By Jay Cook |
RED BANK – How does an institution turn 125 years old and still keep a fresh, youthful nod to its tradition? Ask the Red Bank Elks Lodge #233.
Later this month, the 540 members who make up the Red Bank lodge will celebrate a vibrant century-and-a-quarter-long history in the heart of Red Bank, highlighted by countless charitable efforts and a steady drive to assist those in need.
“No one member is greater than the lodge and no lodge is greater than the order,” said Shean R. Opie, the lodge’s exalted ruler for 2017-2018. “We all come together for that common goal, and that’s community awareness.”
Opie, an active recruiter of any and all members who qualify as an Elk, said he sees a trend shifting to younger members joining the ranks. Although the average national member age is 67, he said, Lodge #233 seems to be inducting younger members each year. Just in 2017, he said the average age of three new membership classes was 35 years old.
In fact, Opie, a 32-year-old full-time EMT and Middletown resident, is the youngest exalted ruler in the Red Bank lodge’s history. After discovering three generations of Elks came before him, he decided to join as a 21-year-old.
“There’s no one that’s here that started this (lodge),” said Justin Holder, a 31-year-old Red Bank resident and two-year member of Lodge #233. “How this organization continues, how it survives, is helped by this crowd here.”
Opie and Holder agreed the attraction rests with a few different ideals: an atmosphere for younger adults to be part of a family, as well as a welcoming attitude from existing members who want to see the Elks continue to grow.
“It’s about appealing to that group, appealing to that organization, to keep this heartbeat going,” Holder continued.
Throughout their history, the Red Bank Elks have witnessed 22 U.S. presidents come through the Oval Office, seen six major U.S. military conflicts and watched Red Bank grow from a riverside community into one of the most diverse towns in New Jersey.
Lodge #233 is inconspicuously nestled in beside Riverside Gardens Park at 40 West Front St. with a prime piece of riverfront real estate to watch a setting sun over the Navesink. But it hasn’t been their home forever.
According to a lodge history compiled in 2000 by Elk member Bob Cramer, the Red Bank Elks have had five homes, some more brief than others, in the borough. From their inception until 1913, they conducted meetings on the third floor of 32 Broad St., formerly called the M.M. Davidsons Building, now a Chase Bank branch location.
In 1913, the Red Bank Elks found their “first real home” at 52 East Front St. when they bought the Samuel T. Hendrickson House, found just east of the Globe Hotel.
According to the Elks, high member demand and outgrowing facilities led to Lodge #233 buying a piece of land and constructing their own building at 365 Broad St., which now is a professional building across the street from the Red Bank Foodtown. If you look closely enough at the top of the building, the words “Red Bank Lodge B.P.O.E. No. 233” are inscribed, just beneath a carved clock set at 11 p.m., the time Elks dedicate each night to their past members.
The Great Depression and high overhead costs forced the Elks to lease the property to the USO, and eventually sell it, the document said.
For a short time, the Elks conducted business by renting space from a fellow member at 7 Broad St. before building and opening in its current location on West Front Street in 1955.
Despite the many homes, the Elks’ service to Red Bank has never wavered, said Rose Broccoli, the first female exalted ruler in Lodge #233’s history.
“People know what we do here – I feel that in my heart,” said Broccoli, who served from 2005 to 2006. “When we ask (the community) to do something for us, they’re there. Conversely, we’re there too.”
Over the past calendar year, Opie said Lodge #233 has done its part to give back to those in need. On Black Friday when Red Bank RiverCenter held its town lighting, the Elks set up a shake-a-can just outside their front door. That six-hour effort yielded $1,700 donated to local homeless veterans. Last year’s Charity Ball, an effort to fundraise for a general charity account, raised around $10,000, Opie said. Around the holidays, the lodge wrapped about 700 toys in an effort to throw a Christmas party for 80 special needs children in the immediate area. And in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, along with other Monmouth County lodges, they helped gather donations and drive four mid-sized U-Haul trucks to Kearny, Texas for relief efforts.
Since fundraising is one of the core pillars of Elkdom, Lodge #233 will continue to explore new avenues to raise money for those in need. Just this past weekend, motorcycle committee activities manager Chemayne Myers held the first “Battle of the Bands” in lodge history. She said the effort brought about 200 people into the lodge, many for the first time, and raised $3,000 for homeless veterans.
“By opening up the doors it allowed a lot more people to come in within that (younger) age range and become aware of the Elks Lodge,” she said.
In the long run, it’s one of the many ways Lodge #233 can stay in Red Bank for another 125 years.
“We all have full-time jobs, some of us have kids,” said Marilyn Oberdorf, a 36-year-old Red Bank resident and four-year member. “But we still find time to give back to this organization and this community because it gives to us.”
This article was first published in the Jan. 18-25, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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