The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

Resurgence of local Elks gains national attention, big award


September 6, 2016

Sweet Home Elks Lodge has been named an All-American Elks Lodge by The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.

Sweet Home is the first lodge in Oregon to win the designation, said Ron Sharrah, district deputy grand exalted ruler. The award is for the lodge’s activities in 2015.

“It’s a competitive program,” Sharrah said. They’re only awarded to a limited number of lodges based on their programs and the benefit they provide to their communities.

The honor is given in five size-based divisions. Sweet Home is in Division II, the second-smallest. The Elks award first through third place in each division. Sweet Home placed third.

“It’s quite an honor,” he said. “It kind of ties into how successful Sweet Home Lodge has become over the last five years.”

“Ecstatic,” said Randy Claasen, who served as exalted ruler in Sweet Home in 2015. “This lodge is the first lodge and the only one (in Oregon). I get emotional with what my wife (Carla) and I, with Ron, went through, everything it takes.”

It’s a long list of activities to qualify as an All-American lodge, he said. Contributing toward the award are the Elks’ many activities, from the community back-to-school program each fall to a $6,000 fund-raising effort for a fire pit at the new Veterans Home in Lebanon.

“That was Randy’s and the first lady’s goal last year,” said Barbara Ross, current exalted ruler.

“It took the lodge every member doing something,” Claasen said.

“I’m honored,” Ross said. “I’m very proud of the lodge for everything they went through to earn this award. It’s not an award that’s given. It’s earned.”

“We’re determined to get it for her (Ross) this year too,” Claasen said.

Five years ago, the lodge, with a membership of 274, had set a goal of signing up 250 new members, Sharrah said. The Elks far exceeded that goal, and even with membership turnover, it has a membership of 428. It went from being the smallest of six lodges (seven when the Lebanon Elks Lodge reopens) in its district to the third largest.

“You have to set goals, and our lodge did that,” he said.

Before that, the Elks had their building for sale, he said. “We were on the brink of closing.”

Not only did the Elks pull the building off the market and keep it – today, it’s prospering, more so than any time in the past 15 years, he said.

“I’m very proud of the Sweet Home lodge,” Sharrah said.

The lodge has given thousands and thousands of dollars to efforts in the Sweet Home community, Claasen said.

In recent years, the Sweet Home District has annually provided the back-to-school carnival for Sweet Home elementary students, who play games and win supplies for their classrooms, using $2,000 Promise Grants and Beacon Grants from the Elks. A $2,500 Gratitude Grant is used to help fund Camp Attitude, Sunshine Industries and the Food Pak program, which provides weekend food for needy students.

The lodge provides Christmas baskets each year to community members in need. It provides scholarships, supports youth baseball and veterans programs.

Sweet Home Elks members personally fund an eye care program that is unique to Sweet Home, Sharrah said. Anyone without insurance and the means to buy them can access the program for help with eye exams and glasses. Wal-Mart is a partner in the program.

Most recipients are adults, Sharrah said, but it is open to all ages.

The Sweet Home Elks also help support the Oregon Children’s Eye Clinic.

For more information about the Elks or to join, call the lodge at (541) 367-3559 or stop by the lodge, 404 Osage St.


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