April 17, 2024

The Benevolent Order of Up North Service Clubs

Your grandfather's club wants you — to help your community
By Ross Boissoneau | Nov. 24, 2018

Elks, Eagles, Lions, Moose, and more — the nation’s longstanding service organizations used to be the place to join and the wayto give. While their popularity among new generations might be waning, their missions to serve are as strong as ever. Here’s a look at some local branches of these traditional groups, the state of their membership, and what members are doing to better our Up North community, our nation, and our world.
Rotary Club, Gaylord
Local Spotlight: In Gaylord, 30-year-old Jessica Beals serves as the president of the Gaylord Rotary Club, proof of the club’s appeal to men and women and its embrace of a younger demographic. “We have a really good mix in leadership of those wise with experience and knowledge, and fresh faces from a new generation,” she said. Members’ ages range from the 20s to the 80s
History: Rotary’s history dates back to its founding in 1905 in Chicago. The Gaylord Rotary Club was established in 1956, and currently has 69 members.
Good Works: Beals said the club’s motto of “Service Above Self” is revealed in projects both local and distant. It’s donated $12,000 to the Gaylord Soccer League and $7,000 to Energy outlook Park. Its world service committee sent members to the Dominican Republic to work with residents there, and an upcoming trip to the Ogalala Lakota tribe at their reservation in South Dakota will involve both Rotarians and local students. They will work with the tribe’s members in setting up gardens for fresh vegetables.

