by Jim Mulligan
If you dig back into your memory bank, you might be able to remember that Fred Flintstone and his friend Barney Rubble were members of the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes, Lodge No. 26. At the very least, you can probably picture their funny, fuzzy headgear. Can you remember the title of the lodge leader? If you can recollect the hijinks portrayed by the members of that fictional organization in Bedrock, you might have a skewed understanding of what actual fraternal organizations do in the United States. The real-life societies which the Flintstones spoofed so long ago actually exist for much more than communal shenanigans; they undertake a myriad of philanthropic projects throughout the year and make a huge, positive impact on their communities.
The Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks of the United States of America, more commonly and affectionately known as just the Elks, had its official beginning in 1868, which means its 152 years of existence makes it one of the oldest fraternal organizations in the U.S. The group grew out of a loosely structured band of fellows who organized in 1867. Before its current organizational structure, the group was made up of a few New York actors and entertainers wishing to get together for purely social reasons. Not so long after this first small group of men began meeting, the members were split, philosophically, with some members urging the rest to utilize their collective resources to help those in need, in addition to their social purposes. Those who promoted those humanitarian exploits eventually won out, and they became the Elks. As they write on their website, they, “with a great new spirit and direction, began to help veterans, scouting, scholarships, and more–wherever charity, justice and brotherly love were needed.”
Elks in Reedley, when compared to the lengthy history of the national organization, is a fairly young group. The Reedley Elks was charted on January 26, 1986 and began with the leadership of its first Exalted Ruler, Steve German. Over the years, membership has been as many as 285 official individuals and currently stands at about 115. Membership is open to both men and women; ladies make up about half of the very active members of the local club.
So what do Elks really do? The current Exalted Ruler, Forrest Wright said, “The Elks functioned like social media before social media existed. It’s a way to connect with people with similar interests. But really it’s a lot more than that; we support a lot of charitable activities.” Wright is quite correct. In addition to their fun, secret traditions, the national organization, according to its website, spends more than $80 million every year for “benevolent, educational, and patriotic community-minded programs.” Some of the programs the Elks focus on nationally include support for veterans, scholarships for students pursuing career and technical education, drug awareness, children with medical needs, and various activities for youth. If one is ready to become an Elk and participate in the tradition of camaraderie and community service, the eligibility requirements are simple. One must be a U.S. citizen over the age of 21 and believe in God.
At the local level, the Elks in Reedley support the efforts of both the national organization and the California-Hawaii Association, of which Reedley is a part. A major project of the California-Hawaii Elks Association is the Purple Pig project. Its purpose is to raise money for one of the things that the Elks are most widely known to do – raise money to support children with disabilities of all kinds. Each Elk is encouraged to put just one dime a day into their banks, which at the end of each year adds up to $3.5 million each year.
The Reedley Elks also provide some very grassroots support of youth right here in the community. They provide scholarships for students pursuing career and technical education at Reedley College and will “pass the hat” when youth present a request for funds to support their educational and co-curricular events. The Reedley Elks don’t waste time on bureaucracy. They’ve been known to make financial contributions to the RHS Choir, the RHS JROTC, and the FFA on the spot, knowing that the support they provide the youth now contributes to the growth and productivity of the whole community. This generosity and support of local, state, and national programs has earned the Reedley Elks the unofficial title of “the little lodge with the big heart.”
It is said that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. When William Hanna and Joseph Barbera chose to show Fred and Barney as members of the Water Buffaloes, one might argue that they knew exactly what they were doing – showing the world that even a fun loving group of folks, gathered for a common purpose, can make great strides towards serving their community, their nation, and their God. While surely the members of the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks of the United States of America also partake in boisterous camaraderie on a regular basis, their impact is felt where it is need most.