Elks Lodge will be missed, but organization will remain
When I was in high school, probably about 11th or 12th grade, some of my friends and I agreed to help my dad, a member of Austin’s Elks Lodge, with their annual Hoop Shoot at Austin High School’s gym.
After the competition was over, he took us to the Elks to eat lunch and shoot some pool. Being in high school, as my friends and I were, and having the resultant transitory attention spans, it didn’t take long before we were ready to move on to the next activity, so one of my friends approached me and said, "Jeff, go get your dad by the antlers, and let’s get out of here."
All of us, including my dad, shared a good laugh about that comment, and as I look back over the years, it’s one of my very first memories of the Austin Elks Lodge 414. There have been many more as the club has been a part of my life since that day.
Unfortunately, due to factors such as declining membership and increasing operational costs, there won’t be any more such memories, as Austin’s Elks Lodge recently announced the imminent closing of its club. I will miss the place.
When I turned 20, my dad made me an official member of the club, and after participating in the initiation, I was issued my very own key card to get in, which, of course, I thought was pretty cool.
Throughout my 20s I spent quite a bit of time at the Elks, usually with my parents and some of their friends. That was back when the Elks had more than a thousand members, and support for the club and others like it was still fairly strong.
Later, my wedding reception was there, my wife worked as a waitress there, and I even spent some time bartending there a weekend night or so each month around 2002 and 2003. It was there that I watched both Golden Gophers hockey national championship games, as well as countless television specials in the immediate aftermath of George Harrison’s death.
Sure, I was more of a pull-tab salesman who made an occasional drink, but those pull tabs generated income to give back to the community, and the place always had an amicable, good-humored vibe about it, kind of like "Cheers." Everyone knew everyone’s name, and there was never a shortage of good jokes and good laughs.
Admittedly, I haven’t spent a lot of time in the club as a member since I got married, only sporadically, but recently I was starting to spend a little more time there again. I stopped by their Halloween party just a few weeks ago, and I played golf with my friend George in their fundraiser this past summer.
I was just starting to re-grow my antlers, and then came the news.
I suppose we could point to different reasons for the demise of the Elks club — the struggling economy, a shift in demographics resulting in a general decline of interest in the service clubs, and maybe social media is even a culprit as people socialize in different ways these days.
But the bottom line is that it couldn’t survive the declining membership despite such attempts by the club's leadership as "Wii bowling night" and live music to try to attract that younger demographic.
The silver lining in this cloud surrounding the loss of another Austin gathering place is that the Elks organization is going to continue doing all the good things they’ve done for Austin throughout the years.
They’ll continue to support the community with charitable work such as their annual Hoop Shoot, scholarships, volunteering and sending Austin youth to the Elks summer camp.
They’ll just have to do it, at least for the time being, without a place to gather, meaning I’m left with only my memories and a small pair of antlers that never quite reached their potential.