Lions name district humanitarian
By Melanie Savage
Mansfield - posted Tue., Feb. 1, 2011
MANSFIELD - Bruce John is a well-known figure in his hometown of Mansfield, and in surrounding towns. One of the original owners of the Shaboo night club, these days John appears locally as a musician with a number of different groups. The Shaboo, a fixture in Mansfield from 1971 through 1982, saw some of the best bands in the country pass through its doors. Locals have fond memories of seeing musical legends such as B. B. King, Muddy Waters, Joe Cocker and Lou Reed at the Shaboo.
In recent years, John has used connections and skills gleaned at the Shaboo to help raise money for the needy. His numerous charity ventures led to John’s nomination by the Mansfield Lions Club for District Humanitarian of the Year. But no one was more surprised than John himself when he received the Connecticut Lions’ District Humanitarian of the Year award at a ceremony held in Groton in early January. “It was the biggest honor of my life,” said John. “I didn’t think I had a chance. At the dinner, it was like being in the room with a bunch of Mother Theresas. There were people who started dental clinics in Haiti, people who gave kidneys. It was amazing. I almost fell down when I found out that I was the one chosen.”
Mansfield Lions Club President Dudley Hamlin nominated John in an eloquent letter that outlined his contributions to the community. Most recently, these include Food for the Body and Soul, currently celebrating its eighth year, a bluegrass gospel concert that collects food items for organizations such as the Northeast Community Food Collaborative, the Holy Family Shelter, the Access Agency, Catholic Charities, and the Covenant Soup Kitchen and Food Pantry.
The Breadbox Folks Series, a monthly folk music concert, raises revenue for the Covenant Soup Kitchen and Food Pantry in Willimantic. “In addition, on the third Wednesday of each month, Bruce organizes, promotes, hosts and often performs at the Bread Box Artist Showcases of folk music and the spoken word,” said Hamlin.
“I have incredible players,” said John. “I don’t just let anybody play. They call me the benevolent dictator.”
For five years, John has organized a concert to benefit the No Freeze Shelter in Willimantic. This year’s concert, held in late January, was also a celebration of John’s 60th birthday. “We paid the rent for the homeless shelter for the year,” said John, noting that the event raised an estimated $10,700. “What was really special was that both Mayor Betsey [Paterson, of Mansfield] and Mayor Ernie [Eldridge, of Windham] stood up to read proclamations side-by-side. I love them both dearly. That was really nice, too, being recognized at a local level.”
John boasts a long list of other charitable involvement within the community, including the Bloomer Benefit, which helped to defray the cost of Multiple Sclerosis treatments for the mother of a local family that had no health insurance, and participation in the yearly Walk for Warmth concert that raises money for the Windham Area Interfaith Ministry. “Last year, I participated in 31 different major events,” said John. “It takes a lot of time, but I love doing it.”
“I believe that what made the difference in the minds and hearts of the judges was the special way Bruce works his benevolent magic,” said Hamlin. “Other nominees had done great things, but Bruce’s efforts go beyond himself and the work he personally puts into each event. Bruce uses the power of his music and his promotional skills to create energy within a community that draws others into the effort.”
“I like to promote cultural and musical events,” said John, “and at the same time we’re helping people.” And John has a great love for the area. “One of my goals is to have people come to Willimantic,” he said. “We have a lot to offer.”
The Mansfield Lions are one of the smallest groups in a district that includes the counties of Tolland, Windham, Vernon and Middlesex. “We were proud that our candidate won, and it served as an inspiration to our members,” said Hamlin. “We hope the attention and recognition garnered by this event will help promote the success of Bruce’s ongoing endeavors. We hope it will motivate people to join the Mansfield Lions Club – or any service organization whose mission resonates with them – and to do good work to help those who need it in our communities.”
The group currently meets at the Nathan Hale Inn and Conference Center at the University of Connecticut, in Storrs. Meetings are on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays, September through June, at 6:15 p.m., and usually last about two hours.
Bruce John’s Artist Showcase is held the third Wednesday of every month. The next showcase is scheduled for Feb. 16 at 7 p.m. Suggested donation is $5. Contact John @ 860-429-4220 if you would like to perform. Feb. 19 at 7:30 p.m. is the next scheduled Bread Box Folk Concert. Shows are $10. Both events are held at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 220 Valley St., Willimantic. For more information go to www.breadboxfolk.org.