“For many years Old Town has contributed a number of prominent and influential members of the Bangor lodge,” proclaimed the Old Town Enterprise, the weekly newspaper that exists today as the Penobscot Times, on the front page of its Oct. 5, 1912, edition. “So much interest has been aroused that the time became ripe this fall to institute a local lodge.”
The Old Town Elks Lodge 1287, was instituted on Sept. 28, 1912, but observes its anniversary when the national Elks granted its charter on July 9, 1913. They began meeting in a building in downtown Old Town with 35 members.
The Elks will celebrate their centennial with an open house and vendor fair 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 15, at the lodge on Fourth Street Extension in Old Town. Activities will include outdoor grilling, children’s activities, an ice-cream truck and a Texas Hold ‘em Poker Tournament. Radio station Q106.5 will broadcast live from the event.
Inside will be Ladies’ Night Out, where vendors will offer products and services of interest to women, including massages, hair, makeup, nails, arts, crafts and Pampered Chef.
“We’re going to have all these different things going on because we want people to come in,” said Kyle Smart, a past Exalted Ruler of the lodge. “We want them to see the building and we want them to see what we do.”
Like the Elks nationwide, the lodge has endured a membership reduction. Nationally, the Elks are at about 850,000 members, about half of what it was 30 years ago. Not many lodges have closed, but their memberships have dwindled. In Old Town, there are about 328 members, about half of about 20 years ago.
Corey Day, the past and current Exalted Ruler, said it’s very important for the lodge to attract new members, especially young people. But like other civic organizations, that’s getting harder these days.
“I think people just get too busy today,” said Day.
Like any civic organization, the Elks need people willing to not be so busy, and to help out with its charitable activities. But members have fun, too; whether they’re meeting at the lodge for weekly Bingo games, playing a game of pool or having a drink at the bar, one thing is certain: If nothing else, you get your money’s worth out of the $67 annual dues.
But reduced members mean it’s tougher to maintain the lodge and do charitable work. Twenty years ago, Bingo games brought in $3,000 to $5,000 per week; these days, it’s more like $300.
“We try to do as much as we possibly can,” Smart said.
Among the many projects the Elks embrace is Project Graduation, which they’ve done for 20 years. Every year, Elks volunteers throw an all-night drug- and alcohol-free party at the lodge, and the Elks feed and entertain the graduates.
“We provide them with an evening of a safe environment, ensuring that they’re not out doing something they shouldn’t be doing on the last days of… high school,” Day said.
Last year, the Elks raised $15,000, which all went back to the graduates.
“They received laptop computers, kayaks, GPSes, cash money,” Day said. “Every kid who walks through the door walks out with a minimum of a $25 gift card. It’s a big project for us, and it takes a lot of time, a lot of work, a lot of volunteers, but it’s really rewarding at the end.”
The Elks also champion programs for senior citizens and veterans. There’s also Maine Youth Fish and Game in Milford, which gets youngsters under 16 to go fishing and hunting; last year, thanks to a grant from the Elks national organization, the lodge donated $2,000 to purchase archery equipment.
The lodge helps out individuals and families in need, with things such as food, clothing and holiday baskets. It even donates to support other fundraisers.
“Someone [might] come to us and say, ‘I have a sick child or family member in desperate need; we want to do a fundraiser,’” Day said. “We may, as a committee, say, ‘I’ll tell you what: Our donation is going to be that we’ll donate the hall to you; you raise all the money and food you want, and you can have the hall for nothing.’”
For these reasons and many more, to its members, the lodge is more than just a club.
“It’s been in my blood since I was born,” said Day. “It’s been a representation of community. It’s been a representation nationwide for giving back to those who maybe can’t do it themselves. That means a lot to me.”
There are many long-time members, such as John Bouchard, who has been with the lodge for 69 years.
Terry Day, who is no relation to Corey Day, has been a member for 48 years.
“My father belonged for a long time,” he recalled. “I was going to join when I was 21, but I didn’t want [my father] to see me drinking.”
Terry has been a steadfast contributor to the cause in all his years with the Elks, including building the current lodge almost from scratch on an empty lot once used by a sawmill in 1986. In 1994, Terry Day led expansion efforts to add a substantial addition, and he’s worked diligently ever since to maintain the building. For him, it’s a matter of pride and principles.
“I’m very proud to belong to this organization — I always have been,” said Terry Day. “I hate to see it go downhill. We’ve worked too hard. I believe in Elkdom. And I’m very proud to belong to it.”