Everyone who is a member of Elks Lodge No. 1777, otherwise known as Lakewood’s Elks Lodge, has their own reason for being a member. Current exalted ruler — the term for the head of a lodge — …
Everyone who is a member of Elks Lodge No. 1777, otherwise known as Lakewood’s Elks Lodge, has their own reason for being a member.
Current exalted ruler — the term for the head of a lodge — Carrie Mesch, 58, joined just four years ago after helping the lodge with some real estate issues, and found herself drawn to the organization’s potential.
Clement Hackethal, 80, joined because his father was a member in his hometown of Idaho Springs, and because that lodge played a vital role in the life of the community.
George Von Trump, 81, joined the lodge in 1988 because he was interested in finding a charitable way to work with children and veterans. Sally Reed, director of development at the Action Center, joined two years ago for a similar reason—she was in search of a new way to give back to her community.
For Mayor Adam Paul, it was the same.
“Being an Elk means, to me, being a part of an organization that cares deeply about taking care of the community,” he said.
But even though members may have different reasons for joining, they all agree they stay in the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks for the camaraderie.
“Being a member of the Elks is a wonderful opportunity to find and build relationships instead of remaining home alone,” Mesch said. “Many members are so proud of being an Elk because, through the work we do, we’re a real asset to the community.”
On Feb. 16, the nationwide Elks organization celebrates 150 years. The Lakewood lodge, 1455 Newland St., is celebrating the occasion with a rare community open house, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. The event will feature food, drinks, music and a historic program.
The Lakewood lodge’s history goes back to its founding in 1949. The organization broke ground on its current lodge location in 1954. The lodge has been located at this spot ever since, even though there have been significant remodels throughout the years. In late February, the lodge is preparing for another remodel, with new carpet, furniture and other updates.
In a way, this new update to the lodge facility mirrors an organization in flux. Fraternal organizations like the Elks have been on the downswing in recent years. And Mesch understands why.
“There’s a misconception that the Elks are just old, white and male, and that we’re slow to change,” she said. “It might have been like that once, but it’s very different now. We’re working on bringing our lodge up to date with changes in the world.”
According to Mesch, the youngest member of the 1,150-person lodge is about 22 years old, and the oldest is 96. The Elks started allowing women to join in 1995, which has given Elks like herself and Reed a chance to take on more of a leadership role, and more African and Hispanic Americans have joined as well.
“Members of my family have been Elks before, and once they started allowing women, I thought it’d be a fun way to help serve the community,” Reed said. “We do play bingo and get together for food and drinks, but the service aspect of it is a key part of the organization’s mission.”
Bingo is indeed a part of life at the lodge, but it’s just one of the many social aspects. There are dances every Thursday evening, themed dinners every second Saturday of the month, and a pancake breakfast — which is also open to the community — every third Saturday of the month. There are also special gatherings for holidays and events like the Super Bowl.
But it’s the normal day at the lodge, with its full bar and kitchen, and space for darts, poker and conversation, that keeps members stopping by multiple times a week.
“I’m usually here about three or four times a week, whether it’s for bingo of drinks with friends,” said Joe Darr, 84, who has been a member of the Elks for about 50 years. “The lodge is such a friendly place, and it’s a great place to be social.”
Most people’s familiarity with the Elks comes from their chartable efforts, and that remains as crucial to members and the organizations they support, which range from veterans’ organizations to The Action Center and the Jeffco Boys and Girls Club.
“It was a great fit for us to work the Elks, and it’s been really helpful to have them supporting us,” said Dave Young, a volunteer with the Boys and Girls Club. “Support from groups like the Elks means so much to us, and really helps us in our work with the kids.”
The Elks organization is also one of the largest providers of college scholarships in the country, and Mesch and others have been working to get more information out to local schools about this resource.
As recently as October, the lodge gathered to help 25 homeless veterans who were moving in to the newly opened 40 West Residences.
Volunteers purchased a wide range of items, from silverware, cookware and pizza pans to shampoo, bedding and shower curtains. The lodge is reimbursed by the Elk’s national branch for the purchases, which were given to the veterans for free.
“As long as there are veterans, we’ll never forget or stop helping,” said Jim Vincent, co-chair of Colorado Elk’s Association Veteran’s service committee. “There’s a peace of mind that comes with having what you need to start your life, and we want to help provide that.”
Even as the world changes, this commitment to service is what makes reaffirms the Elks’ place as a vital part of the community.
“The purpose of an Elks lodge is to be of service to the community,” said Hackethal, who at age 27 was the youngest person in the lodge’s history to be exalted ruler back in 1965. “And Lakewood’s lodge certainly does that.”