Elks Lodge in danger of closing
A meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday, April 13 is aimed at determining if there’s interest enough to keep open the Haines Elks Lodge.
It’s the second time in less than five years that statewide Elks officials have held a meeting here to determine whether lodge doors will stay open.
The lodge’s most recent “exalted ruler” has resigned and remaining leaders have had trouble meeting expenses and keeping up with required paperwork, said trustee Leo Smith, a 23-year member of the group.
“Our organization just hasn’t been all that up to par,” Smith said.
Mike Luhr of Petersburg, special representative for the Elks’ Alaska East District, will lead the meeting. All 145 members of the local lodge have received a March 23 notice about the meeting, he said.
Luhr also came to town in August 2007, when the Alaska State Elks Association was threatening to close the lodge. “The Haines lodge has had a problem quite a few years. It’s not a new problem. It’s just come to a point,” Luhr said this week.
“To be an Elks Lodge, there are required services and required duties. If you stop being an Elks Lodge, you can’t stay open. It’s not a club. You can’t be a bar without being a lodge,” Luhr said.
The Haines lodge needs a more active membership and a group of officers who are willing to follow the rules and regulations, Luhr said. If he finds there’s sufficient interest, he’ll install new officers at the April 13 meeting, he said.
Under statewide Elks regulations, members of the public only can visit the lodge as guests and are not allowed to buy drinks or food there, although Elks members can buy food and drink for them.
“If there are not enough interested members to accept the duties and responsibilities as lodge officers, the Haines Elks Lodge will cease to exist and the charter will be revoked,” Luhr said in the March 23 letter.
Elks trustee Smith said problems at the lodge include keeping up with payroll taxes and with fuel and light bills. Smith said arrangements have been made to pay outstanding bills.
“We’ve got our head above water. We’re behind, but we’ve made arrangements (for payment). We’re coming out of debt for the last few months, anyway,” Smith said.
“A problem lately is that some members are tired of volunteering all the time. They want to step back and let new members take over,” Smith said. He described the exalted ruler position as “an ungrateful job that takes a lot of intestinal fortitude to keep at.”
John Newton also is an Elks trustee. He encouraged fellow members to show up. “Anybody who is a member should show up. The more who show up, the better it’s going to be.”
The Elks is a benevolent, fraternal organization that raises money for a host of community organizations and causes, including groups like Hospice of Haines and little league baseball. They help host children’s events and award scholarships to local students.
“We give whatever we can to just about every organization in town, especially the old stand-bys,” Smith said. “The Elks do a lot of good here. It would be a shame to see them shut us down.”
Elks’ membership is down 18 members since 2007. Petersburg, with a population of 2,800, has 350 Elks Lodge members. “Percentage-wise, it’s not that far off, really,” Luhr said.
It’s not uncommon for some lodges to struggle, he said. An aging population in the town of Seward caused a decline in membership there, Luhr said. “From time to time different lodges in different towns have problems.”
Smith said Luhr has the power to help the lodge reorganize, or to shut it down.
The group’s problems appear similar to ones outlined in a letter to members in 2007, that the group had few committee chairmen to handle mandatory committees, including required reports.
State official Luhr acknowledged that Elks’ paperwork is considerable. “Nationwide we have 1,800 lodges and 800,000 members and the organization’s run by lawyers and bankers, so there’s sure to be lots of rules and regulations,” he said.
Elks trustee Newton said the group’s difficulties won’t affect an annual Easter party at the lodge Saturday morning hosted by the Emblem Club. The club, however, would need to find a new home if the lodge were to close.