Senior in Action – John Layton

Marilee Marrero Stefenhagen
Former County of LA Public Library Administrator is having the time of her life as a retiree; meeting fascinating people who are active seniors, and volunteering for Soroptimist International of Norwalk and other women’s groups.

Senior in Action – John Layton

as told to Marilee Marrero Stefenhagen

Los Angeles resident John Layton, aka “Lion John” has been a member of the Norwalk Lion’s Club since 1978.  John liked the idea of belonging to an organization which makes a difference locally, as well as internationally.  In the accompanying photo, John is sporting some of the pins he collected at local, state and international conventions held in the U.S.  He attended the Lions International 100th Anniversary convention in Las Vegas with 32,000 members and guests, the 90th Anniversary convention in Chicago, and in 1983, attended Lions International convention in Atlanta.

John’s passion for Lions Club service is infectious.  “Lions help people with cataracts obtain medical care if they can’t afford it.  We help indigent homeless persons with low vision obtain prescription eye glasses.   In Norwalk, we work with the schools to give free eye glasses to students in need.  We never turn anyone down.  It is mind-boggling to think that some children who have difficulty with school simply can’t see well. The Lions Club mobile unit visits schools at the beginning of the school year to test vision and hearing.  We catch vision problems early and get the students fitted with glasses to remove roadblocks to learning.  Students with hearing loss are referred for further medical intervention or fitted with hearing aids.

As Regional Chair of the Lions Student Speech Contest, John is especially busy this time of year.  In March, local Lions clubs sponsor a speech contest for high school students in grades 10-12 to develop their speaking and leadership skills.  Students who win the speech contest at the local level then compete at regional, district and state levels with the possibility of winning up to $23,000 in scholarship funds.  John added, “The speech contest provides training for teens who want to be great leaders in their city.  This year’s topic was ‘Discuss the pros and cons of online distance learning.’ They must develop poise to be able to speak on topic for 5 minutes.”

The Lions Hearing Foundation established a wilderness camp in Wrightwood, California called Teresita Pines.  This camp was established for youth who have hearing loss or no hearing.  In pre-pandemic times, Lions annually sponsored 88 students to attend camp for two weeks.    An Open House is held at Teresita Pines the second Saturday in September, and John took folks from his church to attend and learn about camp services. Other non-profits may rent the camp at low rates which include meals.

John Layton also bragged about the Lions Youth Exchange Program which invites students age 15-22 from other countries to spend three weeks in the United States, or American students to spend 3 weeks touring with international host Lions’ members.  Approximately 30 young adults participate annually.  Imagine fundraising for so many free programs!  John knows raising money is a never-ending cycle.  He has participated in more carnivals and pancake breakfasts than he can count, but always with a smile.

Turning 81 in April, John admits he doesn’t move as fast now as he once did, performing marching drills and playing trumpet with Riverside High School Marching Band in Tuscaloosa, AL.  John was offered a music scholarship to attend Stillman College in Tuscaloosa before graduation, but chose Tuskegee.  He was drafted into the Army after his third year at university, but enlisted into the U.S. Navy instead.  He trained as a Gunner on the USS Frontier, a weapons ship out of Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii.  While finishing his naval tour in San Diego, John decided California’s mild weather was reason enough to settle “out west” after his honorable discharge in 1965.  He took UCLA Extension classes to obtain his Criminal Justice Processor certificate, paid for by the GI Bill.  He was hired at the California Youth Authority in Norwalk as a Peace Officer, and made his career there until retirement in 1993.  While at the Youth Authority, he taught hands-on dexterity and other techniques to young men who needed to gain control of themselves.  Don Hall, his co-worker at the Youth Authority, invited John to a Lions Club meeting where John discovered a new hobby for life: “Kindness in Action.”

For more information about Lions Clubs International, visit their website www.lionsclubs.org

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