Lions Club, Empire
History: Lions Clubs International began in 1917, when Chicago businessman Melvin Jones invited business clubs from around the country to a meeting. Since then, the group has expanded beyond this country’s borders, and now there area 47,000 Lions Clubs in nearly 200 countries.
Good Works: Local Lions Club programs include sight conservation, hearing and speech conservation, diabetes awareness, youth outreach, international relations, environmental issues, and many others. The discussion of politics and religion is forbidden. Helen Keller addressed the Loins at a national convention in Cedar Point in 1924, famously challenging Lions to become “Knights of the Blind in the crusade against darkness.” Like its fellow Lions Clubs, the Empire Lions Club also works to provide glasses and other assistance to help those with vision needs and sponsors Little League teams and scholarships.
Local Spotlight: The Empire Lions Club is nearly 50 years old. Longtime member Dave Taghon said the group varies between 50 and 80 members. “Are there younger members in the group? “I wish we had more. Young is 60,” said Taghon with a laugh, before saying the average age is probably 70 to 75. “Nationally, we all need kids,” he said, speaking for Lions Clubs and other service organizations in general.
Kiwanis International, Charlevoix
Member Mindset: Terry Edger saw the Charlevoix Kiwanis Club as a perfect opportunity for him to work with others to provide for those in need. “I’m not typically a joiner. Kiwanis met my altruistic needs,” said Edger, a member of the board and former president.
History: Kiwanis International was founded in 1915 by a group of businessmen in Detroit. In the early years, members focused on business networking, but in 1919, the organization changed its focus to service, specifically service to children. That resulted in its motto being changed in 2005 to “Serving the children of the world.”
Good Works: Members take the club’s motto to heart. Edger said one of the group’s most satisfying activities is working with kids in Head Start, specifically reading to them.  Another is starting a local Aktion Club, an outreach program to people with disabilities. “It was the second one in Michigan. It is super-gratifying to be (working) with these individuals,” Edger said. Among its fundraising activities are bottlingand selling maple syrup and a kielbasa sale. Another which Edger said is up and coming is a fun run during the Apple Festival. Edger said in addition to the activities mentioned above, the money the club raises goes to help kids in long-term care in hospitals such as CS Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, Mary Freebed in Grand Rapids, Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit and McLaren Northern Michigan Hospital in Petoskey.
Local Spotlight: The Charlevoix club was chartered on March 19th, 1935, at the Masonic Temple in Charlevoix. It was the first service club to be organized in Charlevoix. It has around 45 members – Edger said the numbers have typically run between 42 and 56. In 1939 the Club sponsored the formation of Boy Scout Troop #11. The Club has continued supporting the troop, which is the second oldest in Northern Michigan.
Optimist Club, Traverse City
Mission: The Optimist Club is committed to youth. The organization boasts almost 3,000 clubs and over 80,000 members in more than 20 countries. Among its purposes are promoting an active interest in good government and civic affairs; inspiring respect for the law; promoting patriotism; and work for international accord and friendship among all people. Yes, and to remain optimistic.
History: The international organization was founded at a convention in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1919, which brought together various local and regional clubs. The Traverse City Optimist Club was founded in 1954, and its members meet weekly for lunch.  
Good Works: Club President Jerry Keelan said its mission of being a friend to youth is served by its major fundraisers: The annual Duck Race during the National Cherry Festival. The group sells the ducks to the general public and sells full-size duck decoys to corporate partners. This year the group raised nearly $8,000, with over 80 percent going to the group’s youth campaigns. Big Brothers Big Sisters and Child and Family Services are among the youth groups to benefit from the club. The group also allows youth and others to use its 44 acres south of Traverse City on Beitner Creek, which has three trails as well as indoor facilities.
Membership: Keelan said the group does have some female members and some younger members as well. Attracting more of both is a key part of the club’s strategic plan, which is currently being created.
Loyal Order of the Moose, Cadillac
History: The roots of the organization can be traced to 1888, when Dr. Henry Wilson established the first Moose Lodge in Louisville, Kentucky. In the early years, the Moose served the modest goal of offering men an opportunity to gather socially, to care for one another’s needs, and celebrate life together. Since then, it has expanded to include service to communities, care for children and teens in need at Mooseheart Child City & School (a 1,000-acre campus 40 miles west of Chicago), and care for senior members at Moosehaven, a 70-acre retirement community near Jacksonville, Florida.
Local Membership: Rex Taylor said the Cadillac Lodge began operations in the ’30s. The administrator for the lodge, he noted that, with so many charitable organizations around nowadays, getting younger people to commit to it is a difficult proposition. “A lot of our members are 40 or older — like 90 percent,” he said. He said group members do outreach to the young people with whom they work, “so they can see what we do and why we’re here.” He also said group members enjoy cost savings in becoming a member and eating and drinking at the lodge, which the group built and moved into in 1976. He estimated there are 500 members of the Cadillac Lodge.
Good Works: There are over 1,000,000 members in the Loyal Order of Moose and Women of the Moose worldwide. The Moose organization contributes between $75 to $100 million worth of community service (counting monetary donations, volunteer hours worked and miles driven) annually.
Fraternal Order of the Eagles, Petoskey
Mission: Nick Rockey, a trustee on the board of FOE 2462 in Petoskey, said the group’s overall purpose is a simple one: People helping people. The group origins lie in a musicians’ strike. On February 6, 1898, six of Seattle's most prominent theater owners gathered to discuss how to handle an ongoing musicians' strike. After deciding to work together to settle the strike by using piano players to replace the musicians, the men began to discuss life. Thus was born the Eagles.
Membership: Like many such organizations, the Eagles were formed by men, for men; a ladies’ auxiliary was approved in 1952. Today the Petoskey Aerie counts some 500 members, while the auxiliary has between 250 and 275 women. While those numbers are fairly healthy, Rockey said it remains difficult for the group to attract younger members. He estimated the median age to be around 55, though he said there are some members in their 20s.
Good Works: He said one assumption of non-members is that it’s just “a cheap place to get drinks.” While it does operate a dining room and bar, he said the group works to provide for others, such as working on a food drive with the Manna Food Project for Thanksgiving, and Toys for Tots.
Future Plans: Rockey said the organization is currently trying to determine other ways in which it can work within the community and how to raise funds for such endeavors. That’s also dependent on gaining new members. “We used to sponsor a Little League team, and we’re trying to get that back on track. We need younger, active members, and we can do some fundraisers. We want to get back out into the community and get involved.”
Free and Accepted Masons, Shriners, Indian River
History: The Free and Accepted Masons of Michigan Lodge #442 in Indian River are part of an international organization that traces its beginnings to the 14thcentury. It also includes a number of Shriners, a.k.a. Ancient Arabic Order Of The Nobles Of The Mystic Shrine. Longtime member Gene Miller explains it this way: “All Shriners are Masons, but not all Masons are Shriners.”
Good Works: He said the Masons in Indian River focus on helping both individuals in the community and schools. Some are low-key, such as helping remove a tree that had fallen over from community member’s yard. Others include donating equipment to a hospital or taking children to Shriner’s hospitals, where they receive free care. Its main fundraisers area a couple different raffles. This year they have included both rifles and a deer blind.  
Membership: Miller said there are about 15 members in this lodge, among more than six million worldwide. He said his lodge has found it difficult to attract new, younger members. He said the group is not allowed to actively recruit, but have to wait until they are approached by those interested in the organization. “We have to have people come to us and ask, How do I become a Mason. Then the door is open,” he said.
Amvets, Elk Rapids
Mission: The Amvets Club in Elk Rapids actually includes several organizations. “We support our veterans,” said Bill Romska. “We have six different organizations under our roof.” They are the Amvets, American Legion, Amvets Ladies Auxiliary, American Legion Auxiliary, Sons of Amvets, and 22 Until None. The lattermost is a support and outreach group dedicated to ending veterans’ suicides, named for the average number of vets who take their own lives each day. 
Membership: Romska, who is commander of the Amvets and finance officer of the American Legion, said attracting younger members is one of the reasons for bringing the various groups together. To become a member of the American Legion or the similar group, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, you must have served during wartime, and in the case of the latter, you must have served overseas. “The Legion and VFW numbers go down, and we had to get younger members in,” Romska said.
Good Works: He said there are some 400 members locally, several of whom, like himself, belong to more than one group. They raise funds through a variety of means, the largest of which is a golf tournament. They were able to use the proceeds to help fun the veterans’ programs at NMC, Reining Liberty Ranch and Honor Flight.
Elks Club, Traverse City
Membership: Not only is the Traverse City lodge the largest Elks Club in the region, it’s the largest in the country. “We have 1,475 members,” said lodge secretary Stan Simons. He said the organization’s growth over the past several years has helped bring its average age down from around 72 when he became secretary a dozen years ago to approximately 64. Simons said the organization doesn’t have many members in their 20s and 30s as people of that generation are typically raising families, but as the children get older, the parents in their 40s and 50s have more free time. Women were allowed to become members some 25 years ago, and Traverse City Elks Lodge 323 admitted the first female member in the state. 
History: The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks was founded in 1868 as a social club in New York City. The Traverse City Elks Lodge was established in 1896. The lodge was built as a hospital in 1953 before moving to a new facility on Munson Avenue; shortly thereafter the Traverse City Elks Lodge on Front Street burned, and subsequently moved to the corner of Division and Bay streets.
Good Works: Simons said the Elks have several ongoing projects, many focused on children and veterans. They include Care Pack for Kids, which provides food for students and their families on the weekends when they are not in school. A recent grant allowed them to do the same for the students over the summer. He said the Elks also supports the local Boots for Kids program and the Michigan Elks Major Project, which assists children with special needs. That may include iPads, generators to insure that oxygen tanks can run in case of a power outage, chair lifts, etc. Funds for these and other endeavors come primarily from three sources: Dues, grants (often from the national lodge), occasional raffles, and its largest fundraiser, a golf outing held each August. “We raised over $30,000 this year,” said Simons, which is primarily allocated for youth and veterans.


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