Charity, Justice, Brotherly Love and Fidelity

Ashland+Elks+Lodge

Ashland Elks Lodge #944, seen from the East Main Street entrance.

Ashland Elks Lodge
Ashland Elks Lodge #944, seen from the East Main Street entrance.

Walking up to the East Main Street entrance of the Ashland Elks Lodge, I wondered whether I was at the right place .

Sure, the massive, multi-story blue building was right smack in the middle of downtown Ashland. But the entrance was no more than a single, glass-plated door with the emblem of the Elks emblazoned across it, and it was locked. I busied myself looking at the bulletin board nearby, silently hoping somehow, some way, that door would open.

And it did. I was greeted by a friendly young woman who inquired “Are you Morgan?” and ushered me inside and up a flight of stairs. We went through another simple, glass door, and I was amazed. On the other side was a gargantuan, luxurious dining-type room, lit only by a large hearth fire in its center. “Christine will be with you shortly,” my guide informed me.

Christine Belcastro, a AAA Travel Agent by day and Exalted Ruler of Lodge 944 by night, led me on my tour of the expansive lodge building. She was quick to point out that the Elks foundation is “not a country club. We’re not a bunch of rich people.” I was offered a drink, and we sat beside the roaring fire for a few moments to talk about the history of the Elks Lodge.

In 1867 Manhattan, English singer Charles A. Vivian began adapting to New York life and became an integral part of the Star Hotel’s dinner entertainment. Vivian soon found himself a principal singer for the American Theater on Broadway, managed by Robert Butler. After extending his social circle a bit more, he founded the Jolly Corks, a drinking and entertainment group made up of Vivian’s acquaintances. When one of the group’s members passed away, they became the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. The group took flight from there, engaging in charitable works across the country.

And it shows. Belcastro spent nearly an hour showing me all the different charity works the Elks are secretly behind. They’re responsible for the Elks Children’s Eye Clinic at the OHSU Casey Eye Institute, D.A.R.E. program, Ashland High School senior project requirement and local scholarship for AHS seniors, to name a few.

“That’s what Elks do. We’re all about giving back to the community,” Belcastro explained. “We don’t want any praise. We identify a need, and we try to satisfy it,” she continued.

Traversing the hallways and rooms of the 1909 building, it became clear that the Elks are, however, proud of their society. The formalities of their elections and meeting procedures reveal a sense of days gone by sorely missed by many these days.

With an expansive, colorful history to boot, the Ashland Elks Lodge faces its community, and even the world as a whole, with an enthusiasm for helping people be the best they can be and giving all people equal opportunities for success. To date, there are over 2,100 lodges and more than 1.1 million active members in the United States. Oregon alone boasts of 58 lodges and over 45,000 members. And that will only continue into the rest of this century, with membership and charity increasing for years to come.

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