The Enterprise lodge and its 162 members have just marked 60 years since the opening of their building on North Street.
The lodge, which was chartered in 1951 with about 150 members, formerly met in the old Enterprise House.
“It seems like a long time ago,” said Harold Lay, 97, the only surviving charter member still living in Wallowa County.
Lay estimated the original building cost about $20,000 in 1960 — that’s about $174,000 in today’s dollars. He recalls the lodge had built up some cash reserves largely from lodge operations.
“We used to have meals there six days a week,” he said. “We served steaks.”
Membership dues and bond sales also contributed, BPOE secretary Randy Morgan said.
“For $25 they sold you a ticket that showed you bought into the Elks for the building,” he said.
But the largest portion of the construction cost came from several loans the Enterprise lodge got from lodges in Ontario, La Grande and Baker.
Weekly attendance isn’t what it used to be.
“In the early days, we’d have between 75 and 100 members every Thursday night for meetings,” Lay said.
BPOE Secretary Randy Morgan said that despite a growing membership, he estimates only 18 to 25 show up each meeting. The lodge now meets the first and third Tuesdays of each month.
Despite concerns that service clubs are declining, Morgan is optimistic.
“If you’d asked me that two years ago, I’d have said yes. But last year, we had a growth in membership for the first time in 39 years,” he said. “I think it’s because we’re finally bringing in some younger members and those younger members are bringing their friends in.”
An Elk since 1978, Morgan considers himself one of the lodge elders whose responsibility it is to encourage the younger members and help them keep the lodge going.
“Once we get them down here, then it’s our job to keep them busy,” by getting them involved in various lodge projects.
“We have to keep them active and doing things,” he said.
And the lodge is active. Members have been doing the annual kids hoop shoot since the 1940s, they’ve provided Christmas baskets to needy families since the 1950s, they give $4,000 in scholarships through the Elks National Foundation and contribute to charitable causes such as Elks Children’s Eye Clinic. The lodge’s involvement in the Main Street Motors Show and Shine doubled the amount the lodge was able to contribute to scholarships, Morgan said.
Lay agrees the Elks is a valuable group.
“I thought it was a great organization and I enjoyed it,” he said, though health concerns keep him from attending often. “Every night when they’d go for a meeting and you had 100 to 125 people there ... everybody had a good time and everybody looked forward to Thursday nights.”
The Elks hasn’t gone without its share of controversy. It used to be a men’s-only club, with a separate ladies’ auxiliary. Morgan said that ended in 1995 after a dispute in Michigan when a couple of women who’d frequented a lodge as guests tried to join but were not allowed.
That year, at the Grand Lodge convention in New Orleans, which Morgan attended, the issue came to a boil.
“We voted and it was a contentious deal,” he said. “I would say 2,000 people got up and walked out.”
But the divisiveness didn’t extend to the Enterprise lodge.
“Here it wasn’t like it has been in other lodges where it’s been contentious,” he said.
Although #1829 didn’t initiate its first female Elk until about 1998, that was only because none applied, Morgan said.
Lay noted how fraternal organizations have changed.
“It seems like they come along and do good for a while and then they slip into extinction,” he said.
But Morgan isn’t worried for the future, as he’s noted the growth surge of recent years and he‘s confident the Elks will be around for at least another 60 years.
“We’re still going, we’ve got strong leadership, we’ve got strong support from the community and we thoroughly enjoy the things we do for the community.”