Mark Collier Staff Photo
Chip Paine, right, serves chicken and gravy to Doug Rossi last week at the Barre Elks club’s regular Thursday night dinner.
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series, “Where We Belong,” that explores social clubs across central Vermont.
By Kathryn Eddy
If you know what to look for, the signs of the work of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks are all around. As Barre’s revitalization continues, so, too, does the fraternal organization deeply committed to serving its community.
The Elks are everywhere.
The organization began in New York City in 1868, though Barre’s chapter didn’t form until 1927. Currently there are more than 2,000 lodges across the country. That network and connection to a national organization has helped the Barre Elks contribute a great deal of time and money toward the betterment of the area.
Charity, justice, brotherly love and fidelity are the four pillars of the Elks’ imperative. Supporting area veterans and schools are among the top priorities for the organization, stemming from a strong sense of Americanism and an understanding of the importance of the country’s future generations. Flag Day, every June 14, was an Elks creation in 1907 as part of its focus on veterans; it was later adopted by Congress as a day of national observance.
“I think our involvement with youth and veterans is what sets us apart, that and it’s a part of a national organization. While focusing on Barre we also reach beyond our borders and receive support in turn,” says Chip Paine, current trustee and past exalted ruler — equivalent to a president of the organization, who serves a one-year term — as well as a former state president of the Vermont Elks Association. “There’s so much that we do — little things, and big things that contribute to the community and do good.”
The Central Vermont Council on Aging, Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts, Meals On Wheels, Project Graduation, Vermont Foodbank and Red Cross are just a few of the organizations for which the Elks raise money and volunteer time.
“The list is endless,” says Bob Campo, chairman of the governing board and past exalted ruler. “But the Elks is something you feel in your heart. When you get it it’s good.”
The current exalted ruler, Stacy Holden agrees. “Sometimes you leave here and you are just drained — emotionally, physically, mentally, everything — then you just pull back and think about it for a second and think about all the kids and the disabled and the veterans that you’re helping and that makes it worth it.”
“We like the good feeling we get from seeing those kinds of things,” adds John Cutler, current manager and past exalted ruler and district deputy.
The Elks have also created their own initiatives, such as the Elks Drug Awareness Education Program in area schools and Silver Towers Camp in Ripton, a residential summer camp for people ages 6 to 75 mentally or physically challenged. Every third Wednesday of the month from September to April, they host a Senior Citizens Feed at the lodge, a $7 “soup to nuts” meal open to the public; they provide national and local scholarships; they contributed $5,000 for the Tarquinio/Farwell soccer field in Barre and put on an annual Hoop Shoot and Soccer Shoot for youth ages 8 to 13.
“To get the youth into something that’s rewarding and provide them with an opportunity for recognition,” says Campo.
The Barre lodge is the former National Guard armory, which the Elks bought more than 40 years ago and have renovated to include not only a members lounge and bar for members and legal guests, but also a rentable hall for events.
“We’re really the biggest hall in the city. Other than the auditorium, there’s no hall larger than ours,” says Campo. All sorts of functions and weddings are put on there, and the Elks also donate the space for proms or other community events. It’s a valuable source of income for raising money and keeping up with the expenses such a large building entails.
“There’s a nice renaissance going in Barre. We’ve come through some difficult times. We’re doing really well, we’re managing better, our kitchen is going great. The quality’s back. It’s a real positive story here right now. The last few years we’ve been rebuilding,” Campo says.
So, as Barre prospers the Elks membership grows, which allows them to give more back to the improvement of the community, he says.
The growing membership is also important to the Elks for the future. “A lot of younger members are coming in. It’s rejuvenating us, bringing in the next generations to help us with our charitable works, and also have a good time and be a part of something in the community,” says Campo.
“We’re excited about it,” agrees Cutler. “It’s funny, because I talk to people out in the community and they say, ‘I don’t know anyone that’s in there’ and you’d be surprised. There’re a lot of people that work in the city that you see every day that are members of this lodge, that support us.”
According to its website, to become a member one must be 21 years old and an American citizen, have a belief in God, be of good moral character and be sponsored by a member of the order in good standing. The national Elks organization has been open to women since the 1990s.
“If you’re an Elk here, you’re an Elk everywhere in the U.S. The long-lasting friendships with people you may not have otherwise gotten to know has been a cool thing,” says Campo.
The Elks have been operating not completely unrecognized but a bit under the radar for a long time. “It’s important to us that the community understand exactly what we do. We’re very involved in the community, and we want to make our community a better place, and that’s what it’s all about,” says Campo.
In one way or another the central Vermont Elks’ work has probably touched your life.
To learn more about the Elks, visit their website, www.elks.org, or their Lodge 1535 at 10 Jefferson St., or call 479-9522.
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