By Joanne Sanford

In 1867, a group of entertainers in New York City formed a loose group to get together for fellowship and called themselves the Jolly Corks. When one of their members died before Christmas that year, leaving his wife and children destitute, they decided to establish a more enduring organization which could help those in need. On February 16, 1868, they established the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. Benefit performances helped to increase the popularity of the new Order and membership grew rapidly. As word spread around the country, the organization was granted a charter
to establish local Lodges in other U.S. cities. Today, there are nearly 2,000 lodges in communities all over the country.

Many celebrities have been members of the Brotherhood of Elks. Past and present members include John F. Kennedy, Babe Ruth, Clint Eastwood, Walter Cronkite, Arnold Palmer, Harry Houdini, Eli Manning, and William “Buffalo Bill” Cody.

The Great Falls Elks Lodge #214 was established on July 12, 1893. In its heyday, the Elks in Great Falls boasted 3,500 members. Everyone wanted to be a part of this wonderful fraternal organization. Their commitment to veterans, community, and youth has endeared them to all who see the selfless contributions made by Elk members. The Elks runs a Drug Awareness program that is geared towards primary grade school students and parents to reinforce the dangers of drug use. Their annual Hoop Shoot program is a basketball free throw contest for kids 8-13 years of age. It has been around for over fifty years and helps build confidence and grit in our youth. The Elks contribute more than $80,000,000 every year for special needs children, the Hoop Shoot program, scholarships, grant programs, scouting, athletic teams, veterans’ works, patriotic programs, and physical and occupational therapy programs.

Besides their philanthropic endeavors, the Elks have also always been about fun. Their Drum and Bugle Corp participated in nearly all local parades up until the early 2000s. A big convention was held in Great Falls in 1920 which brought in 5,000 people by train. They have a bowling alley downstairs for both league and public use. There is a bar available, gaming machines, a pool table, shuffleboard, and dart board.

The facilities at the Great Falls Elks Club are available to rent and can accommodate most functions up to 400 people.

In the past, they have hosted dances, boxing matches, dart tournaments, class reunions, weddings, fundraisers, and funerals.

Women also play a part in the Elks. In some clubs, they are directly affiliated with the Elks while in others, they are a separate entity altogether. In Great Falls, the women (Does) are not actually a part of the organization, but do work closely with them.

They contribute to scholarship programs, help with renovations, and are otherwise supportive of the Elks. They also will cater functions and have many options for food, from appetizers alone to a full meal. Any money raised by the Does for their catering services stays in Great Falls, helping women and children’s groups.

Elks members believe in charity, justice, brotherly love, and American patriotism. Local members meet on the 1st and 3rd Thursday of every month at 7pm.

If you are interested in becoming a member of your local Elks Club, or if you wish to rent the facility for your next function, just stop by. They are located at 500 1st Ave. S. in Great Falls and they are open daily after 5pm.

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