The Helena Elks are looking for a few new members to add to their herd.
Helena Elks Lodge No. 193 is hosting an open house Thursday to kick off a membership drive aimed at bringing new faces into community service and bolstering the historic organization.
“The Elks are first and foremost in the business of doing charity,” said John Morford, president of the Montana State Elks Association.
As a national organization, the Elks’ main two initiatives focus on veterans and youth programs. Montana’s 25 lodges do a variety of civic work under those umbrella ideas. And they’ve been doing them for a long time.
“The Elks nationwide just celebrated their 150th year, and Helena was our mother lodge in Montana – they were established 128 years ago,” Morford said. “So that’s 128 years that they’ve been carrying out charitable work.”
Like many community service-based fraternal organizations, the Elks have experienced membership declines. The trend led to the sale of its club building on Lola Street last year; about 50 active members have met at the American Legion since.
Helena Elks secretary Bob Crants noted that in the early 1970s, membership was at about 1,350 and made up of everyone from elected officials to janitors.
“It was a real cross section of the community and was really vital to the community,” he said, adding their moto, “Elks care and Elks share.”
Historically the Elks were heavily involved with the former Helena Deaconess home – present day Intermountain – and Shodair, including an annual Christmas Party for the kids. Crants recalled one hallmark of those parties, when a 7-year-old boy approached him and thanked him for offering a safe place to celebrate the holiday.
“I’ve been really proud of the things we’ve done for the Elks,” he said, mentioning that the organization was the first to offer speech therapy clinics for children in the state.
The Elks also spend significant time on veterans’ issues, participating in “stand downs” which help homeless veterans. Over the years, the Elks have continued to sponsor an annual free-throw competition, offer scholarships and support for sports teams.
The lodge also offers a social component, Crants said. When the club owned the house, it had a thriving scene that saw families come for dinners and events. But waning numbers drove up expenses and the decision was made to sell the building.
“It’s a great organization and a lot of help from state and national level and if we could get younger people, we could regenerate it to a really active lodge,” he said.
Morford sees the Helena Elks as a great opportunity that, with a successful membership drive, could provide more service for Lewis and Clark, Jefferson and Broadwater counties and beyond. He described new members as American citizens who have a passion for the country, have respect for veterans and the flag, and want to serve their community through a variety of charitable activities.
“If I could move to Helena, what an opportunity,” he said. “You’ve got some money in the bank from the sale of the club house, and you can start your own club and design it how want to do it. The thing I really like about the Elks, we’re not focused on one main area. Whatever your community needs, the Elks can fill that need.”