Lions club veteran celebrates 26 years of membership and fairs

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 22, 2003

Jean T. Martin / In Our Town

Hank Atchison has been a Lion for 26 years. For 26 years he has worked the Lions Club- sponsored Central Alabama Fair. And with the contagious laugh that is so much a part of his persona, Atchison admits, &uot;I joined the Lions Club so I could work the Fair. There’s nothing I enjoy more, nothing I look forward to more eagerly each year.

Shaking his head, Atchison frowns, loses his smile temporarily, comments, &uot;My pet peeve is there is no active 4-H or FFA club in the Black Belt. I grew-up in such a club, a big deal for school kids: helping a calf grow up, taking care of a lamb, sometimes feeding them with a bottle, keeping them groomed.

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Atchison is also troubled by the loss of farms in the region. &uot;The whole rural economy has changed from being 95 percent agricultural down to two or three percent. Farming is a 24-hour day, seven days a week &045; hard work. Too many aren’t willing to do that.&uot;

Although he no longer works his acreage, he leases it for farming. Now, much of his time is spent making the Lions petting zoo one of the main attractions at the Fair. He has designed and rebuilt the cages, putting four rabbits in each and making room for children at the Fair to enter the cages. He also put a washbasin in the petting zoo, teaching the kids cleanliness and the proper care of small animals.

His pet project continues to grow. The state’s wild animal farm (located in Prattville), closed last year after an almost 100-year existence. Atchison says the reason given was new court-ordered environmental rules, new fencing and a full-time veterinarian, all of which made it too expensive to maintain, he says. All the animals were donated to the Montgomery Zoo.

This year, one room at the Central Alabama Fair will be devoted to small animals such as ducks, geese, chickens, sheep and lambs and baby pigs &045; and of course, rabbits. On the last day of the Fair, the rabbits are sold, &uot;so the kids get to take one home,&uot; Atchison says, smiling at the thought.

He grew up in Orrville, moving from Jefferson County as a child when his father, a retired lumberman and sawmill owner, bought a rundown cotton plantation in Orrville and converted it to cattle, he says.

The Central Alabama Fair was organized as an agricultural fair under a state charter and is still supervised by state officials, who grade the fair exhibits. The Lions Club receives a small stipend from the state depending upon the grade received.

The Fair itself is &uot;very loosely managed,&uot; according to Atchison. &uot;Everybody is a vice president and each has a favorite committee. I like animals and kids.&uot;

He is a father and a grandfather and a man with an interesting philosophy on life. His daughter dedicated her doctoral dissertation to him, quoting the philosophy on page one.

And he laughed.