The local chapters of Lions Clubs International are celebrating their centennial anniversary this year.
As part of this celebration, the Early Bird Lions Club decided last year to adopt the lion statue in Paris Park, a feature of the park that had become almost unrecognizable in recent years due to erosion and neglect.
Part of the adoption included the refurbishment of the lion statue, a process that required the removal of the lion.
After an extended hiatus, the restored lion was returned to the park.
Members of several area Lions Clubs, including three from Arkansas City, gathered June 17 at the park for a picnic in the Agri-Business Building and to dedicate the statue officially.
Long road to restoration
The first step in adopting the lion began with the City of Arkansas City.
“We had to go to the Beautification (and Tree Advisory) Board,” said Lion Mary Schneider, who served as project chair for the club.
The first phase of the project took about six months, she said. The club agreed to adopt the statue and help with its upkeep, an arrangement that was approved by the City Commission.
The club also agreed to pay for the cost of restoring the statue and apply sealant to coat it against the elements, while the city agreed to transport it to a carver and back. They split the cost of the new sidewalk.
When all was said and done, Schneider still had to find a sculptor to refurbish the crumbling relic.
A hidden gem
Schneider contacted Eddie Morrison, a sculptor out of Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
She was not aware of this at the time, but Morrison’s work is featured in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.
“His carvings are just gorgeous,” Schneider said.
Morrison has been creating art in Tahlequah since the 1970s. But it wasn’t until about 1985 that he discovered his true passion of sculpting, according to his website.
“I tried real hard to get out of (working on this statue),” he joked at the dedication. “It was a challenge.”
While the statue was in his possession after the city transported it to Tahlequah, Morrison discovered that it is made out of limestone.
“I really bonded with it,” Morrison said. “I missed him when he left.”
Carving something from nothing
While the lion was in Morrison’s keeping, he replaced one of its front paws that had eroded away.
He also carved a new tail to emulate the one that existed when the lion first was commissioned, but which had broken off since.
In addition to reconstructing the face, Morrison removed all of the paint that had been added to the statue through the years.
“He said that was the hardest part,” Schneider said.
The lion still lacks marble eyes, but Schneider is hopeful that the Lions eventually can replace those, as well.
While researching the origins of the statue, Schneider found an Arkansas City Traveler article from 1911 that described the lion.
It is just one of at least two accounts of the lion’s origins that differ on several details, but it is the most commonly accepted.
The lion was commissioned by M.E. Roderick as a gift to a family member, according to the Traveler clipping.
But before the statue was done, the family member died. So the lion took up residence at the home of Roderick instead.
During that time, a Dr. Guinn tried to buy the statue, unsuccessfully.
But when Roderick sold the property, he neglected to secure the lion statue for himself.
Dr. Guinn purchased it from the new owner, at which time it was moved to a hospital located on North First Street.
This building still stands today as an apartment complex east of Arby’s.
Dr. Guinn converted the statue to a hitching post, the Traveler stated, but his horse did not care for the statue.
In the end, he donated the statue to the city, to become a “source of pleasure.”