BROOKSVILLE — David Wermuth was seeking a place to give a speech. About his blindness. About coping. About learning new skills. About living beyond his handicap.
The Lions Club, Wermuth knew, was big on vision projects: collecting old eyeglasses, encouraging eye testing, funding guide dog services.
But the native from Washington state who moved to Florida in 2009 found no Lions Club in his new community. The Brooksville resident recently contacted Shirley LePage of Dade City, a Guiding Lion liaison for the international civic and social service organization.
She told Wermuth a Brooksville Lions Club disbanded years ago, but he could start a new one. Within three weeks, 20 prospective members had signed on and a charter was on its way from Lions International.
The Brooksville Lions Club will celebrate its charter signing at a dinner and ceremony beginning at 6 p.m. June 6 at the Brooksville Elks Lodge, 14494 Cortez Blvd.
Sanford Walke, 89, of Hernando Beach, will be honored at the dinner. A veteran of World War II, he was a flight engineer shot down over Germany and a prisoner of war for eight months. Walke will lead the pledge to the flag at the ceremony. Wermuth, 49, will be inducted as president.
Lions officials will take part, including a past international director as well as current and former district and council leaders from Cocoa Beach, Lutz, Lady Lake, DeLand and Yankeetown.
Brooksville mayor Joe Johnston will present a declaration designating June 6 as Lions Club Day. The High Point Lions Club will join in as sponsor of the new club.
Wermuth is no stranger to the Lions. He was a member in Washington state when blindness overcame him. "I woke up one day. April 12, 1995, in the hospital, totally blind."
Wermuth had destroyed his optic nerve after attempting suicide with a gunshot to his head, he said. In his self-published book — Suddenly Blind, From Tragedy to Triumph: the Resilience of the Human Spirit — he describes a childhood enduring his father's physical, sexual and emotional abuse. The suicide attempt, he said, was prompted by "one last betrayal."
His background has left him with a desire to help children, he said, and Wermuth would like the Brooksville Lions to offer services such as vision screening for 4- and 5-year-olds.
He noted a teen ballplayer who repeatedly missed fielding a catch and finally had her eyes tested. She had tunnel vision, a restricted line of sight with which she was born and didn't know it. She thought that her vision was normal.
"(Vision impairment) is good to know so kids don't get put in the back of the classroom" because they're assumed to be poor or inattentive students, Wermuth said.
"The big thing is diabetes," he added. "It's rampant. Junior diabetes is very high right now and (some children) don't know they have it." Though many people are aware that diabetes affects circulation in the legs and feet, sometimes leading to amputation, Wermuth said blood circulation to the eye's retina also is affected and can lead to blindness.
For all ages, he hopes the club will support vision checks for any who haven't had one. "With the economy the way it is, a lot of people can't afford to get their eyes examined. We're going to try to make sure all get their eyes checked," Wermuth said.
Of course, the club will continue the Lions' traditional effort collecting old eyeglasses and distributing them to those in need of vision enhancement.
Wermuth's new wife, Holly Schneider of Brooksville, is legally blind due to a degenerative corneal disease. Both recently received guide dogs from Southeastern Guide Dogs.
Before settling in Brooksville and after he graduated from Adult Blind School in Tacoma, Wash., Wermuth earned a bachelor's degree in rehabilitation from the University of Washington and taught in-home self care to the blind.
Beth Gray can be reached at [email protected]