St. Augustine Lions present scholarships, awards at appreciation banquet


The St. Augustine Lions Club celebrated another year of service to the community last week, when the club held its annual scholarship, awards and appreciation banquet.

Held May 23 at Amici’s in St. Augustine Beach, the event recognized the club’s presentation of a total of $12,000 in scholarships to local students, including awards to four students graduating from the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind: Aaliyah Gisondi, who will further her education at Daytona State College; Julia Kadzis, who will attend the National Technical Institute for the Deaf; Jomar Figueroa, who will attend Gallaudet University; and Stephanie Knob, who will attend Indian River State College.

Knob told banquet attendees she plans to major in zoology.

“I want to be an animal caretaker,” she said. “I also want to help improve zoos by making them more accessible for people with disabilities.”

Incoming club President Jim Hawkins noted that during the past year, St. Augustine Lions Club volunteers performed more than 2,300 free vision screenings on children across St. Johns County, referring 300 of those children for additional evaluation and treatment. The club also provides free eye exams and eyeglasses for those in need, collects used eyeglasses for repair and distribution, and provides financial support to a wide range of nonprofit organizations that serve the residents of St. Johns County.

“Everyone should be very proud of what we’ve done this year,” Hawkins told guests, who included Lions, scholarship recipients and sponsors of the club’s major annual fundraiser, the St. Augustine Lions Seafood Festival.

Lion Dominic Mercurio, the festival’s longtime chairman, noted that without the support of sponsors such as Winn-Dixie and numerous other businesses, the Lions would not be able to provide such extensive support to local residents in need.

“The Seafood Festival allows us to be very impactful on the community,” said Mercurio, who displayed a check for $226,000 representing the proceeds from this year’s festival.

Honoring volunteers

The appreciation banquet also featured the presentation of awards to members of the St. Augustine Lions Club – but for those in attendance, the evening was bittersweet. Lion Frank Clark – a member of the Lions Club for more than 30 years and a dedicated member of the St. Augustine club – died just hours before the banquet after suffering a heart attack the day before.

“It is with heavy hearts that we are here tonight,” said Hawkins, who recalled the jovial Clark’s fondness for telling jokes in his role as club “Tail Twister.” “Frank’s contributions to our club were immeasurable.”

Unbeknownst to him, Clark was to have been presented with the Florida Grand Lion Award at the banquet.

“I know that wherever he is, Frank appreciates this honor,” Past District Governor Jerry Skufe said.

The Lion of the Year Award was presented to John Dickie.

“(John) is a guy who any time you call him and ask him to do something, he says yes,” President Wayne Mancil said.

Gale Meares received the Florida Grand Lion Award in addition to the posthumous presentation for Clark. Life memberships were presented to Frank Novack and Billy Meares, who also received the Leader Dog Founders Tribute Award.

Concluding the ceremonies was the presentation of three Melvin Jones Fellowships – Lionism’s highest honor – to Mancil, Neal Smith and Judy Decker.