Over the years, Clinton County has been very supportive of groups that have come together to form different organizations. We have the Commercial Club, the Eagles, American Legion, VFW, Rotary, Kiwanis and many others.
The Elks Lodge of Wilmington is one of those. Most people today take the Elks Lodge for granted as it’s always just been a place to gather or to play golf. This hasn’t always been the case, though.
The dawn of the 20th century saw Wilmington on the move and it was decided that it needed an Elks Lodge. Xenia, Lebanon, Georgetown and other surrounding communities had one — so why not us?
In the summer of 1902, the Elks Lodge of Wilmington was born. It was a warm Friday – August the 1st as a matter of fact. On the corner of North South Street and Locust Street, several hundred men from surrounding counties gathered.
Fifty-seven men were put through the initiation process, and the Elks 797 Lodge of Wilmington was started.
The old West House on the corner of South Street and Main Street was to be the location of the first headquarters. Banners of purple and white hung, there were Elk emblems, and many other decorations flew to signify the Elks headquarters.
August the 1st was indeed a red-letter day for Wilmington. Hundreds of people turned out for this occasion from all over southern Ohio. A large lunch was served and the Wilmington military band played on the courthouse bandstand in what was described as sweltering heat. The band played for two hours followed by a parade at 3 p.m.
This procession included the 57 men who were about the join the first Elks Lodge of Wilmington. They wore white shirts, white hats, and a purple armband that was inscribed with gold gilt letters “B.P.O.E.” The parade went all through downtown and took a short break at the Baltimore & Ohio railroad station on Sugartree Street.
This is where a train pulled in and out stepped Henry W. Morganthaler, Cincinnati District Deputy for the Elks. He brought with him many other Elks dignitaries from Cincinnati.
The parade picked back up and headed for the Odd Fellows building where the climax of the day’s activities would take place as well as the initiation of 57 men into the Elks family. Some of the men included Fred C. Bath, Charles E. Toops, Herbert Wire, Simon Goodman, C.F. Rice of Blanchester, Harry Eastman, Fred Weltz, and many others.
The first officers included Exalted Ruler Arthur W. Madden, Esteemed Leading Knight O.F. Pettiford, Esteemed Leading Knight Judge W.W. Savage, Esteemed Leading Lecturing Knight W.H Miller Secretary C.M Hughes, Treasurer C.M. Hinman, Tiler Charles C. Burge, Trustee’s S.R. Mitchell, C.R. Fisher, and Earl Shaw.
The Elks organization stands for many things and has helped many families in our community over the years.
Also, Elks Lodge 797’s Flag Day Ceremony is held the Saturday before Flag Day.
The Wilmington Elks eventually moved from its downtown location to 2593 Rombach Avenue and is a place open to the public for lunch and dinner. They continue to help families by hosting golf outings and parties, like the Elks Ball, which is closing in on 100 years itself.
The Wilmington Elks has a new motto of “Grow the Oak”, which means help grow the chapter of 797.
Wilmington’s Chapter of the Elks has come a long way since that day in 1902. The Wilmington Lodge has hosted two Grand Exulted Rulers and many federal and state leaders since its opening as well.
The National Elks mission statement reads, “To inculcate the principles of Charity, Justice, Brotherly Love and Fidelity; to recognize a belief in God; to promote the welfare and enhance the happiness of its Members; to quicken the spirit of American patriotism; to cultivate good fellowship; to perpetuate itself as a fraternal organization, and to provide for its government, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the United States of America will serve the people and communities through benevolent programs, demonstrating that Elks Care and Elks Share.”
The Elks do care and share. That is something we can all live by — caring and sharing.
Jonathan McKay is a Clinton County native and a current member of Wilmington City Council.