We celebrated this anniversary with an amazing gala event on Feb 7, 2023 from 5-10pm at Wisp Resort
On the evening of Feb 7 at Wisp Resort, the Deep Creek Lake Lions Club commemorated the 50 th
anniversary of the Blind Skier program with a gala event attended by over 250 people. “The Gala was a
smashing success on every level,” said Event Chair Chair Nichols, “not only did we raise funds during the
event, but it was a opportunity to celebrate the achievements of our visually impaired skiers and to
express our gratitude for all of the supporters, volunteers and sponsors of the program over the years.
Plus, I think everyone had a great time and enjoyed going out to a fancy event.”
The McHenry Lodge at Wisp Resort was decorated with a winter theme by Tanya Schwinabart and Ruth
Bietzel, featuring lit, snow-flocked trees throughout the venue and table settings. Professional lighting
and sound systems created additional ambiance of an outdoor winter scene and displayed a running
movie highlighting the program and volunteers. During the initial social hour of the event, attendees
were entertained by the band, Second Wind, on the stage, while during dinner Jack Maust played
The evening’s program was commenced by Club President Bryan Chaney, who provided background on
the Blind Skier program and the gala event. He thanked the various sponsors of the event and the
committee who helped organize it including: Chris Nichols (Chair), Charlotte and Bryan Chaney, Ed King,
Tanya Schwinabart, Sharon Seling, Mike Obrien, Mike Tumbarello and Tom Wenzel. He then introduced
Club Member Mike OBrien who thanked the members of the Wisp staff who had supported the Program
over the past 50 years. He also presented Ron Hawkes, the General Manager of Wisp Resort, with the
“Ski Throne” – a special gift of appreciation from the club made from used skis.
Jay Kamineck, one of
the founders of the Blind Skier program then provided a history of how the program began. He shared
his story of how he saw a similar program being conducted during a ski trip to Colorado in 1972 and that
he brought back the idea to Bill Thoman of the recently founded Deep Creek Lake Lions Club. Thoman
brought the Club on board, coordinated with the Maryland School for the Blind, and the Club conducted
the first year of the Blind Skier program in 1973.
For a current perspective on the program, one of the visually impaired skiers, Derek Day, interviewed
the Blind Skier Coordinator Tom Wenzel during the next portion of the program. One of the interview
questions asked how Wenzel had gotten involved with the program, to which he replied “I began
helping with the Blind Skier Program in 1991 videotaping skiers and guides on the slopes. Little did I
know that I’d fall in love with this program and still be here 32 years later.” Wenzel also thanked the
adult and high school ski guides, as well as the volunteer coordinators over years, including Nancy
Geisler, Trudy Pickrel, Linda Buchanan, Joey Simson and Mike Obrien.
The Keynote Speech of the night was delivered by Brian McKeever, the world’s most decorated
Paralympic cross-country skier. His speech challenged the audience members to question their
conception of “normal” abilities and the artificial limitations that are sometimes imposed due to those
perceptions. He shared a number of stories about his father who is also visually impaired, as well as
remarkable achievements of other Paralympians to underscore the message. After his speech, he
awarded special custom-made medals to the Blind Skier participants in attendance at the event. Skiers
Lexi, Derek, Riley, Mira and Maddox all received medals and had a chance to tell the audience about
their experience with the program. “I just want to thank everyone who helps us ski, makes us food and
helps raise money for us to do this program,” said Lexi, “It’s not something I would have been able to do
without you all.”
The program was concluded by the Event Chair Chris Nichols, who thanked the sponsors of the gala:
INVNT and the Chaney Community Foundation (Platinum); W.G. Tomko (Gold); the Maryland Heritage
Areas Authority and the Mountain Maryland Gateway to the West Heritage Area (Silver); and Rustic
Junction, Taylor Made Deep Creek Vacations and Sales, Somerset Trust Company, First United Bank and
Trust, Garrett Container Systems, SEI Inc and the Deep Creek Lake Lavender Farm (Bronze). He also
encourage attendees to further donate and to join the club, as volunteer time and ideas were
potentially more valuable than money.
The awards were followed by the live auction of several unique items sold by Dana Dudley with Double
D Auctioneering Service. The gala then opened up with dancing DJ’d by Conner Norman, who also
provided his services as the Master of Ceremonies for the event. The event then concluded with a
fireworks show launched at the Wisp tubing park and viewed by the attendees on the patio.
In addition to the Blind Skier program, the Club also holds a similar Blind Camper program in the
summer. The Club sets up tent camping at its park on Bumble Bee Rd and offers a variety of outdoor
recreation experience for the participants including swimming, boating, and hiking. The Club is working
steadily on adding improvements to the park which will provide additional recreation opportunities not
only for the Campers but the community in general. Additionally, the Club provides a number of other
services to the community, including financial assistance to those in need for vision healthcare expenses
and contributions to local and global organizations that align with the Club’s mission.
In order to support these programs, the Club holds a number of fundraisers through the year. The Club
also raises money through the sale of donated boats and other recreational equipment such as ATVs,
snowmobiles and RVs. Donations to the club are tax-deductible and interested donors are encourages
to contact the Club by phone or email to learn more.
For more information on the Club's activities, and how to contribute, donate, or join, visit their website,
deepcreeklions.org or contact the Club at DCLLIONS@GMAIL.COM or 323 325-5466. The Club promotes
21 st Century values of inclusiveness – all people are encouraged to join and participate in Club activities.