By Rich Bockmann
A familiar organization came roaring back to northeast Queens last week — with a little extra bite this time — when the Bayside-Whitestone Lions Club held its charter dinner at the Bourbon Street Cafe on Bell Boulevard.
“Everyone here is a civic leader,” said Paul Vallone, the club’s president. “This isn’t people new to community service. Everyone you see here has dedicated themselves to Bayside and Whitestone.”
The Whitestone community used to have its own branch of Lions Club International, which, according to its website, is the world’s largest service club organization with more than 45,000 clubs worldwide and several in the borough.
Several members of that now-defunct club brought their original charter from 1956 to show their support for the new Lions.
“The past members came to beï»¿ï»¿ in support and to offer new advice,” said former Whitestone Lions President Michael Lanzellotto. His advice to the new members was: “Get along with fellow members and think of the overall picture.”
“This is a merging of Lion neighborhoods and generations,” said Vallone, who made an unsuccessful bid for the City Council seat in Bayside in 2009 and is the brother of City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) and son of former Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr. “Hopefully, we can pass this on from generation to generation.”
The Bayside-Whitestone Lions Club was sponsored by its counterparts in Corona. Joe Degaetano, a Bayside resident and president of the Corona club, said that when the Kiwanis service club of Bayside closed five years ago, the area was left with a void.
“There was no organization like this in Bayside,” he said.
Degeatano was instrumental in seeking out Vallone and guiding the new club.
The newest members to dedicate themselves to their community include brothers Devon and Logan O’Connor, of the civic association Welcome to Whitestone, as well as Jukay Hsu, an Iraq War veteran from Flushing who is working to bring a high-tech university to Willets Point.
Vallone said the main initiatives of the club will be to honor an officer of the year from both ï»¿the 109th and 111th precincts and to provide scholarships for high school students, for which the Lions have already raised nearly $10,000.
Phil Martino came all the way from Greensboro, N.C., to catch up with old friends and wish the new Lions the best. Martino joined the Whitestone Lions in 1961 and decided to return after Lanzellotto told him about the dinner.
“I want to be here for this occasion,” he said as he addressed the dining room. “I think you guys are doing a great job.”
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.