Creig P. Sherburne/Atascadero News • Atascadero resident Bruce Knuckles shows off some of the recognition the Atascadero Lions Club has earned for its service in the community.
Bruce Knuckles is a busy man. He used to be busy with work, then with the Lupus Society. But for the last 20 years or so, he’s been busy with the Atascadero Lions Club.
“You have to keep active,” he said.
Knuckles’ wife, Frances, has lupus. She has kept the incurable disease’s symptoms at bay with the help of diet and drugs. Joining the society was an obvious choice for the couple.
A major — well, “achievement” isn’t the right word. But it was a battle he chose to fight, and though its results aren’t measurable, he may have saved lives by fighting it.
“I heard a woman on the radio who said her vitamin [diet] had gotten women off [lupus] drugs,” Knuckles said.
At the time, he was president of the local lupus society. His wife was on lupus drugs and doing very well, but part of his duties as society president involved talking to lupus patients. He, better than most people, understood that going off the drugs was a bad plan. So he called the radio station.
“I said, ‘she is going to kill someone,’” Knuckles said.
And thus began a bit of local celebrity for him. He began — again, “crusade” is the wrong word. But his message was that lupus, while not curable, is treatable. Science has spoken and there’s no benefit to not treating it scientifically.
But, he said, the stories mounted. They became too big a burden for him to carry.
“I got too involved,” Knuckles said. “The stories got to me. It was too much.”
But he’s not one to sit around and wait for tomorrow to come. He had a friend who’d participated in the Lions Club for years, and whom Knuckles had helped on and off, unofficially, for years. So when the Lupus Society merged with the Lupus Foundation and things weren’t the same, the Lions helped him make the decision.
“The night I was sworn in, they made me a board member,” he said, laughing.
Since then, he’s served in about every capacity Lions has an office for. Now, he’s a board member and activity chairman.
Now, let’s be clear. Knuckles is an active member of the Atascadero Lions Club, but he is by no means the only active member. He was clear that despite all of his hard work, he’s one member of a team, which, itself is part of a larger team.
And as part of that team, Knuckles has done a lot of good not just for Atascadero, but for all of San Luis Obispo County. Too much good, in fact, to be able to cover everything in a single article.
But one bit of work Knuckles has done is on the Lions’ scholarship committee. He has been on that committee for about 15 years. He said that the Lions’ take on scholarships is a little different from that of many other local organizations: it waits until the last second make its bestowments because, Knuckles said, they try to award kids who haven’t received any other scholarships.
Another way Knuckles is involved with local high-schoolers is with the Lions speech contest. An international competition, it starts out at the local level, and winners head up the scale to regional, state and, eventually, the national level.
Sadly, that event may not be able to continue for much longer.
“I don’t know if we’ll be able to do it next year,” Knuckles said. “There aren’t a lot of forensics or speech classes any more. Getting kids to talk is hard.”
The highest-profile thing that Knuckles has been involved in lately was refurbishing Leo the Lion, the drinking fountain at Charles Paddock Zoo. The Atascadero City Council presented the Atascadero Lions Club with a recognition of thanks for that one.
And good as all of that is, it all takes a back seat to Knuckle’s pride and joy.
“What I am most proud of is how we have facilitated four eyesight trailers,” Knuckles said, chest nearly bursting with pride.
When Atascadero Hospital closed in the mid- to late-1970s, Knuckles said, the hospital bestowed the Lions with some money — money that was used to buy a trailer and equip it with a mobile optometry center. It went around to Atascadero schools, checking the eyesight of its students.
But, Knuckles said, his club quickly recognized the need to staff the trailer with an actual eye doctor, not gifted amateurs.
The trailer lasted for about a decade, but was totaled in a car wreck. A new one was donated by a fellow in Bakersfield, but it was taller than the previous one.
“Three times I know of, the roof was skinned back like a can of sardines,” Knuckles said with a chuckle.
The most recent trailer was outfitted in 2006 and it goes to just about every school in San Luis Obispo County, staffed by about 10 different doctors and their staffs, and paid for in full by the Lions.
“We raised the money, we pay the insurance,” Knuckles said. “Every Lions club in the county is involved in it now.”
Knuckles’ next big thing is a pancake breakfast at the Atascadero Lake Park on the Fourth of July, followed by barbecuing tri-tip sandwiches at the Mid-State Cruisers car show in August and then the Lions’ main eyesight fundraiser in September.
“I’m proud of what I’ve done and what the club is done,” Knuckles said. “I was raised that you should give back, so [Lions] fits in really well.”