Elks hope to revive lodge membership
A handwritten history of Elks Lodge #568 hangs on the wall in the organization’s bar, with deceased brother Elks listed by name, including tobacco magnate Brodie Duke.
An illustration of the Elks’ first home in Durham, at the intersection of East Main and Mangum streets, is hand drawn.
The Elks began meeting on the upper floors of the large brick building in 1895, and was chartered in 1900. The lodge moved to a two-story house on West Chapel Hill Street, then to a 27,000 square foot building on Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard in the 1950s.
Durham Elks Lodge #568 member Jimmy Pulley, who joined in 1968, said that there were between 600 and 700 Lodge members when he joined.
Now there are less than 70.
Members are trying to turn that around and hosting an open house and dance on Saturday in hopes of drawing interest and new members. The Elks Lodge moved to a smaller building at 3920 S. Alston Ave. in 2005. It has elements of the old buildings -- an elk’s head about a century old, the bar from the building on the boulevard and a mid-century elk clock.
Elks membership opened to women in the 1990s, and there are four in the Durham lodge, as well as a women’s auxiliary of spouses. The membership of Elks Lodge #568 has historically been white, and another Elks Lodge down the street is predominantly African-American and not affiliated with Lodge #568, which is part of the national organization called the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the United States of America. The BPOE was established in 1868, renamed from a group of New York City entertainers who met as the Jolly Corks. Today, the organization has the motto “Elks Care – Elks Share” and is charitable as well as social.
The Durham lodge’s service includes sending care packages to U.S. troops in Afghanistan, donating to the Durham Rescue Mission and Ronald McDonald House and awarding academic scholarships.
Hugh Norfleet is Lodge #568’s grand exalted ruler, but that might soon change to simply “president.” Much of the Elks wording still uses “brotherhood” because it was an all-male group for so long, but that is changing. There aren’t secret ceremonies at the Elks Lodge, Norfleet said, but there is ceremony. The Elks keep traditions, though some things have relaxed, like initiation night attire going from tuxes to a blue blazer and gray slacks. Leaders still don necklaces denoting their positions.
Norfleet said a reason for membership decline could be that young people today put family first -- as they should, he said.
“Nowadays it seems like every father’s a coach,” he said. He joined the lodge in 1997, after his children were grown.
Mike Phillips joined the lodge in 2006, invited by friends at his church, Lowe’s Grove Baptist. His wife, Betsy Phillips, joined the auxiliary first, then the lodge.
W.D. “Decer” Wynne joined in 1973, drawn, like Pulley, by the pool and sports. But now, membership has aged out, Wynne said.
Pulley said at one time they had a Scout troop, a kids’ bowling team, football, basketball and baseball teams, he said, along with monthly dances.
“It was a fun time out and I made a lot of good friends,” Pulley said. “The pool was a big drawing card, but then other organizations had pools, and then hotels and motels had pools. Our membership died.”
Pulley said he has seen the same situation in other groups he’s in, including church and civic clubs. Younger people don’t join, he said. His kids called it the “old folks’ club.”
Other lodges in North Carolina and nationally are surviving or thriving, and Elks Lodge #568 wants to as well. They hope people will come to the open house to find out more about Elks programs, charities and membership. The lodge is also available for rent for outside events.
WHAT: Open house at Elks Lodge #568
WHEN: Open house from 5:30-7 p.m. Saturday. At 7 p.m., the lodge will hold a dance with a DJ playing 1960s rock and roll. $5 cover for the dance. Cash bar.
WHERE: Elks Lodge, 3920 S. Alston Ave., Durham
INFORMATION: Elks Lodge #568 meets the first and third Mondays of the month. It opens at 5 p.m., followed by a meal at 7 p.m. and business meeting at 8 p.m. For information, call 919-544-3555 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.