Elks’ remodeled facility needs more usage, lodge leader says

Scott Swanson

Sweet Home Elks have spent the last decade remodeling their facility, but now that they have it about finished, they find themselves in a bit of a jam.

“It’s the whole COVID thing,” said Randy Claasen, this year’s exalted ruler for Lodge #1972, at 440 Osage St., who noted that facility rentals, which are an important part of the Elks’ annual budget, are significantly down.

“We were booked solid last year from January to last October, then when COVID hit, everything shut down. We’re struggling along with everybody else.”

The lodge has had a workover, and is the best shape it has been in for a long time, he said.

“In the past, the building, to me, was really neglected,” Claasen said, noting that rotating officer rosters lent little continuity to any improvement efforts. “The buck just got passed. It was really sad. The roof was sagging.”

In the last 10 years, three quarters of the building have been replaced, including a new roof, new floors and an inside paint job, costing a total of $311,186.

An addition that has proven a particular draw for younger members is an upgraded gym facility that includes a workout room and a sauna. Members pay a one-time fee and have unlimited use of the gym.

“We did that in the past year,” Claasen said. “Hopefully, they learn what Elks is about and get involved that way.”

The last piece, repairs to the rear wall, is on hold “until we can get back to earning money,” Claasen sai

Membership helps pay the bills right now, he said. Dues are $103 a year, and the lodge currently has an active roster of 345, with another 25 who haven’t paid yet this year.

The lodge has also been sustained by endowments from members, including one who left the Elks $50,000.

“That’s a statement in itself,” said Classen, who’s been a member for 20 years.

“Things like that have helped,” he said. “We’ve done well over the years with investments, savings.”

The lodge was recently awarded a National Attention Certificate for All-American Lodge, taking third place among lodges its size nationwide.

Over the past 10 years it has donated $217,667 to youth causes and sports, local cultural efforts, scholarships, its Christmas Baskets program, drug prevention and Local Eyes, a program that provides glasses to veterans that is unique to Sweet Home’s Elks.

“We’re very strong, very active,” Claasen said. “It’s a positive place for people to come to. That’s what we want to keep going.”

In the last year alone, Sweet Home Elks have volunteered more than 3,200 hours to various local causes.

Claasen said he hopes to open the facility up to the public, as much as can be allowed for a nonprofit institution, when the COVID pandemic is over, including comedy nights and small bands. He hopes to host an open house early in the new year to let the public see what’s been done at the lodge and learn about the organization.

Typically, the lodge serves Friday evening meals and breakfasts on the first and third Sundays of the month, hosted by the Elkettes, who “can do certain things we can’t do.”

“We don’t want to compete against other businesses in town,” he added.

“This is a very relaxed atmosphere,” Claasen said, “where you can bring your family and you know they’re not going to be harassed. It’s not like going to a bar.

“Being a member of the lodge, it’s not like you get all these freebies or anything like that. When you become an Elk, every Elks Lodge in the U.S. basically becomes your lodge.

A lot of them have swimming pools, tennis courts, bowling alleys, RV parking, camping. A lot of RV’ers become members to utilize those services.”

The Sweet Home lodge has six RV sites with power and water, though no sewer facilities are available on the property.

“Especially during the Jamboree, we’re full up,” Claasen said.

The Elks are engaging in a membership drive, which has resulted in some local residents joining the lodge.

“We’re trying to get people to come up and check the lodge out, not just what the building is but what we do,” Claasen said. “Our main focus is to encourage young people to become members, to understand what it means to be a member, to help the community, help veterans, the youth, homeless.

“If they don’t know us, call us and we’ll set up a tour.”

To contact the lodge, call 541- 367-3559.