WALLINGFORD — About 125 members of Wallingford Elks Lodge #1365 gathered this week, 100 years to the day after the lodge’s opening, to take a commemorative photograph at their South Main Street hall.
The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks is a fraternal order and community service organization, founded nationally in 1868.
In 1919, 133 men formed the Wallingford lodge. The national office granted the lodge number on May 12, 1919, and granted the charter on July 9, 1919. In between, on June 11, 1919, the Wallingford lodge opened.
A parade was held to celebrate, complete with the governor’s food guard and 102nd Army Band, according to Tom Smith, a past exalted ruler and current state chair of lodge activities.
In 2016, the Elks had more than 20,000 members statewide and 781,000 nationally, according to the group’s 2017 annual report.
Today, the Wallingford lodge has 1,223 members, including about 400 women.
Women were first admitted as Elks members in 1990. Wallingford’s first female member was Jane A. Kazersky, who was initiated on October 20, 1998.
“She is still an active member and rarely misses a single event,” Smith said.
The Hubert L. Judd mansion, which was built in 1887 and stood where the Town Hall parking lot is on South Main Street, served as the Elks club’s original lodge from 1919 to around 1960, when the group moved to the blue house at 148 S. Main St. for a short time while the current lodge, at the same address, was being built.
Ray Lilley, the lodge’s current exalted ruler who’s been a member for 17 years, said that between the officers and trustees who help run the lodge, logging thousands of volunteer hours, “we keep this operation running and keep it growing, but the most important thing we do is give back to the community.”
The 31 Elks lodges statewide give to community groups that support children, police, firefighters, first responders, drug awareness and veterans, including the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and Special Olympics.
The annual Veterans Day weekend breakfast “is usually very, very well attended,” Lilley said, attracting almost 80 veterans last year.
Revenue sources include fundraisers like monthly breakfasts, comedy nights, country western nights and nights honoring different nationalities, like German or Irish nights. They also apply to the Elks National Foundation for grants based on member contributions.
Locally, the Elks awards scholarships to local students.
“Last year, we received and gave out $15,500 in grants to local charities and organizations throughout the Elks national fund,” Smith said. “In addition, we gave out $9,000 in scholarships.”
The club also names an Elk of the Month and an Elk and Officer of the Year from among its membership. Johanna Fishbein received the lodge’s first Citizen of the Year award in 1989, in honor of her decades of volunteer work for the town.
The lodge earned first place for the national All-American Lodge Award and state All-Connecticut Peter T. Affatato Award, both for 2018-2019.
The group plans to open a time capsule from the lodge’s 75th anniversary in 1994 during an event open to all Connecticut Elks lodges on June 27.
An anniversary weekend is planned for September, with a gala dinner at Zandri’s Stillwood Inn and day-long lodge celebration.
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