Moab may be losing an icon.
The area’s Elks Lodge is likely to be shuttered by the organization’s national governing body, the Grand Lodge, unless the equivalent of a new-membership miracle happens. Local Elks figure they have until the end of March.
“If people start stepping up and contacting us, that will buy us more time,” said Dan Stott, a trustee of the lodge.
Stott and two other Elks members sat at the salmon-colored lodge building at the top of Cermak Street on a recent Friday night, drinking what they call “the cheapest beer in town” and laughing about old times. The three were reminiscing about the good the Elks have done, and commiserating about what they might have done to keep the group as strong as it used to be.
“This is probably the first time we’ve talked like this to the media,” said Louis Manson, acknowledging that the lodge’s current situation looks dour. “We’ve not tooted our own horn enough.”
He jokes about the club being known only as “the drunks up on the hill,” but he, Stott and Charleen Kaufman say there’s a whole lot more to the Elks that that.
It’s almost certain that every American has passed a building with the letters “BPOE” on it, followed by a number. That would have been an Elks Lodge. The “BPOE” stands for “Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks,” though Manson said it stands for “Best People on Earth.”
To hear the three longtime Elks talk, it’s the same thing — and many people know of the Elks as a fraternal organization.
But Stott, Manson and Kauffman all talk about it as a humanitarian service organization more than anything else. The word “benevolent” that’s part of the club’s official name is paramount.
“We do a lot of good,” Kaufmann said.
From the 1950s until recent years, Manson said, “We’ve helped anyone, however we could.”
Their focus, as is the case for Elks nationwide, is kids and military veterans. That’s one of the reasons Manson joined in the first place 42 years ago, following the example of his father.
“I’d been around Elks as a kid,” Manson said. “[I] knew some of the good things they did for kids.”
Scholarships, for instance.
Manson figures the Elks provide more funding for college than any organization (other than the federal government) through the Elks National Foundation. In 2017, the Elks nationally gave almost $4.5 million in scholarships.
The local Elks have traditionally held a golf tournament in the spring to raise money for scholarships. Another golf tournament held annually in November has raised money for the lodge’s Christmas Basket program, where they provide Christmas meals and gifts to about 50 local families each year.
Moab Elks for several years have helped with a veterans’ support program—Warriors on Cataract—which, while difficult to prove, may very well have saved a few lives.
The program takes disabled military vets (some who have been placed on suicide watch), brings them from Veteran’s Administration hospitals (along with medical and psychological support staff) and gives them a four-day experience rafting the Colorado River through Cataract Canyon.
It isn’t an Elks program per se, but the Elks have helped provide meals and a warm Moab welcome.
“They come back with such a different demeanor,” Kaufman said. “There’s just a different attitude.”
And then there’s the general Friday night Elks’ spaghetti dinner held simply to raise money for people in need — for instance, the blind student for whom the Elks raised enough money to purchase a device that could scan text and translate it, creating Braille patterns the student could read.
“When somebody was in distress, we’d do a fund-raiser for them,” Stott said.
If the local Elks Lodge closes, a lot of good will go with them, Manson added.
“The real point, I think, is what the community’s going to lose by way of service that we do,” Manson said. “There are just a lot of things that the community’s going to miss. That’s where the real shame is.”
The three say they don’t know why membership has declined — or rather, why new members haven’t joined to keep pace with the deaths and old age of former members, but they figure it comes down to time and money: It’s so expensive to live these days that people have no time for things like volunteerism.
Stott calls it the “two-job economy.”
“The younger generation, to be able to afford to live here basically requires both parents working full time, and the time left for kids is valuable, so that’s about it,” Stott said. “When you’re doing philanthropy, you’ve got to have a lot of volunteer time and hours to do it.”
The three Elks later stood at a wall full of pictures of members through the years: a police chief, a postmaster, a prominent businessman or two, elected officials and other community leaders.
“There’s some prominent names up there,” Manson said, “Just a lot of prominent people from this town.”
The three hope that the citizens of Moab will assist them in a last-gasp effort to save the lodge, even while hoping it isn’t too little, too late.
If someone was to contact them expressing interest, “They’d be welcome,” Manson said.
To inquire about joining the Elks, call Stott at 435-260-1413, or Manson at 435-220-0519.
ByBy John Hales