Next weekend, the National Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks will celebrate its 150 years of service, and an organization with total membership of more than 850,000 and more than 2,0000 lodges nationally.
The Quad-City lodges are in Davenport and Rock Island. Together, they have made a collective impact on the Quad-City community of more than $2.67 million in charitable works and service, according to Lois Kundel, of Davenport, who has been a Loyal Knight (an Elks officer) for four years.
“We are Ameirca’s best-kept secret,” said David Jurmu, of Rock Island, president of the Illinois Elks Association, which includes 30,000 members in its 70 Illinois lodges.
Kundel, who coordinates the youth program as part of her responsibilities, said part of what attracted her to the organization are its hands-on initiatives.
"We have three pillars: Veterans, youth and to make our communities a better place to live. Those are my three passions," she said.
The Elks' support of veterans began with World War I. After that war, the Elks helped thousands of veterans with disabilities with rehabilitation, vocation and education loans. This act of goodwill, Kundel said, "was the catalyst for the U.S. government’s GI Bill."
Each year, Elks members donate millions of scholarship dollars awarded to thousands of students.
"I feel that people think we're more like a social club, a place to come and visit," Kundel said. "I don't think they realize how much volunteer work we do in the community."
Among the Elks initiatives in the Quad-Cities are hoop-shoot competitions that range from local to national levels, assistance with Special Olympics and a partnership with One Eighty and Bettendorf Christian Church to present a children's carnival in the west end of Davenport.
Kundel enjoys being part of the distribution of dictionary/reference guides to third-graders in public schools and three Catholic schools in Davenport. "It's not an Elks program per se, but one that we've partnered with," she said. "A lot of lodges do it across the nation."
Elks members visit all the different grade schools and talk to the students about the Elks organization and what it does in the community. "The children seem so grateful," she said. Some school representatives have told her that, in some cases, the dictionary is the only book some children own.
The Elks also give students at Monroe, Buchanan, Hayes and Smart the No. 2 pencils required for Iowa assessment tests.
Another children’s initiatives is an Elks orthopedic clinic for children held at ORA in Moline three times annually, Jurmu said.
In September, the Elks hosted a golf tournament to raise money for veterans, giving $15,337 to the new Quad-City Veterans Outreach Center. Veterans long have been a focus of the organization, Jurmu said. In 1918, the Elks built a Reconstruction Hospital in Boston to help wounded veterans, and gave it to the federal government. It was the beginning of the VA Medical Centers.
In Rock Island, the Elks donate monthly to the United Service Organization (USO) on Arsenal Island “for our troops," Jurmu said.
At Christmas time, the Elks contact every veteran at Hope Creek Care Center, East Moline. “Every veteran at Hope Creek gets a card, a visit and money in their account for Christmas,” Jurmu said.
He said the Elks also support Christian Care shelter in Rock Island and sponsored a new Scout troop in Rock Island.
Additionally, the Elks organizations in Iowa have been second in the nation (Missouri is in first place) in collecting deer hides during the hunting season for veterans, Kundel said. In this initiative, Davenport is first in the state. Veterans create wheelchair gloves and other items from the hides.
Jurmu said that all donations for initiatives come from the Elks members themselves. “It’s a very philanthropic organization,” he said.