Lions Club members from across the state gathered in Westport on Wednesday night to celebrate "Charter Night" for the new Westport Lions Club, the culmination of a year-long process to bring the secular, volunteer service organization back to town.

At a ceremony held at the Red Barn restaurant in Westport, Nancye Fritz was sworn in as the first president of the club. Her husband, Bruce, will serve as club secretary and Eleni Yiannakides will be the treasurer.

"We just put our last kid through college and we wanted to get involved with the community," said Fritz, a Westport real estate agent. "It is a great organization and a very nice group of people. I am really honored to be the first president, it will be a challenge."

There had not been a club in Westport for the past 15 years. Lions Club International has more than 1.3 million members in 44,500 clubs across 203 nations. With the motto "We Serve," it aims to work with the community on service projects that meet its needs. A special cause of the club is eye-sight health awareness and research.

Twenty-three men and women from Westport, Weston, Wilton, Norwalk and other area towns were initiated as the original charter members. Lions from all over the state, from Danbury to the Hartford area and all over Fairfield County, joined the celebration. Other clubs presented gifts to help the Westporters begin charitable efforts, along with a club flag and gavel to start meetings.

"It was great to see that Lions really support each other," Nancye Fritz said.

Mark Lyon of Brookfield, the council chairman for the state (District 23), launched the process of restarting a Lions Club in Westport last September by canvassing for new members in the town. In June, 20 members had joined the club, the minimum needed for a charter. An application was filed and the charter was officially awarded June 23.

"It was a good year. I am very excited," Lyon said. "We have been working with the local community, churches, social services, the Fire Department, to let them know we are hear and ready to be very active."

Lyon said it was great to see all the Lions together, from all different walks of life, celebrating the Lions' mission and driving the spirit of it home for new members.

Westport falls into District 23A, one of three in Connecticut. Walter Sherman III, the district governor, said what is great about the club is that it is not exclusive. "You can be sitting next to a lawyer or the town garbageman or a plumber, but we are all equal as Lions."

Each club is autonomous, although they all are asked to follow the goals of Lions Club International.

Sherman told the Westport group the goals for this year include helping the environment, exploring more opportunities to serve the needy and hungry, and to become active with youth, for example, by sponsoring a local soccer team.

Fritz, who has lived in Westport with her husband for 25 years, said the group is still trying to identify the specific needs in Westport that it can address. Lyon said the Lions will likely sponsor an eye-screening as its first event.

"Many of the members are meeting for the first time tonight. It is a very busy, very active community. They will need to be good communicators through e-mail," Lyon said. "But what is important is that they come out for the events."

Charter member John L. Mocker III said he has been active in the community for many years, but has been looking to expand his involvement. "It's an extra-special thing to start something up," Mocker said. "You can take ownership of it and set the direction of it, so I jumped at the chance to join. There is such a straightforward cause, to help others, especially with eyesight and health. It is something I wanted to be a part of."

North Bridgeport Lions Club member Tom Veneruso said he came to be a part of a "very special time for a Lions Club. It is an unique opportunity to start a club."

Veneruso said he has a "quality feeling" about the new club. "When you hear `Westport' you always expect them to be great. So we are hoping for leadership from them, hopefully there will be nothing but good things from them."