This is the sixth in a series of features exploring the world of service club organizations. They all have familiar names, but do you know what they really do? The name of each service club organization may evoke a particular memory from your past that describes what you think is their main activity in the community. This series will examine aspects of these groups that may not be as well-known to all of us but are very important to the people they serve. How did it all start? Again, the explanation is not so simple. How did the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks get started? This is the most complicated origin I have had to deal with so far in this series. Please give me some slack because this is going to be complicated. It all started with a British comic singer named Charles A. Vivian. He disembarked from an English trading ship on Friday November 15, 1867 and stepped foot on the streets of New York City. His first stop was near Broadway at the Star Hotel, called a “free and easy” back then. There he met Richard R. Steirly who was a piano player there. Charles volunteered to sing a few songs as Steirly accompanied him. The owner of the hotel, John Ireland, was so impressed with Vivian’s performance that he had his friend Robert Butler come there to hear him. Butler was the manager of the “American Theater” on Broadway. Butler immediately listened to him sing and hired him to perform for three weeks at the “American Theater.” That same night at closing time they took Vivian to a boarding house on Elm Street where he met some of the residents. Hopefully you aren’t confused yet. Now it starts to get complicated. We move on to November 23, 1867 when Charles Vivian took Dick Steirly to Sandy Spencer’s place at Broadway and Fulton. They met three other men, who joined them there, namely Hughley Dougherty, Cool Burgess, and Henry Vandemark. They decided to roll dice to see who pays for the drinks. Vivian wasn’t familiar with dice games so he suggested something completely different. He took a cork and gave one to Steirly and to Vandemark with Cool Burgess as the judge and Dougherty was to count to three. At three the men dropped their corks on the bar and quickly retrieved them. Vandemark picked his up first, but when he dropped it on the bar he was the last to pick it back up, so he had to pay for the round of drinks. Their gatherings apparently were quite noisy and were held at Mrs. Giesman’s boarding house since the law in New York was that Sunday was a “dry” day, no alcoholic drinks allowed. They stocked up on the beer the night before, but Mrs. Giesman told them they couldn’t meet there any more because they were disturbing the other boarders.The group now called themselves “The Corks” with Charles Vivian as their “Imperial Cork.” They found another meeting room over a saloon run by Paul Sommers.
They became known as the “Jolly Corks” and their membership included professional and semi-professional entertainers with a few legitimate actors added in. When they were returning from the funeral of one of their friends, Ted Quinn, member George McDonald, who was the one who suggested the name “Jolly Corks,” offered a motion that the group become a lodge along benevolent and fraternal lines. They set up a committee to organize all of the details. Vivian envisioned an English organization called “The Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes,” the group wanted something more American and came up with the Elk as their representative animal. The “Jolly Corks” then became “The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (BPO Elks).” Their organizational committee voted in the new name on February 16, 1868. The legitimate actors wanted a more serious organization that would be more in line with a benevolent and protective group while the semi-professional entertainers, lead by Vivian, liked the way the old “Jolly Corks” was more loosely organized. On June 14, 1868 the professionals who were in power at the time rejected his ballot and barred some of his friends from the meeting and ended up declaring them expelled from the organization. Vivian then severed his relationship with the “BPO Elks.” Quoting from the “BPO Elks” website ” as far as can be learned from personal friends, Vivian never claimed to have been an Elk. He did claim to be one of the organizers of the Elks, which he was, but he never took the degrees of the Order, and severed all connections with it within a few months after it was born.” With more than 850,000 members and nearly 2,000 lodges throughout the United States the Elks are providing charitable services that help build stronger communities. Here are the programs the Elks list on their national website. “Scholorships: Each year the Elks National Foundation provides more than $3.65 million in college scholarships to graduating seniors. Hoop Shoot: The yearly Hoop Shoot Free Throw Program is open to all boys and girls ages 8 through 13.The contest starts at the lodge level and advances through the district, state and regional contests before the national finals in the spring. Drug Awareness: The Elks Drug Awareness Program distributes literature and organizes events to make kids and their parents aware of the dangers posed by alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs. Youth Programs: Other youth-oriented events sponsored by the the Elks include the Soccer Shoot, the Antlers, the yearly Americanism essay contest and more. Veterans Program: Since the early days of Elkdom, the Veterans Service Commission has patriotically served those Elks who have fought for our great nation. Community Investments: Through the Elks National Foundation’s Community Investments Program, Lodges can apply for grants to serve their communities, meeting local needs.” The Eugene Elks began way back in 1897. My contact for this local look at the Elks was Janet Stimson Exalted Ruler of Elks Lodge #357 in Eugene. We discussed the various projects in which they are currently involved. Here is what I found out. The following are some of the things the Elks do in our area.The local Elks apply for and receive financial grants from the National organization to fund some of their projects. The money is given out on a per-capita basis by how many members they have locally.
The first type of grant is a Promise Grant for Youth activities. The local Candlelighters For Children with Cancer received $2,800 from the Eugene Elks this year to provide funds for their Christmas party, Ice Cream Freeze and a Movie Night.
The Gratitude Grant of $2,000 for Veteran’s Stand Down in September and October which they got 35-40 volunteers from Eugene, Springfield, and Cottage Grove to work together to provide breakfast and lunch for homeless and needy veterans and other services like haircuts and various items of clothing. The Beacon Grant provided $2,000 to prepare and send 25 Care Packages to reservists deployed in Afganistan. Eugene Elks operate a parking lot at the Science Factory during the UO home football games, which they have been doing since the late 90s, managed to bring in $6,000 last year. They provide funds to the Eugene Boys and Girls Club, to a Drug Awareness program at Crow High School, the Eugene Mission, and St. Vincent de Paul.
Oregon Elks established the Oregon Eye Clinic at OHSU in the 1950s and continue funding the clinic’s work. The Elks also help out the Lions Club by collecting used eyeglasses and giving them to the Lions for distribution to those in need. Elks provided $1,500 to send speech and hearing impaired kids ages 11-16 to summer camp for a week at Meadowood Springs Speech Camp in the Blue Mountains of Northeastern Oregon. The Elks patriotism also shows with their participation in a Flag Day ceremony to retire old American flags.
Like all of the service club organizations I have written about the Elks are always looking for new members, especially younger adults to keep up the number of active members as the older members become less able to be as active in programs and sadly some are lost because they pass away.
Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].