occurred.
Art Hironaka had recently been appointed secretary-treasurer of the newly formed Lions of Alberta Foundation and recalls the first conversation in mid-1985 with fellow Lions David Dalgetty and John Panton along with Dr. Powell and Dr. Rob
“Having a rural upbringing, I knew those areas could really use this service and was pretty sure the rural Lions groups would really support this,” said Hironaka.
The Calgary area Lions, meanwhile, wanted to support the initiative, but since the foundation encompassed all of Alberta, they would have to convince members from across the province. A presentation was made at a Lions executive meeting in Wetaskiwin, then a vote scheduled for a subsequent meeting in Carstairs.
Linda and Dr. Powell attended the meeting in Carstairs, having no real idea of the significance at the time. They were thrilled, as was Hironaka, when the vote passed unanimously to support the startup in with a $50,000 grant and another $50,000 in a non-interest bearing loan.
And so Lions Air Ambulance was born.
A white helicopter with the prominent Lions logo flew its first mission on Dec. 1, 1985, transporting a premature newborn from Lethbridge to Calgary. However, the name soon proved to be an obstacle with the Lions Clubs International as legalities prevented the club from having its name attached to the medical service. Hence, in 1986 the organization became known as the Alberta Shock Trauma Air Rescue
The removal of their name from the organization did not affect the Lion’s support for STARS. As the fledgling organization struggled in those first years, Lions Clubs across Alberta and southeastern BC started to organize fundraising initiatives. Hironaka suspects this was in large part due to the efforts of the late John Panton, who was one of the district governors of the Alberta Lions. “He was a big cog in generating early Lions support and he talked to a lot of Lions Clubs.”
Hironaka recalls one of the creative Lions campaigns was called a “ton of pennies” where a community in central Alberta placed bins around town to collect pennies for STARS. “They collected over $30,000 in pennies.”
In the late 90s, another opportunity for the Lions presented itself. Dr. Powell envisioned a mobile training program that would benefit health-care providers in rural communities. The Lions enthusiastically agreed to co-sponsor the creation of the Human Patient Simulator (HPS) program with a $250,000 donation. This program continues today.
As STARS moved into other provinces, the Lions support was unwavering. In Saskatchewan, the Lions have donated more than $150,000 since the Regina and Saskatoon bases opened in 2012. Saskatoon recently hosted a visit from Robert Corlew, Lions Clubs International, first vice president, who was keen to see the Canadian organizations that have benefitted from their support.
Meanwhile in 2013, the Lions inducted Dr. Powell as a member and created a fellowship in his honour. Dr. Powell is as proud of his membership as the Lions are with their long-standing affiliation with STARS. Lions Clubs have donated a staggering $3 million to STARS since our inception 30 years ago.