Leader Dog and Lions—An Extraordinary Past

By Beth Slade

Published in: Update - Issue 1 - 2014 »   
Duane sits behind a desk holding a telephone receiver to one year and waving with the other hand

Lion Duane Farnsworth volunteers to
answer the phones at Leader Dog.

Seventy-five years ago, when Lions Donald Schuur, S.A. Dodge and Charles Nutting wanted to help a friend receive a guide dog, it seemed like a simple service project. After they were unable to get their friend into the only guide dog organization at the time, they resolved, in true Lion form, to take the matter into their own hands. That was in 1939 when Leader Dogs for the Blind began its journey in a $50 a month, rented farm house in Rochester Hills, Michigan.

Gone today are the farm house and the barn that was used as a kennel. What remains is the close-knit, mission-driven support of the Lions Club.

“If there is something in our town that needs help, I’ll be there.” This is the mantra of longtime Leader Dog volunteers and Lions Duane and Peggy Farnsworth.

Invited by a friend to attend a Lions event at Leader Dog, Lion Duane was so impressed with the experience that he became a Lion the very next week. That was 45 years ago. Today, he and his wife, Lion Peggy, continue to actively support Leader Dog.

Like all Lions, if they knew of something that needed to be done, they were more than happy to enlist the help of others. When previous LDB Executive Director Harold “Pock” Pocklington mentioned it was cold in the dormitory, Lion Duane challenged Lion Tommy Thompson and the Flint Lions Club to a “duel.” Within three weeks they raised enough money to replace all the old, drafty windows with new airtight ones.

It is this spirit and dedication that the Lions, and the Farnsworths, bring to Leader Dog. They have watched the organization grow from a small farm to the 14-acre campus it is today. They have seen the number of instructors, clients and events grow as well. Duane and Peggy recall when Lions events were held in the old residence basement in what is now the mailroom.

Duane and Peggy stand next to each other and Duance has his arm around Peggy

Lions Duane and Peggy Farnsworth

Alongside hundreds of Lions, there is hardly an event they haven’t tied on an apron for including Duane serving 800+ hot dogs to volunteer puppy raisers and breeding hosts during their annual event, and Peggy having served chili and donut lunches to thousands of Lions during Summer Visits.

They fondly remember leading “blindfold walks” with Leader Dogs in training in what used to be the farm’s apple orchard, which is now the site of the Polk Residence and Training Center.

The tireless support of Lions Clubs has enabled Leader Dogs for the Blind to grow from the founding Lions’ dream of helping one friend to a preeminent organization that has served thousands of people who are blind or Deaf-Blind.

“Everyone at Leader Dogs for the Blind was like a big family… and they still are,” affirms Lion Duane.